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« Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Visual Index ~ Pocahontas (1995) | Main | I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No (To Links) »
Tuesday
Apr222014

"should I choose the smoothest course...is all my dreaming at an end?"

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.

Disney's most beautiful and best sung heroine ever

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.

Best Shot
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.

Next Tuesday Night

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Reader Comments (11)

Mine! http://minnesotagneissblog.blogspot.com/2014/04/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-pocahontas_22.html

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJake D

This gif, commonly used on sports forums when a disliked team/player loses, is Pocahontas' enduring legacy:

http://i.imgur.com/ScVDGbI.gif

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJason

$*&#!@^* I knew there was a reason that I wanted to be home tonight. Well, I'm going to toss out an entry tomorrow whether it's a day late or not :P

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTim Brayton

I have been waiting for this. I am very fond of the movie and the character. The animation looks breathtaking, one of Disney´s best. I am a bit tried of people bringing up this only when they call the movie racist or historically inaccurate.
But I think most think its greatest flaw is that it is boring (I disagree).I have always appreciated how different this is from most Disney movies and the ending is one of my favorites.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChinoiserie

I'd love to hear your other thoughts on Pocahontas!

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Looks like they actually animated the "If I Never Knew You" scene as well as a reprise at the end! I'm going to pretend they're a part of the movie. Here are the links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DklHMnx-3s
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67V0IQJgEzM

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

......i never knew that there was a secret love ballad!

I LIVE FOR THOSE.

*runs to Youtube*

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

Thanks for those links, Joe.

I'm now BAFFLED as to why they cut that song out.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

love that shot of Pocahontas saving smith. I actually had that as a possibility as well. mainly because I looooooooove how her hair drapes over him. and really it all comes down to how amazing her hair is.

it's interesting that you mention how horizontal the composition is as one of the design elements the animators used from their research was making everything as horizontal and vertical as possible.

and I couldn't agree more on 'if I never knew you'. the film suffers without it, but the filmmakers thought it was pulling down the momentum of the story. without it, that scene while he's held captive feels too rushed. there are versions that added it back in, which I think should be the only version of the film from now on.

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Nathaniel, THERE IS INTEREST! I loved and agreed with EVERYTHING you had to say about Pocahontas and would love to hear more of your thoughts on the film (and on Hunchback too in another post, if you're so inclined -- I also prefer it to "Aladdin" and "Lion King" even though "Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" remain the great achievements in the Disney canon for me).

April 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJase

Well, thanks to this post, I finally got around to seeing Pocahontas for the first time the other night, and I pretty much loved it. At first the sidekick animals and the obvious prestige/awards ambitions put me off it, but that melted away quickly. This is indeed a film of surprising maturity, and that combined with its stunning animation and that melancholy ending - wow. It's amazing that this actually came out of Disney - it feels practically experimental compared to the cookie cutter sequel generators most of the major American animation studios are cranking out nowadays.

In retrospect, I kind of miss the Katzenberg-led attempts at "serious" animation in the mid to late 90s. I would much rather see something as rich, odd and imperfect as Pocahontas, or even Prince of Egypt, than, well, most of what comes out today. I happened to see The Croods for the first time the night after watching Pocahontas - and it is, by contemporary standards, I guess, probably a slightly above average movie, but yikes does it pale in comparison.

April 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

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