Disney Project: Pocahontas

 Pocahontas came out in 1995.  I knew that it wasn’t going to be good.  I knew to expect rampant historical inaccuracy.  

I wasn’t expecting the horrible storytelling.  The movie opens in England, where we’re shown that John Smith is a BIG DAMN HERO.  Everyone loves him!  He jumps overboard in the middle of a storm to save a kid!  He’s seen HUNDREDS of new worlds and killed THOUSANDS of savages!  Whoo!  

Then, we move across the ocean, where we see that America is different.  The natives are living in a perfect utopia, where they can go to war and come back victorious with absolutely no loss of life, where food is abundant, and oh yeah, they have magic powers.  

Pocahontas is standing on on a cliff that’s about 20 stories above a calm pool.  Her nameless friend tells her to come down, so she dives.  For like 30 seconds.  But don’t worry.  She’s okay.  They were just showing us how untamed and impulsive she is.  She doesn’t want to marry the most handsome warrior in the village because he’s boring and shes thinks that she has a more interesting destiny.  She’s been having dreams, you see.  She goes and asks the talking tree what it thinks of her dream, and then she listens to the wind a little and spots the British ship coming in.  

I’m not sure why there’s a talking tree.  

Soon, John Smith (and his boat of other people) arrive in a perfect cove where they can just pull the boat up to shore and park it.  The water’s deep enough.  Also, there are no rocks.  John goes off to go find ADVENTURE!  He doesn’t even bother telling anyone he’s going first.  

The villain, who has more complex motivation than anyone else, gives orders to start mining.  (You can tell that he’s the bad guy because he’s ugly and fat.  Also he wears silly clothes and cares about money and his standing in society.  Also, he has a small annoying dog.  And a stupid manservant.)  

John and Pocahontas meet.  They stare for a few minutes, then realize that they don’t speak the same language.  Then, the spirits are kind enough to teach Pocahontas English.  Why not teach him the native tongue?  Well… because… English is better?  No… that can’t be right…  Huh.  

Pocahontas has a musical number about how you should be accepting of other people’s cultures, and that’s where we stopped watching.  I would have kept  going, but Paul and Bill were watching with me and they couldn’t really take anymore.  I don’t remember exactly what happens in the rest of the movie, but I’m sure it involves Pocahontas and John falling in LUUURRVE and bringing peace and understanding to their two peoples.  

The movie tries to show that the British weren’t bad people, that they just had a really skewed (from our modern perspective) world view, and that all they needed was some Indian wisdom to make them see that exterminating other cultures is wrong.  They’re desperate for the viewer to believe that John is an awesome guy, even though he’s wrong about what it means to be "savage."  

That’s not a terrible goal.  Showing that even good people can be wrong isn’t a bad message.  But they don’t do it well.  And so much of the movie is so over the top.  They spend a lot of time on the comedic relief characters.  And there are way too many of those.  Pocahontas has her raccoon and hummingbird buddies, the British have the grumpy dog and the stupid servant, and four is a lot "funny" characters who don’t really have any other depth.  True, three of them are animals, but still.  Also, they can’t talk, but the tree can?  And Pocahontas can understand the river and the wind and the sky and the BRITISH, but she can’t talk to her animal buddies?  

Also, the magic.  Seriously.  Magic trumps guns.  The British aren’t a real threat if the Indians have MAGIC.  

The songs are pretty enough, but the animation isn’t very good, and the story and characters are PAINFULLY BAD.  I expected to be unimpressed by this movie, but I wasn’t expecting to stop halfway through.  

About Jamie

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cats. She has over 160 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod. She has a novella and two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press. In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking. You can find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

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