Everything You Need to Know About the Disney Film Pocahontas
Pocohontas recently turned 23!
A svelte hunter/gatherer powerfully rows a heavy, hand-carved canoe against the cool, unpredictable current of a mighty river. The strong arms appear to be effortless as the gatherer speeds past the trees and rocks that line the distant inlet where, just through the foliage, a small village sits modestly in the forests- just like it has for countless generations. Although weighed down by large baskets carrying a successful bounty, the hunter/gatherer uses their strong legs to bound from the canoe, followed closely by a strangely domesticated group of forest animals who guide the way. Cheers erupt from the village as the energized hunter makes their way past the low hanging branches and into clearing lit by the setting sun…the hero has returned home. And the village is grateful.
Who, or what comes to mind by that description? I picture a rugged looking, muscular man, maybe even a war hero. The last image that pops into my mind is one of a Disney Princess, but those personality traits are exactly those of one of my favorite Disney Princesses of all time, and she celebrated a big anniversary last month! As Pocahontas recently turned 23 years old, there isn’t a better time to re-visit the classic film featuring a no-nonsense Princess I’ve looked up to since I was a kid. Let’s celebrate Pocahontas!
A Cinematic Masterpiece
On the heels of the massive success of The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney Animation finally had the big return to the silver screen it desperately needed. The studio wasted no time in producing high-quality, now-classic films in the next few years, and we saw films like Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King top the box offices. Pocahontas was released in 1995 when these hand drawn films were at their peaks. Speaking of hand drawn, Pocahontas is (sadly) one of the last hand drawn animated feature films Disney released…but does the style still hold up? I’ve watched plenty of animated Disney movies with my little cousins, and now that they’ve grown enough to speak up about their favorites, their choices surprise me! It doesn’t matter that digital animation has taken over, they are just as obsessed with the hand drawn films as they are The Incredibles!
When (not if) you re-watch Pocahontas this week, really look at the animation. The film opens in England as John Smith and his crew prep to sail to the New World…and the clean, crisp, colors in this sequence summarize the sleek, bright life the privileged English live. In the very next scene, a dramatic shift in scene- and colors- take us to Pocahontas’ home village in the New World. The incredible change in colors from bright and cool change to earthy and understated as we are introduced to Pocahontas’ world- one drastically different than John Smith’s. Not only are the colors and animation style at play in setting the scene, the shift in music doesn’t hurt either!
I could write a dissertation on the music in this movie because it is, in my opinion, Alan Menken’s best score from beginning to end. His orchestrations are great through the whole thing, but to get the best sense of his genius musicality, you’ve got to listen to/watch the Colors of the Wind sequence! Firstly, I’ve never heard another Disney film’s music encapsulate the sounds of nature via musical instrument like Menken’s in Pocahontas. When a gust blows Pocahontas’ famously wind-tossed hair, he somehow wrote a musical line for the flute that sounds EXACTLY like wind…that’s why we buy so wholeheartedly into Pocahontas’ plea during the song!
The music also brilliantly supports the incredible animation in this sequence. That same earthy color palette is used here, but this time it’s accented with more brightness. Pocahontas’ world comes to life for John Smith at the same time it comes to life for the audience, and we get to experience it right along with the film’s protagonists! Upbeat and light woodwind orchestrations make the pitter-patter of the pairs’ running feet that much more realistic for the audience, and the music/animation one-two punch is exactly why this film has so much staying power!
TIP: Really focus on that finale scene! Pocahontas running through the forest to catch John Smith’s departing ship is some of the best animation/music you’ll find!
Embodying Strength On Screen and In the Parks
I think that each and every one of the Disney Princesses is strong in their own way. Even the three or four who get a bad wrap for needing saving go through an awful lot! There isn’t another Princess with as much innate physical and emotional strength, smarts, intuition, and family-focused goals as Pocahontas. Name me another Princess who can row herself through careening rivers, run through the hidden pine trails of the forest, and dance around the fire without ever wearing a pair of shoes!
Pocahontas’ strength is truly unparalleled, and I’ve always been inspired by her! When I was growing up, she wasn’t often meeting and greeting her fans in the Disney Parks, but that all changed as she proved her staying power! You can meet Pocahontas on the Discovery Island Trail at the Animal Kingdom! You can also catch the Princess nightly in Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios! There is an entire, action-packed scene that utilizes water, pyrotechnics, and live stunt performers to bring the film to life on the massive stage, and it’s punctuated with an appearance by Pocahontas herself! No matter if you choose to see the Princess on your TV screen or in the Parks, you can draw inspiration from one of my favorites every day, and soon, you’ll be painting with all the colors of the wind. Is Pocahontas your favorite princess? Have you ever meet her in the Parks? Let me know in the comments!
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Special thanks to Maria Salerno for writing this article: Hiya pal! I am a NYC-based writer thrilled to be part of your Disney day! I’m a WDW Annual Passholder, so you can find me in the parks regularly throughout the year. In addition to being a Disney Parks loving girl, I’m also a Disney toy and merchandise collector, a runDisney enthusiast, and Disney music and movie aficionado. You can follow me on Instagram: NYCtoAP and find me on YouTube: NYCtoAP. Thanks for reading, hope to see ya real soon!