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Months of Meryl: THE RIVER WILD

"Great post and comments. Yes, Streep had to navigate the rough waters of being in her 40's! I do think she smashed through the glass ceiling for women since she persevered and then became an even bigger star in her 50's." - Sister Rona

"One of my favourite movies from my teen years - I'm shocked at how long ago this was released. It was Meryl that sold this movie for me and is the reason I saw it. At the time, and I still feel this way, she is the reason to watch and believe this film." -Filmboymichael

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12 Thoughts I Had... While Watching "Pocahontas" Again

In the effort to be more succinct each week in my best shot entry -- it's called 'Best Shot' not "Ginormous Review of Everything I Think About This Movie and My 25 Favorite Images" and I'm so guilty of muddying that water --  I'm going to try and relegate all extraneous feelings into an additional catch-all post. So herewith some more ravings about Pocahontas and its relation to the Disney oeuvre (particularly Frozen). 

They're presented in mostly random chronological order. Thoughts I jotted down while watching or feelings I was feeling. So many felt feelings.

Confession: I almost never like Disney's Opening Songs. From The Little Mermaid's "Fathoms Below" through Frozen's weird chanting that sounds vaguely African though it's meant to be Norwegian, they're always B side filler, meant only to prep you for all the show tunes headed your way. The lone exception is surely The Lion King's "Circle of Life" which is really an A+ opening scene every way you look at it. 

• Thomas is totally gay (and gay for John Smith). [More...]

Thomas mans his cannon

Mel Gibson wouldn't approve so it'll have to be a Charlton Heston / Stephen Boyd kind of scene stealing Ben-Hur subterfuge. I'm tempted to write 1000 words on him. I really am. Perhaps he'll inspire a "Disney Peripheries" series? What'cha think? I may have looked at this drawing a little too often. Don't judge.

Disney movies have very conservative gender politics and heteronormative ideas about physical beauty. Consider how much it treats Kokoum like shit. He's presented, in some ways, like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast... i.e. we are immediately expected to view him as a perfect physical specimen ("he's soooo handsome") and then, as follow up, we are immediately reminded that this is irrelevant ("but he's so serious"). Female beauty is never dismissed or ridiculed in Disney animated films but praised/fetishized (consider that controversial "makeover" scene in Frozen or the entirety of Ursula's proposal in The Little Mermaid) so from the time we're in diapers we're trained to value beauty in women and consider it completely extranneous in men; you may enjoy it as a bonus (all the Prince charmings) or laugh at it (Gaston) or be suspicious of it (Prince Hans / Gaston) but it is never ever ever to be taken seriously as part of who a man is. For women it is the polar opposite. Disney is a total Glinda beauty fascist!

Only bad witches are ugly"

"Just Around the Riverbend" is my favorite song in the movie. So for me it peaks early. (Largely because they cut the love ballad but more on that once you scroll down.) Like much of Pocahontas it's a little too frantic at times (we'll lose the children!) but when it breaks or slows down and remembers that it's the big "i want" number, usually less choate than Ariel's very specific dreams, it's exemplary song-acting. Judy Kuhn's voice is a marvel of melodic clarity and emotional control. I think it's the best sung song in the Disney canon and that beat where we pan out and it all goes quiet at the fork in the river, is just... I get shivers. 

• Governor Ratcliffe is a weak-ass Disney Villain.

with all you've got in you, boys
dig up Virginia, boys ♫

He's dull. There's nothing to distinguish him from the crop of Fat/Skinny Fey baddies with Sycophantic Servant(s) / Adored Pets (seriously, be stunned at how many villains meet that exact description). Conservative groups are always complaining that Disney has a secret Pro-Gay agenda but they've obviously never seen The Celluloid Closet (1995) because most Disney villains are coded as Evil Queers. The tide may be turning on that with Frozen but it's worth remembering that Elsa was originally intended to be the villain of that film.

That Foggy Meeting of Explorer and Native. I could never deal with losing Pocahontas's first song but couldn't it have come after she meets John Smith? If you introduce Pocahontas right here...

... it instantly becomes one of the great "introducing..." a character scenes in all of cinema. And it would have been my choice for Best Shot. Imagine being introduced to her as this exotic "other" and then getting to know her as fully human - it would drive home the "whether we are white or copper skinned... ♫" message with more impact and make that "Savages" number even more damningly racist. But, yeah, it'd be uncomfortable for an animated film to make us complicit in our own racism and willingness to "exoticize" the other...

My Fantasy! ...and Okay Okay. at would take a structurally way more daring movie than formula Disney could ever provide to introduce our heroine that way. But imagine it: Terrence Malick's Disney's Pocahontas. Imagine his camera on Meko & Flit. He would have to really commit. Or be committed 

Meko, Flit & That Dog Whose Name I Always Forget. I don't hate the animal comedy in Pocahontas as much as some do though, yes, it's obviously pandering to insure that this drama is a musical comedy. I love the non-verbal voice work on Meko and if they were going to have animals this was the way to go. My favorite slapstick bit with the animals is Meko and the Dog in the bathtub with that bowl of cherries - very funny and excellent gag timing on the edits. 

Pocahontas is way too short. This is, as you've gathered reading The Film Experience, not a complaint we have too often about post 1940s cinema but especially post 1980s cinema. Modern movies tend to err on the padded scene and that preference has been comically morphed into the cancerous growth of Part 1s and Part 2s and even Part 3s of books that could be amply transferred in 90 minutes. But Pocahontas needs more than 81 minutes. It just does. When we get to the tent scene, and clearly need a moment to breathe and let our hearts beat with Pocahontas and John Smith, Disney executives nixed the love ballad. How do you do a West Side Story / Animated History Epic mashup and nix your own "Somewhere"? It's not right!

At least they get their own cross-cut overlapping "Tonight" in there via "Savages"

To prove my point, I looked up running times. Pocahontas is the shortest by two minutes of all the Disney's animated features from the breakthrough (The Little Mermaid, 1989) through the rough -- and I do mean 'rough' -- end of their modern renaissance (Tarzan, 1999) and this brevity does not help it. (It didn't help The Little Mermaid either but that film is near-perfect so why quibble?) Pocahontas is not succinct for good storytelling purposes but short because executives were worried that audiences would be bored; it's a crisis of confidence or a complete misread about what's working and what isn't about the movie, leaving important beats on the cutting room floor

"If I Never Knew You" is the best Disney Song to be yanked from its movie. I am 1000% confident that had these two scenes been left in the movie, people would have loved the movie a lot more. It was screen-tested out when the composer and the executives got nervous that they were going too adult and sophisticated with the matieral. But it was a fatal mistake to hobble the full passion... Here are both scenes and this fascinating documentary bit of hand-wringing and second-guessing from the production team about their decision.

That Kiss! I'm sorry but that's NC-17 as Disney goes. So hot, her lips trailing off of his at the end. 

Frozen Got Credit For Doing What Pocahontas Did First. This is one last note that I should have included in my Best Shot piece since it relates to the image I chose... 

People made a big big fuss about Frozen being the first Disney movie where the heroine's triumph is not falling in love and living happily ever after. Familial love and responsibility to your people was the focus. But isn't that exactly Pocahontas's achievement? She falls in love with John Smit but in the end, because it's better for him and better for her people (but maybe not best for her) she watches him go and stays where she's needed, to take her place among her people as the Chief's daughter (presumably some sort of promotion follows). 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these or any other Pocahontas/Disney topics in the comments. I'm not sure why I was so obsessed with Pocahontas this month but I go where the magical wind machine and colorful leaves of my cinephilia take me.


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Reader Comments (21)

I had no idea those songs were not in the original release. It's on the DVD my kids have seen, oh, 100 times.

I guess they should have danced around the tent instead of sitting still.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

Loved Meeko and Thomas. But to be honest I'm not fond of the cut song. John Smith's animation seems off. I think this movie inspired a deep-seated fascination with Virginia only fulfilled by my age 13 trip to Jamestown. Sadly, I found no raccoons or strapping seamen.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I agree, the runtime of Pochahontas is way too short. That's why everything felt so rushed in the end, sadly.
I love Flit because he's a hummingbird. When do you ever see Hummingbirds as a sidekick? <3
And Thomas admires John. Does that makes him gay?
That guy who is Ratcliffe's assistant is gay for damn sure. *lol*

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

"I go where the magical wind machine and colorful leaves of my cinephilia take me."

I so want to go there too! Can you take me?

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusanP

I didn't know about "If I Never Met You" until I did the HMWYBS shot for the movie but wow. What an achingly romantic song. It would've totally been high on the list of Disney love ballads if it had actually been included. If I ever do watch Pocahontas anytime soon, i'm going to watch the version with that song in it. Mel's not that great of a singer but it oddly doesn't detract from the emotion of it all.

When it comes to Disney opening songs, I do have lots of affection for Belle from Beauty and the Beast and The Bells of Notre Dame from THOND.

My favorite Evil Queer is totally Jafar. He's a total queen and i love it. I live for his unrelenting disdain for that "street rat".

I liked Frozen but people seem to LOVE Frozen. Still doesn't hold a candle to the real Disney classics to me. My favorite Disney moment will always be the dance in the grand ballroom in Beauty and the Beast.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

While I am very aware of the stereotypical misrepresentation of the history of Native Americans in the film as well as the generalizations and racial undertones that they film possesses, there is just magic in the water in Pocahontas. Despite everything telling me to hate the film, in the end you can not help but get swooped up in the music, the songs, and the (Disneyfying) story of Pocahontas.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKai Lor

For me "Pocahontas" is probably Disney's worst movie form the 90s (haven't seen Hercules though), but it was still very enjoyable. It's visually stunning and Alan Menken outdid himself once again (for me "Colors" is maybe even his best song). But on the other hand, the villain is kind of underwhelming and all those comedic elements just doesn't work well around more adult (let's face it, and sometimes sappy) rest.
But I so agree with you, Nathaniel, about Disney politics regarding beauty and, of course, about If I Never Knew You. It would have been much better finale, but even without it I had chills watching this "bye bitch" moment ;)

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpaulj

I had no idea about the cut song! Really beautiful stuff.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBenji

FYI, the dog's name is Percy...

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

Yes, the final act is so rushed.

I love Pocahontas' wind hairography. It's not one of my favorite Disney movies but it's probably the most stunning visually.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

Pocahontas is definitely a spokesmodel for Herbal Essence.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The song would've helped, but I don't really think the pacing is *so* bad, and the ending is still a knockout. I don't like the cutesy animals, but it doesn't distract from the film's strengths beyond the first twenty minutes or so. Since the film was so obviously meant to be an "adult", awards bait-y animated film, it's a damn shame that they lost the courage of their convictions.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

paulj - YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HERCULES?!? That's one of the best in my opinion!

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Please post the Thomas piece! That sounds fascinating, and yes, he's one of several supporting gay men in the Disney canon.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

If Thomas is looking at Smith a he strides his phallic symbol yeah he is gay!

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

"People made a big big fuss about Frozen being the first Disney movie where the heroine's triumph is not falling in love and living happily ever after. Familial love and responsibility to your people was the focus. But isn't that exactly Pocahontas's achievement? She falls in love with John Smit but in the end, because it's better for him and better for her people (but maybe not best for her) she watches him go and stays where she's needed, to take her place among her people as the Chief's daughter (presumably some sort of promotion follows). "

But that is portraied as a personal sacrifice; therefore, it's a sad ending. Frozen ends happily, reinforcing the beauty of having a family. Pocahontas depicts it not as a burden, but as something that holds her down from the best of happiness.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

The ending gets me every time, always bawl my head off...

They'll never do it, but "Pocahontas" would make a great stage musical. Bonus: Meeko, Flit and Percy would join Abu offstage.

May 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMovie Dearest

Does Belle (Beauty and the Beast) count as an opening song? i thought that was up there too!

May 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRizz

Frozen's openin song may sound African to you, but is actually Sami music made by a Norwegian Sami composer and the person who did the score. Kristoff and the other ice harvesters are meant to be Sami. I am from Scandinavia so the music did not sound out of place to me, it sounds more natural than the rest of the music.

May 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChinoiserie

I remember my whole family seeing it on opening night back in '95, and when it ended I remember my dad saying "that was alright."

And I really do still feel that way myself. While I love the score and the color palette, there are moments throughout that feel kinda rushed and truncated. After The Lion King, it felt like Disney could have gone anywhere with their animated films, and I think Hunchback from the following year is the more ambitious and daunting step forward.
Pocahontas could have been.

May 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDrew C

Weirdly, even at 102 minutes (which I still refuse to believe is its running time), "Frozen" to me felt like the shortest and most rushed Disney film I've seen.

May 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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