What You Never Knew About Disney's Pocahontas
There are some moments that make this film understated even with the inaccuracies. Here's why.
OK so first off, yes I do have to agree the fact that it is very historically inaccurate and it was Disney’s sore spot in the 90s.
Pocahontas was made as a backup plan in case The Lion King didn’t do well at the box office. Then the opposite effect happened where The Lion King went on to be one of the highest grossing films for Disney and then Pocahontas was just sort of an awkward film to have afterwards that it didn’t really matter if it made an impact or not.
Then the impact that it made is still under question to know if it should be a celebrated or continue to be treated like a smudge on Disney's legacy of films.
Despite the heavy and obvious criticisms, there were some accomplishments that were made because of the film as well as some things that were overlooked. Because of its reputation by judging it automatically off of historical inaccuracies people look past some of the good aspects of the film.
The song you never knew
The first thing that I want to point out the missing song in the movie that helped out the growing love between the main characters. Yes, the idea of John Smith and Pocahontas being romantic interests is all levels of gross because of the real ages of Pocahontas and John Smith, so having them romantically involved is automatically weird. However the song that was made for them is absolutely beautiful if you take out the factor that it’s made for John Smith and Pocahontas, and look at it as love anthem for two people that vow their love. It is probably one of the most underrated songs in Disney’s history. When I first heard it, it was a shock to me to see something I never did, and I'm sure, neither did a lot of people upon watching the 10th anniversary DVD. It went dormant for ten years because kids found it to be boring upon the testing as Roy E. Disney said, "had felt a degree of restlessness in the audience during the duration of the song"
Alan Menken states it poetically as he said the song could be described as a "sweeping number", and he's right, it's a beautiful song that unfortunately was cut. He was the first to say that the song should be cut from the film because they had to make the decision based off the crowd's dull reaction. The crew agreed with him to his inner dismay and the song was cut.
The song only exists in the credits which most people probably didn’t pay attention to when the movie was over people just left and never got to hear the cover by Jon Secada and Shanice. That version if you look at it is even spliced to be shorter to make room for the Vanessa Williams cover of Colors of The Wind in the end credits.
But when the song was put back in the film, it does strangely fit for a couple of reasons.
It challenges the idea of a romantic ballad, it's a sophisticated song that projects the love these two have for each other. It does set the tone between the characters in again think of this without John Smith and Pocahontas and just see there’s two people that do love each other and say that they do not regret meeting the other person which is the ultimate proclamation of love.
But also now that I see the version of the film with the inclusion of If I Never Knew You, you notice that Pocahontas is placed differently in the scene, where she was sitting before and then switches to a different place after Nakoma says it's time to go. It was a fast scene, and you sit there and wonder with the film logic as to why Pocahontas changed positions is because the song was taken out.
It’s also the first time you hear Mel Gibson’s singing voice and it’s a pretty good voice he had a very good chemistry with Judy Kuhn. If you ever get a chance to look at the making of if I Never Knew You, you can see that Judy Kuhn is smiling at how much of a good singer Mel Gibson is.
When the 10th anniversary DVD came out, I can imagine how excited the filmmakers were to finally put in the song that they couldn’t have 10 years ago, and now they are able to share what they feel is the best part of the film.
You don’t have to agree with me but I feel that they were right, it is an accomplished a song that was the missing piece of music that should have been in the film.
Just Around The Riverbend is a wonderful first song to get Pocahontas' adventurous character as well as her worries for her life changing of the dreams she yearns for. Colors of The Wind was a powerful song about thinking about how you walk in the world and treat the world. Some of the darker songs like Savages and Mine Mine Mine were a bit extreme to what was being represented for history.
But If I Never Knew You has that somber, sweet, and sophisticated sound to be the love song that just isn't like other romantic songs in Disney films.
History in film premiere
Despite the fact that it’s a historically in accurate film the film actually did make a historical moment in general where the Premiere at Madison Square garden had over 150,000 attendees.
Have you ever heard of a film that did that? In 1995?
It's impressive to know this was the first film to do that with that many attendees and some of cast came to the premiere to present the film.
The character design for John Smith and Pocahontas are very off and they almost look like runway models instead of the original way they looked in their own time period . They definitely don’t look like their ages which has a 30 year gap and yet they both look like they were in their 20s in the film.
Which does make it insanely awkward considering the Pocahontas never really lived all the way in her 20s. But I do have to say it would’ve been nice to see a Pocahontas look like if she really got to be that age. In hindsight, it was made for children, so I imagine that the characters had to wear something that was a little lax on garment and clothing. As opposed to the layers John Smith wore and the possibility that Pocahontas was topless.
But the animators did go through tons of designs for how they want to do the characters in to their credit there was a version or John Smith and Pocahontas we’re going to be younger , really close to Pocahontas’s age.
They even have her with the traditional and culturally accurate clothing even though the myth is that Pocahontas was actually topless as I mentioned before.
During a seminar for the film, the supervising animator, Glen Keane talked about how he created Pocahontas and explained how challenging it was to create a re-imaging of a real person, as opposed to fairy tale characters. He explains there was a lot at stake to create what would be the established version in Disney.
He was very humorous in a light-hearted way to poke fun at the way Pocahontas looked in England clothing. He said, "All we had to do was paint a cell mouth on-top of the picture and make her say , "Oh hello John Smith, I love you!" We're already set to go."
How he said it was different to make and to stay within the idea of making Pocahontas as agriculturally accurate with an individual idea, he uses a step by step from when he created Ariel for The Little Mermaid. He went back and forth on the prompter projector to show how he drew Ariel and how it had to be different with Pocahontas.
It's a very interesting process as he explains the challenge that it was. Glen Keane makes a joke at the end that still has me in stitches that I won't dare reveal.
Personally I would’ve wanted to see the version where they have Pocahontas younger and John Smith younger. It wouldn’t have an accurate considering John Smith was in his 40s but it would make things less awkward and controversial.
But then again Pocahontas isn’t the first one to redo a character in a different age or a different gender, that’s just the norm of redoing a story whether it's true or not. There was gonna be something that will be different and maybe that wasn’t in the hands of the directors, sometimes the director is not entirely at fault and they have to do what they’ve been told.
But even though I would’ve wanted to see a younger John Smith, I do kind of like the way they made him because they took a lot of elements from Mel Gibson’s features. If you look at John Smith, you’re also looking at Mel Gibson. If you ever get the chance to watch the featurette about how they created John Smith on the drawing board, there are pictures of Mel Gibson from his various films, most notably Lethal Weapon.
So I don’t entirely hate the looks , I’ve done my homework now as to why they look the way they look, and that there were other options and they were just going for something else, it is interesting to know how they were designed.
If you get a chance, watch the feature preview reel where they put the song Colors of the Wind and with stills and different potential designs that were really going to Pocahontas. There was even a proposed character like Red Feather (voiced by John Candy that never came to happen after his death). that and it’s interesting to know that they had a lot of ideas that never came to light. Maybe in the future those ideas could be made for a culturally accurate remake.
Pocahontas is by no means a perfect film, but there are some things to think about with how the film was made and it is a beautiful film. It’s not really an underrated film, but I would say there are some moments in there that are understated. It could’ve had a potential to be culturally accurate. The performances of Irene Bedard and Mel Gibson is great . Even to know that Christian Bale and Billy Connolly were voices in this as well. It just gets overlooked for the fact that it’s an inaccurate film, so it’s never really given the time to be assessed for some of the great moments in this. But if you do re-watch Pocahontas please keep these moments in mind and see what your own opinion is to assess and maybe it’ll change the way you thought of the film or just the fact you got to learn something that you never really knew about this film.