When "Avatar" was first released and I was singing its praises to my friends, those who were hipsters (but didn't know, and still don't know that they are hipsters) criticized James Cameron's movie, saying: "It's just 'Pocahontas' with blue people." Is it, really? Let's find out.
Right off the bat, "Pocahontas" is an incredibly stupid, clumsily worded, historically inaccurate debacle of a story that should have been an easy Disney success.
The movie starts in England, where John Smith and company (the Virginia company...oh so punny) are headed over to the new world. The mission is headed by the greedy Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) who is out to get rich and finally receive recognition. John Smith is the typical handsome Disney "prince" or in this case "self-centered, ignorant, white man". He has blond hair and blue eyes and (guess what?) he's the only man in the expedition that is voiced by an American...Mel Gibson.
Smith is a courageous and cocky hot-shot. When a man gets swept overboard in the middle of a storm, he just dives right in and fishes it out. Brushing off the event, he makes a comment about it being so easy....swag on, John Smith...swag on.
Then there's the other side of the story, the Indian side. The native inhabitants are good people, like Thoreau at Walden they live on the bare necessities. Pocahontas, like every other Disney princess, is a girl fully aware of her womanhood, friend to all animals, and given to a man she doesn't love. She rejects the first man because he seems too serious—she wants a free-spirited partner.
The sidekicks of this film are all silent, there's a raccoon, a dog, and a hummingbird and they are the best part of the film. It doesn't look good when the best characters don't speak.
Pocahontas decides that she is going to be a wild child and take her own paths; but before doing that, she has a quick brunch with the talking tree spirit who tells her to listen to her heart—ergo, wait for the sparkly leaves to drift by to show to the viewer that something important is happening...wait, what? Yes, that's right...this carefree maiden likes talking to trees and stalking cute, white boys who show up on her proverbial doorstep. If anything, Pocahontas is just plain crazy.
Governor Ratcliffe is in it for the gold, the gold, the GOLD!
What is he in it for?
This is beaten into the viewer's head so many times, it begins to feel abusive. In "Pocahontas" the English were coming just to get rich and hurt the environment, which they do.
The ship lands and the sparkly leaves fly by just in case we didn't think huge ships landing in a foreign territory wasn't evident enough that some things were going to change.
Unfortunately, I was comparing everything in "Pocahontas" to everything from Malick's "The New World"...they tell the same story. But one is a rich, engrossing story that holds true to traditions and satisfies historical accuracy and the other is a bloated tale that just ends up feeling racist...I'll let you figure out which one is which.
The themes are so over-exaggerated: be green and don't be racist. In doing this, the movie still feels slightly biased. Let me elaborate...
As previously mentioned, the only settler who is voiced by an American is John Smith...the rest are English. Since he's the hero of the film are we saying that all Americans are good and all British people are bad? That's ridiculous because America wasn't even a country when the saga of Pocahontas unfolded.
When John Smith and Pocahontas first meet...my favorite scene occurs. Not my favorite because it's good, my favorite because it's sooooooooo so so so so so so so horrible that it's funny. They touch hands and the sparkly leaves fly around and suddenly Pocahontas can speak English.
Yep, them tree spirits are powerful things.
"Pocahontas" is Disney at a low point. Some moments are worthy of a chuckle and some are worthy of a thousand moans.
From colorful winds to gold-hungry stereotypes, everything to hate is included in "Pocahontas".
The story is similar to "Avatar", but I'll take my giant blue people over this mess any day.
Score: 2 out of 4 stars