In trying to do a good thing, Disney has tried to atone for fifty years of negative movie images of Native American life by making all Native Americans beautiful, heroic, and wise.
You may feel one way if you watch "Pocahontas" with a four-year-old curled warmly in your lap and another if you are annoyed by the contemporary tone that is invading our legends. The good side of both situations is that Disney's animators continue to create magic for the four-year-old and often for us as well.
The talented team hooks us quickly with a thunderous storm at sea, and holds us with an ethereal forest. A wise old willow dispenses advice in the voice of Linda Hunt, and the animal kingdom has two fine new creatures: a hummingbird and a raccoon, who tumble and laugh and rarely leave the side of their beloved Pocahontas, who moves through her forest with a soaring spirit and fierce pride. When the heroic young woman dives from a promontory that looks suspiciously like Pride Rock, her exuberant defiance fairly lifts you out of your seat.
When Pocahontas saves the life of John Smith and averts a war, you know the little girl in your lap has heard something important. Disney's idealized message this time around is the best dream of environmentalists and women.
But the script runs headlong into the problem of politically incorrect legends. There really is no easy way to negotiate the minefield of ethnic history today. In trying to do a good thing, Disney has tried to atone for fifty years of negative movie images of Native American life by making all Native Americans beautiful, heroic, and wise. The Brits, with a couple of exceptions, are portrayed as boorish, greedy louts, who scorch the earth in their search for gold.
Even the well-intentioned John Smith--in the mellifluous voice of Mel Gibson--spouts the infamous message: "We'll show you how to use this land. We'll build houses and roads and bridges." And so they did, and so do we still.
Disney is guilty of a common failing among adults: the belief that children cannot handle even the slightest bit of ambiguity. Instead of creating choices that encourage reflection in the big, open minds of little people, grown-ups try to teach with extremes of good and evil stereotypes that weave in and out of historical fashion.
This time, they come close just three times. A young British sailor named Thomas is appropriately bewildered as he weighs the rights and wrongs of the drama unfolding before him. And in using a pampered little dog and a freewheeling raccoon as metaphors for old-world British artifice and new-world zest, the animators understand, for a moment anyway, that humor is more instructive than caricature. In handing Pocahontas a final dilemma of unclear choices, the studio takes an unaccustomed, daring risk that reflects real life.
All that said, no one can pull us more strongly to the screen than Disney's animators when they decide to raise an anchor or hoist a sail. And who else in the world could make even the coldest heart fall in love with a hummingbird?
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Disney
Rating : G
Running Time: 1h27m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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