Happy Earth Day to all! For this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot we're looking at the environmentalist drama, romantic fantasy, historical epic, animated musical (*whew*) known simply as Pocahontas. Though Disney's 1995 release was a hit, in 2014 is has something of a stepchild reputation, coming as it did on the heels of four consecutive gargantuan critical / cultural smashes (The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King) that are all still beloved today.
Should I choose the smoothest course
Steady as the beating drum?
Should I marry Kocoum?
Is all my dreaming at an end?
Or do you still wait for me, Dream Giver
Just around the riverbend?
Pocahontas admittedly suffers, as those earlier hits did not, with the weight of sky high expectations. You can feel the pressure and strenuous attempts to be all things to all people by repeating the things Disney knew everyone already loved: princesses, showtunes, jutting triangular cliffs (seriously what was with that visual fetish they had for awhile?), fat/skinny foppish villains, and animal sidekicks. But Pocahontas actually wants to be something else, something earthier and more grown-up (womanly rather than girlish for one) and thematically sober. That same push-pull friction between Delivering What People Want and Listening To Your Heart (to borrow Grandmother Willow's sound advice) to follow your true path beset Hunchback of Notre Dame the following year. But in many ways I prefer both of the "trouble" pictures to the latter half of Disney's Magnificent Foursome from 1989-1994.
For all of Pocahontas failures, I love it and feel deeply protective. This is a melancholy love without a happy ending. In other words, just like the movie itself. This image, from the penultimate climax (the true climax is Pocahontas's decision to stay with her tribe, screencapped above, while she lets her dream man sail away), was really my only choice, though hardly the film's most beautiful; it's a perfect snapshot of my love for the movie, and its adult romanticism. Note that the figures are nearly horizontal (as John and Pocahontas will be in the most passionate kiss drawn for any Disney animated film), which is a far cry from the moony eyed straigth to the altar romance most Disney films favor that's so removed from the earthier passions of the body.
I know Pocahontas is not the masterpiece it could have been if the studio had lifted its chin as proudly and bravely as their heroine does throughout. The absolute worst decision Disney made was to excise the love ballad "If I Never Knew You" which was relegated to the end credits but was to have been sung between John Smith and Pocahontas in the tent where he's held captive. Pocahontas might have been a masterpiece if they had pulled back on the standard Disney motifs to make more room for the things the movie is doing superbly. And that's chiefly Pocahontas herself who is the best-sung and most fully realized Disney heroine. Whenever the movie embraces her passions for her own truth ("Listen To Your Heart"), the bounty of the earth ("River Bend" and "Colors of the Wind") and John Smith (the missing song!), it soars like an eagle and gestures to the kind of grand romanticism that demands magical wind machines and a whole rainbow of leaves.
Speaking of, where were they in my Best Shot? Oh, thank god. They sweep in when we cut back to the Native Princess and her man after they realize they've saved countless lives by embracing love rather than fear.
P.S. I actually have a lot more to say about Pocahontas, which I might share in random list form later this week if I sense that there's interest, but I wanted to return Best Shot back to its original beauy focus. That is to pick one image and discuss why it's the image for the beholder.