Release Date: June 23, 1995
Director: Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
When Pocahontas was released in 1995, I lived in James City County, Virginia, basically the same land where the real Pocahontas and the Powhatan people lived nearly 400 years earlier. I worked at Colonial Williamsburg and remember a visitor telling me “Disney is giving you a great tourism boost!” Well, it was the museums down the road at Jamestown that would have to deal with any Pocahontas-driven tourism. But, having seen the trailers for Pocahontas, it became a running gag among my co-workers that visitors to the flat, marshy Tidewater region would be asking “Where are the waterfalls?”
I won’t go into the many other historical inaccuracies this film creates from the life of Matoaka (later Amonute and Rebecca Rolfe). Disney almost always makes massive changes from the source material, but I find it unsettling that they would take a story about a real person – an indigenous person, at that – and take nothing from her many remarkable adventures in real life. Disney’s Pocahontas is a mystical, new age character and the film is a clichéd retelling of the Romeo and Juliet plot. With so many options available to tell a new and refreshing story with a historical figure, it’s disappointing that Disney chose to tell an obvious retread.
With all that being noted, I have three nice things to say about Pocahontas:
- It is a beautiful film to look at with the pristine American forests richly animated with great attention to water, leaves, and animals.
- Speaking of animals, I love the animal sidekicks, Percy the pampered pug, Flit the hummingbird with anger issues, and especially the mischievous and always hungry raccoon Meeko. Unlike other Disney films, the animals don’t speak, but they mime in hilarious ways. I’d watch a movie just about these three characters and their adventures.
- Disney doesn’t flinch about depicting the English colonists’ prejudices and avarice. Yes, the villain Ratcliffe is an over-the-top buffoon, but even the “good guy” colonists aren’t exactly “woke” at the end of the film. If would’ve been bad if Disney had brushed over the exploitative nature of colonialism, but that hasn’t stopped them from avoiding uncomfortable issues in other movies, so I’ll give them credit for doing it here.