One of my favorites of the Disney animated classics. It’s a straight forward enough story that at least takes some pains to show the terrible way that European settlers treated Native Americans and shows that people are people and will often try to do the right thing, given a chance. The music is wonderful and the animation is really quite something that up even today.
Now the caveats:
One: Pocahontas is really the only Disney animated movie to that point (and really since) based on specific historical individuals. There are a few based on folk tales and myths that may have been based on real people (like Robin Hood, Hercules, and Mulan), but really… there’s just Pocahontas. So of course the fact that it’s not really that historical–John Smith and Pocahontas are real people, but they were decades apart in age and never really had a relationship; Pocahontas isn’t even realy her name, it’s closer to a nickname–rubs some people the wrong way. I think it might have been better received had they been made up whole cloth, but really who can say.
Two: There’s more than a little of the ‘Noble savage, treating the native people as these perfect New Age hippies, in touch with the magic of the ‘New World’ where really, they were people as well, some good, some bad, and all people. And if you’re going to base a movie on real native tribes (such as those who created Jamestown would have met), you could do more to accurately represent their specific beliefs and practices.
All that being said, it’s a disney film. And I really do think they do a decent job of telling a good story while still being relatively respectful:
In their quest for authenticity, the Disney studios hired mostly Native American actors and actresses to do the voices. They also employed Native American consultants, and had a session with a real shaman. Despite these efforts, prominent Native American activists issued an open letter condemning this movie for its historical inaccuracies, and stereotyping of the Native American people. However, actor and Native American activist Russell Means (who provided the speaking role and physical inspiration of Powhatan) has referred to this movie, in particular the opening, as being the “single best representation of American Indians(sic) that Hollywood has ever done.”
After all that, like I said, I love the music. Steady as the Beating Drum, Mine, Mine, Mine, Just Around the Riverbend, Savages, and of course, Colors of the Wind. They’re just so good…
Well worth the (re)watch.
Random trivia of the day:
As all of the actors and actresses recorded their dialogue separately, they did not meet each other until the premiere. Mel Gibson was absent from the film’s premiere because he attended the premiere of Braveheart (1995) overseas at the time. As of 2019, Irene Bedard has not met him in person.