I think before I go into "Pocahontas", I should explain my stance to the fact that the story is based on a real person. Kind of. And I don’t even blame the “kind of” part on Disney. Yes, I know, the real Pocahontas was a child when she met John Smith, and John Smith wasn’t anything like the man in the movie, but that’s not really the issue here. Who was Pocahontas and what did she do in life to become famous? The answer is: absolutely nothing. Basically she grew up as one of the daughters of a chief close to an English settlement, and befriended John Smith, who was send back to England because of a gunshot wound he got while being drunk. She might have been married to a warrior named Kocoum, but if she was, the marriage ended when she got kidnapped and brought the England. She was introduced at the court (more o less as an exotic curiosity), John Smith wrote a letter to the queen in which he claimed that Pocahontas saved his life por convincing her father not to execute him, which may o may not be true, and considering John Smith reputation, the story of his time as a prisoner was most likely exaggerated in the first place. But even if it were true, rescuing one single English man is not exactly a history changing endeavor. Pocahontas married John Rolfe and died at the age of twenty.
So why is she famous? Because she was something new and interesting for the people at court, and her story got romanticized por them. That’s right, the story about Pocahontas, the so called Indian princess, isn’t even legend of the Native Americans, it’s a story the royal court waved around her. Pocahontas is as real as Robin Hood, with the difference that the legend around Robin capucha, campana is much older and had time to grow into something we perceive as story (it certainly helps that the origins of the real Robin capucha, campana are lost in history). That doesn’t mean that she wasn’t an admirable person in real life – I guess she had to be very intelligent, being one of the few natives who were able to speak English back then. But her achievements are greatly overstated, especially the idea that she singlehanded kept peace between natives and settlers.
Fairy Tales, legends and mythology are stories which have grown over the years because they got told and retold again and again. And the same is true for Pocahontas. To me, the story is much closer to a fairy tale o a legend than an historical account (never mind how disney advertised the movie), and the various versions have developed the story further. The disney version isn’t the first one which adds the romance to the story. And really, if I want to see a historical correct account about anything, I watch a documentary, not a movie made por a company who tells the story of Benjamin Franklin from the perspective of a mouse.
When I saw the movie in the theater, I liked it, but I wasn’t blown away por it. And I couldn’t even really tell why. It certainly hadn’t anything to do with the historical accuracy (or lack thereof), considering that I deliberately didn’t look up the story beforehand. I have now come to the conclusion that the main problem is the lack of a clear message. o más the fact that the movie tries to convey something, but subverts itself at every turn.
Let’s start with the “I want”-song. I really appreciate the idea of two people looking at the river and seeing two different things in it. Pocahontas’ father sees steadiness, she sees change. I could go behind the idea that the movie is about old vs. the new, tradition vs. being open for new experiences, if not for the fact that the new (the arrival of the settlers) will eventually result in the mass genocide of the Native Americans and the destruction of their way of life.
siguiente we get “Mine”, which is a great villain song for Radcliff, but confusing in the parts John Smith sings, because I’m not sure if this part is supposed to portray him in a good o a bad light. Is he good because unlike Radcliff he is not interested in oro o bad because he wants to tame the land? And there we are at the main problem of the movie: The main characters are kind of vague in their characteristics. John Smith is supposed to start out as the ignorant soldier, but while he has this “tame the land” attitude going on, he is otherwise portrayed as the (disgustingly) perfect hero. Pocahontas only needs one song to convince him about the error of his ways. And the lead up to it is strange. John Smith displays the typical colonist attitude and angers Pocahontas por telling her that “she doesn’t know any better”. The problem is: She doesn’t. She has never seen a European house, so she can’t judge if it’s better o not. This would work if she points out that John hasn’t seen their houses yet, o that there is a reason why they build their houses this way. So she desperately wants to learn and see new things, but there is no way that anything what she can learn might improve her way of life? I know what the intention behind the scene is, but I’m not sure if someone who doesn’t really know about the pitfalls of colonialism would get the point. It also never really gets explained why Pocahontas doesn’t speak up earlier to rescue John Smith. He would rather die the siguiente día than living hundreds of years without knowing Pocahontas, but she doesn’t even try to rescue him first because she feels guilty for Kocoum’s death?
“Savages” might be the strongest song in this movie. But again, the whole meaning of the song gets subverted por the plot. Despite what the song suggests, this is not about two groups of people going to war because they are afraid of the strangeness of the other group, this is one group who wants to take revenge for the death of one of their own and one group whose leader is supposed to be the villain (and I pregunta if a movie about tolerance would have needed a villain in the first place). And why does everyone act as if John Smith would be the first victim? Is Kocoum that’s unimportant? And it’s okay that John Smith killed a man because Pocahontas happens to amor him? Yes, I know, he didn’t do it, and Kocoum was the one who attacked first, but Pocahontas doesn’t explain this part, does she?
And there is the siguiente problem: Kocoum’s death gets treated like a minor problem. We never really get to know the character beforehand, the only thing we know about him is that he is heroic and serious (since when are those offensive character traits?). We never learn enough about this character to feel for his death, so the whole thing is very anticlimactic.
“Pocahontas” is to me a case of trying too hard. As a general rule, executives shouldn’t meddle too much in the work of the animators, but Pocahontas just had to be the siguiente big hit of Disney. They were hoping for a success on the same scale “Beauty and the Beast” had – but it’s not really possible to plan a success like that. “Pocahontas” made a decent showing, but it was “The Lion King” who became the biggest success of the company, ever. Which was the movie, people didn’t pay much attention to during development.
Nevertheless, “Pocahontas” is a good movie overall. The animación and the música makes up for a lot of its shortcoming. But since Disney’s Animated Pictures tend to be great o outstanding, it pales in comparison to the other cine of this era. The disney Renaissance was waning at this point, and it’s easy to see why: They overused the formula. The success of the Fab Four inspired the studios to use the same plot structure again and again and again. Grand opening, hero/ine sings the big “I want” song, meets significant other to a amor song, the villain sings the villain song, a little bit humor thrown in between, some conflict, and the great finale concludes with the death of the villain. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is más than one way of storytelling. Counting “The Little Mermaid” as starting point, ten disney cine hit the theaters during the disney Renaissance. And with the exception of “Rescuers Down Under”, all of them used roughly the same formula, never mind if they were based on fairy tales o not.
Although, I have correct myself here. “Mulan” gives the appearance of a typical disney Princess movie, but if tu look closer it is very different from all the others I mentioned so far. There is no villain song (in fact, the villain barely speaks at all), and it’s the first Princess movie without a amor song. It’s not really about the romance, yes, mulan has feelings for Shang, and Shang realizes his feelings for mulan at the end, but that’s not the focus of the story. And while the other cine start with the romance and end with marriage o the promise of future marriage, this one shows a growing friendship and ends with the beginning of the romance.
But even más important: This one doesn’t have a message to convey. Snow White has “kindness gets repaid”, cenicienta “Never give up hope”, Sleeping Beauty “Good always prevails over evil”, The little Mermaid “Follow your dreams”, Beauty and the Beast “True Beauty is found within”, aladdín “Be yourself” and Pocahontas is all about tolerance. “Mulan” on the other hand is about gender issues, but this movie raises preguntas instead of giving answers. It constantly plays with the perceptions woman have about men and the other way around.
Also, while mulan wants to find herself, it’s not the motivation of her actions. The classic princesses just try to survive difficult circumstances. The princesses of the Renaissance Era want “more”. But Mulan’s main motivation is keeping her father alive and keeping her family honor intact. In this, she is the perfect blend between the older and the newer princesses: She is very much a victim of the circumstances, but she has the means to face those circumstances head on. Also, she doesn’t succeed immediately in everything she does – she has to face a lot of setbacks on her way to her big triumph. Which might be the most satisfying in all of those movies.
Overall, “Mulan” leaves the impression of the movie, which budget was cut halfway through. It has a good story to tell (maybe the best of all the DP movies), it has impressive animación (I really amor the reverences to Chinese Watercolor, especially the swirls in the smoke), lovable character and a highly underrated soundtrack. But at some points, the last step just seems to be missing, especially in the battle scene. First they somehow reduce Shang’s troupe to eight man, instead of the nearly fifty seen during the training scenes. I suspect, out of convenience, because this way they have less animación to do, but it looks a little bit half done. The attack of the Huns looks very impressive, but only if tu don’t know “The Lion King”. And really, it doesn’t hold a candle to the stampede.
“Mulan” is very gutsy in killing off two whole armies, one of screen and one on screen, while hinting the dead of a little girl. But at the battle scene, the movie cops out. But that’s the only real complain I have about it. What’s really impressive about this movie are not the big, but the small things. How they change Mulan’s face slightly so that she would make a convincible man. The scenes between mulan and her father. And I should stop here, because I think, I could spend ages gushing about what I consider a highly underrated movie.