Rated: G Reviewed by: Frank Release date: June 16, 1995 Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
Something is different in Pocahontas. There is a maturity in the characters. They are more complex and their faith, though influenced by events, is in their own hands. Two Disney films rate tops with me - Snow White and Beauty and the Beast. Each deals with human characters and complementary non-human characters who add charm, warmth and comedy to the production. Pocahontas has all that plus.
Would The Lion King have been better if the king were a human African? I think so. In this film, along with the tremendous animation that feels real but retains the perfection of imagination, the natural world of the Native American characters drive the action. From the fist scene, the film immediately immerses the audience in the substance and action of John Smith's voyage to the new world. The action is there from the beginning but it is at a less frantic pace more fitting to humans than animals or even the hyper "Aladdin." It is also closer to the real ability of humans, with some liberties taken. This quality will allow adults to enjoy the production equally as much as children.
The technical quality is incomparable. The woods, the sea and particularly the characters have qualities which quickly render them as real as any film image can be. The expressions, particularly on the face of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means), are developed with as much realism as a live actor could produce. All the human characters are rendered with features and movements which are natural to live performers.
The story, which is historically based, revolves around Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) and her relationship with John Smith (Mel Gibson). Set on the background of English soldiers searching for cities of gold in the new world and the resistance of the Native Americans to the changing of the country they live in, Smith and Pocahontas teach each side that negotiation is better than war.
The secondary characters are delightful. Flint, a hummingbird, pals up with Pocahontas and Meeko, a mischievous raccoon who steals Smith's supplies. Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt) is a mystical spirit residing in an ancient tree who gives guidance and advice to Pocahontas. They each add to the joy of the young girl's life in the unspoiled American wilderness. The villain is fat bumbling, self-centered Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers).
Gibson is allowed to slip in some of the wit that he is known for, but the writers gave the strength, beauty and intelligence to the heroine Pocahontas. She is filled with the spirituality of the Native American culture. She has and uses diplomatic skills and she is a loyal, loving daughter to her father, the chief of the tribe.
Pocahontas is filled with universal messages of family loyalty, child-parent relationships and love between the two young heroes. It is all wrapped up in the joyfulness of Disney magic which continues to transport us into worlds that don't exist any longer or never did. Watch this one with your kids.