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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Pocahontas

Starring: Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson
Director: Eric Goldberg
Rated: G
RunTime: 81 Minutes
Release Date: June 1995
Genres: Animation, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Christian Bale, Russell Means, Linda Hunt, Judy Kuhn, David Ogden Stiers, Joe Baker, Billy Connolly

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

POCAHONTAS is an animated movie of incredible beauty. It is a Disney made fairy tale set in 1607 in Virginia and is loosely based on some famous historical figures.

This movie version of the true story of Pocahontas makes an 11-12 year old girl into an older teen with a body that any fashion model would kill for. She is extremely well endowed by her creator. In Disney's version she falls in love with John Smith and saves his life. In reality, she never did the former, but did do the later. The real Pocahontas did marry an Englishman, but not John Smith, and did go to England to die of Small Pox at the ripe old age of 21. You will have to see the movie to learn Disney's ending.

Although many reviewers have claimed that since Disney was only making a cartoon, they could take whatever liberties they wanted with historical fact, and it was unfair to criticize them for inaccuracies. I find this logic specious. Lets say Disney had made the movie with a homely looking 11 year old Pocahontas, Native Americans who were lazy and murders and Englishmen who were risk taking and hard working entrepreneurs. You think those same critics would then claim, well, it is only a cartoon? But I digress.

Of Disney's recent movies this was the most picturesque - even surpassing THE LION KING which set a benchmark for cartoon beauty. The colors were translucent and luminescent with pastel greens and blues dominating. So many scenes were striking it is hard to pick the best, but I think the image of the chain of leaves was my personal favorite. It seemed a metaphor of the linking of the characters. There were no poor visuals in the show and many were quite innovative like the ones showing the fog or the ones of the reflected fire. The vast vistas as in THE LION KING were even more impressively done in POCAHONTAS.

The music by Alan Menkin and the lyrics by Stephen Schwartz was breathtaking albeit not quite on the same level as the scenic imagery. I hope the lead song wins the Academy Award. It was lovely - upbeat and dreamy at the same time.

The characters were a mixed bag and the script (Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, and Philip LaZebnik) was the worse part of the movie. Pocahontas was played by a fairly new actress to movies, Irene Bedard. Her boyfriend John Smith was done by every woman's heartthrob, Mel Gibson. His sidekick Thomas was performed by Christian Bale from EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Russell Means was Chief Powhatan and David Ogden Stiers was the evil Governor Ratcliffe. Finally, Linda Hunt, whose only good movie was THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY where she was phenomenal, played a tree called Grandmother Willow.

For my taste, I thought the raccoon Meeko and his sidekick the hummingbird Flit stole the show. Meeko was forever playing tricks on Percy, the Governor's pampered bulldog. These three characters were just about the only ones given no dialog which is fine given the poor quality of the words the humans and the tree were forced to utter.

The best line was Smith's "Don't worry I've been in worse scrapes than this, but I don't remember any right now" which sounds like it was lifted verbatim from one of the plethora of LETHAL WEAPON movies. The worse was the way Pocahontas talked. It was so cool that you half expected her to ask her girlfriend if she wanted to go hang out at the mall. The male Native Americans were given more authentic sounding dialog. Other than the sight gags of Meeko, Flit, and Percy, POCAHONTAS was devoid of any real humor. Coming from a studio that produced THE LION KING and ALADDIN, I was surprised. It could have used more humor.

The actors were not much. Gibson's delivery was monotonic and lacking of any real emotion. Only Bedard breathed any life into her role. Pocahontas's melodious singing was by Broadway singer Judy Kuhn who was terrific.

Disney has always been fond of having characters die in its movies. POCAHONTAS was no exception. The way the movie handled it with complete silence afterwards is something I still can not decide if I liked or not. It certainly was different.

Although this was a cartoon, it is a shame that Disney felt compelled to twist, distort, and hide so many key facts and paint their characters in such black and white. Besides the problem mentioned in the beginning of this review, there were many more. We learn that the Native Americans treated the land and other people well whereas white people raped and plundered the land and treated other people poorly.

Granted that the Native Americans were probably better stewards of the land, the good and evil was not quite so tidy as shown in the movie. According to a recent in-depth article in the Wall Street Journal, Pocahontas's tribe, the Powhatans, killed people in other tribes in order to subjugate them and then they extorted eighty percent in taxes from the tribes they controlled through this villainy. They may have been extra sweet to the earth, but to their fellow human beings and neighbors they were not.

Since the MIGHTY MORPHINE POWER RANGERS are getting savaged by the critics because of the toy tie ends, let me point out that POCAHONTAS figures are in all of the toy shops and book stores and in many of the fast food places. Moreover, we had to sit through seven, count 'em seven, previews of upcoming Disney attractions, before we got to see the movie we paid for. That is over ten minutes of advertisements we were forced to watch. Actually, I love seeing previews, but that is another story.

POCAHONTAS runs 1:20, and although it does feel a bit short, I liked the pacing. It is rated G, and it is a soft G at that. There is no sex other than a single kiss and no bad language. Even the bathroom humor of THE LION KING is absent. It has some violence, but it is very low key and should be safe for any aged kid. Jeffrey, my six year old, gives the movie a thumbs up. His favorite character was Pocahontas. He even liked it better than THE LION KING he said because it did not have the blood that THE LION KING did. I recommend the show to everyone regardless of age. Take the whole family and go see it. Given its numerous problem areas (script, actors, and accuracy), I can bring myself only to give it *** although the good parts are spectacular.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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