I guess you could call this a review, as I’m going to write EXACTLY what I think of today’s film, ‘Pocahontas’ and leave a score at the end, but in reality, this is going to be more of a rather angry rant. So, as a disclaimer, there will be spoilers and probably more bad language than usual.
With that out of the way, I’m really pissed off right now. For some reason, a couple of films ago, I had the somewhat “misguided” notion that the bad days of Disney were in the rear-view mirror and you know what? I even started to recklessly feel emotions such as optimism. Then along came ‘The Lion King’ which served as a timely reminder that with Disney, sheer unbridled misery and the harsh realities of existence are never more than a stone’s throw away. I was hoping that this would be a one off, but then along came ‘Pocahontas’…
There have been plenty of examples of modern day “family” films, most of them in fact, that demonstrate how a light-hearted fictional story is more than adequate to fulfil the entertainment needs of Mum, Dad, Son and Daughter, in which an occasional teary moment is often balanced out with laughter, happiness and an ideal opportunity for everyone to free themselves from the very real worries of bigotry and corruption that they are prone to experiencing in the three-dimensional world (or in the news). By all means, have issues and dangers that our animated hero must overcome, but as I will be discussing today, firstly ensure these issues and dangers aren’t proverbially shitting on your own doorstep, and secondly, don’t pick a real story that backs you into an “unsatisfactory conclusion” corner.
This film carries a big message. Ok two messages as Disney are clearly screaming from the rooftops “Look everyone! We no longer have any connections to racist ideology! Song of the South? Never happened! Black slave unicorns? That doesn’t reflect the beliefs and attitudes of this company! Well… anymore.” To be fair I do genuinely believe that Disney were now trying to deliver a more positive message and have generally set a fantastic example to today’s kids with their more recent films, but back in the mid-nineties I’m sure some exec’s at chez Disney felt the need to demonstrate that their company had indeed progressed with the times. But I digress. The real big message from this film states loud and clear: “The British are bastards!”
And they are correct. Quite a lot of the time anyway. I should know, as I’m not just British, I am English. The entitled, arrogant icing sugar on the British Victoria sponge. Going back half a millennium, a few European countries decided to compete in a war of douchery, that mostly entailed seeing who could rape, pillage and erect their flagpoles (euphemism and literal) in more of the non-European world. After watching the Spanish leave a not-so-clean-cut mark on the new world, the British responded with “hold my flagon of mead”, and a new era of pastier skinned bastard arrived on American soil. One of the many places they essentially invaded and took over, was Jamestown, Virginia. Lots of historical stuff happened, and then many hundreds of years later, Disney decided that it would be a perfect setting for a family film…
That’s right. Whilst Pixar were preparing to change the animated world with films about children’s toys magically coming to life, animal adventures, monsters and highspeed racing cars, Disney were thrilling kids with a tale of natives fighting seventeenth century colonial repression. I genuinely feel a good bellwether for gauging that you haven’t picked a good theme for a family cartoon, is when the writer and viewer both have to tiptoe around and ignore the reality of rampant racially charged enslavement (there were many African slaves brought over by the British to do the legwork, which of course are nowhere to be seen here) and sexual aggression in order to make a half-arsed love-story. And half-arsed it most definitely is, and thanks to that “being backed into a corner” by the fact that Pocahontas famously married someone else, she never even has a “living happily ever after” with the male hero, John Smith. This means that the equilibrium that the viewer has been patiently waiting for to bring the film to a satisfactory conclusion is in fact merely finding out that the British leave, sparing the lives of the natives in the process. That would be fine, except for the fact we know in reality this probably wasn’t the case, and even if John and co had buggered off, they would be replaced by another fleet of Cockney thieves and rapists before long. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine all got their man in the end, and whilst I’m a believer that a strong independent woman don’t need no man, this film doesn’t have enough going for it elsewhere to be the first that takes that approach.
Sorry if this seems somewhat cynical, but that’s what happens when we make family entertainment out of the darker moments of human history. Usually Disney covers dark stories that are largely fictitious, mostly because they like to be pretentious and consider themselves the animated version of fine art or high-brow jazz. Just watch ‘Fantasia’ or the behind-the-scenes parts of ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ if you question this. Of course you don’t want slaves, pillaging and far worse included in a family film but at the same time, ignoring it altogether is equally disrespectful for those who have suffered. So for me, when you have to water down the realities of a story this much, just maybe you aren’t the ones that possess the appropriate vehicle to deliver that tale in the first place.
But of course with this being Disney, when stubbornly trying to deliver a largely depressing scenario in a way that will be entertaining for the little ones, what do you do? Well unsurprisingly, the writers have their perfect solution…
A fun frolicking animal sidekick! But can an animal sidekick alone compensate for a dark story such as this you say? No? Well then…
Two fun frolicking animal sidekicks!!! I don’t know about you, but I feel this is a jovial treat in waiting now! What you’re still not convinced?
Fuck it, many many fun frolicking animals, there, and we’ve even stuck them on a tree with a face that vaguely resembles an upturned vagina. Don’t believe me?
See? We’ve made a film that is both high-brow and fun and playful at the same time! Are you happy now?
Well actually no, I feel fed-up, and a little sad. But I shall cheer myself up knowing that the next film will involve the good people at Pixar, who feel that it is perfectly acceptable to make a family film about a fiction box of children’s toys. It may not be based on a literary classic or tackling the moral impurities of human history, but you know what, I think both myself, and the rest of my family for that matter, will manage just fine.
Great. How do I follow that?! I think that Ben has a lot of good points and I can’t really argue with any of them.
However, the songs are amazing. Ok, ‘Colors of the Wind’ is amazing. ‘Just Around the Riverbend’ is good. The rest are mediocre at, best.
I think this is another one of those Disney films that is great when you’re a child and are yet to discover the cruel, harsh realities of the world, but as an adult, it’s kinda… just… wrong!
However, what I will say is that it has some good characters, an iconic song that gives me ‘the feels’ and adorable animal sidekicks (yeah, that’s right Ben. I like the animal sidekicks! You wait for Mushu!).
Initially, we weren’t going to review the Disney Pixar films until we’d finished all the WDAS ones, but after watching The Lion King and Pocahontas (and the film after is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I think he will also find bleak) , I think Ben needs a bit of light, comedy relief. So I’ve decided the bring the Pixar films into the mix.
Watch this space. I think he’ll love Toy Story (hope I’m right!).
3 thoughts on “Pocahontas”
Thank you for calling out the problematic issues with Pocahontas. Sure, I saw it when I was a kid and didn’t think too much of it then. Years later, I realized how problematic it was with whitewashing genocide and colonialism just with colorful animation and songs. Even “Savages” is a false equivalency strawman in musical form.
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Completely agree. Used to love the film as a kid, but watching it now, it’s awful!
Still love ‘Colors of the Wind’ though. 😘
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Thanks, Kerry. Glad you’ve noticed those things, too. Even in America, they don’t talk about the Indigenous cultures the right way. Native Americans absolutely HATE this movie and I don’t blame them for feeling that way. I would recommend the books of Winona LaDuke to learn more about the real history of those cultures.
Colors of the Wind certainly has a case of being a good song, but attached to a problematic movie.
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