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POCAHONTAS
10th Anniversary Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Christian Bale
Directors:  Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  84 Minutes
Release Date:  May 3, 2005

"By 'uncivilized', I only mean..."

"Not like you."

Film ***

Pocahontas is a film more steeped in myth than history, and more wondrous than real.  Once upon a time I kind of dismissed it for its blatant attempts to sugar coat facts and make them more palatable, but after ten years, I realize the movie works beautifully on an entirely different plane.  It's not meant to be a history lesson as much as a parable on why we fear that which is different from us, and how destructive the power of ignorant hatred can be.  And by contrast, how healing the power of love is.

Sure, the producers at The History Channel might stand agog at a Pocahontas (Bedard) who seems much older than the 11 or 12 years she actually was at the time of saving John Smith's (Gibson) life, sings like a Broadway star, talks to trees, befriends cuddly forest animals and has a figure like she just stepped out of the pages of Maxim.  That's fine...they can tell their story their way, and so can Disney.

When Smith arrives on a British boat under the command of one Governor Radcliffe (Stiers), he seeks adventure in the new world.  He finds it when he meets up with the young Native American princess.  Both come from people who instinctively fear the other side.  Radcliffe is particularly appalling, seeking gold and fame at any cost and stirring up his men in terror of those already on the land.

But Pocahontas has a lesson or two for our intrepid English hero, about the beauty of her people and the wonders of nature.  And she realizes too that not all settlers were there to make war.  They fall in love, but can the love of two people stop the onslaught of a war that seems destined to break out?

This is the point where I might normally cede to historical events, but we've already kind of gotten away from them.  The truths in this film aren't so much literal as they are archetypical.  As a look back at the early days of the settlements, it's not the kind of material you'd want to quote in your school essay.  But as a treatise on understanding and the need for harmony between races, it's effective, and frequently moving.

This picture came out in 1995 and capped an incredible renaissance of creativity and vision from Disney's animation studios that began in 1989 with The Little Mermaid.  It was being crafted at the same time as The Lion King, which was thought to be a somewhat secondary project to Pocahontas at the time.  As our own modern history recalls, The Lion King went on to become the most successful animated film of all time.  Pocahontas still seems struggling a bit to find her place after a decade.

This new 10th Anniversary DVD from Disney should help with that.  If you're like me and haven't seen the movie or thought much about it since its initial release, you should really give this disc a chance.  One aspect I immediately delighted in was in realizing that Pocahontas is one of the studio's most beautiful animated pictures ever.  It's gloriously colorful and rich in details and textures, making it a feast for the eyes.  But even better was learning that, ten years after the initial shock, I found that I could put my knowledge of the past aside and enjoy Pocahontas as a legendary figure rather than a historical one.

Best of all, this disc offers a chance to hear a beautiful deleted musical number restored, where Mel Gibson sings the lovely and haunting "If I Never Knew You".  Originally cut because it tested poorly with restless young audiences, this one song actually adds a bit of depth and dimension to the relationship between he and Pocahontas.  Gibson's voice is surprisingly pleasant, and he delivers the tune with passion (okay, sorry...I couldn't resist that one).

True, the real Pocahontas traveled to England, married John Rolfe and died far too young.  In keeping with the spirit, if not the facts, Disney's film doesn't falsify a happy ever after ending, even if it stops just shy of giving us the rest of the young princess' story.  Sometimes the best storytellers don't let facts clutter up a good message, and that's exactly what Pocahontas has to offer.

Video ****

I mentioned the look of the film, and this stunning anamorphic transfer from Disney delivers exceptional results.  The palate used to create the movie is expansive, and every subtle shade, every detail and every tone rings out with richness and beauty.  Animation and DVD are meant to go together, and so are Disney and DVD...spectacular.

Audio ****

The 5.1 soundtrack is lively and dynamic, with Alan Menken's soaring score pouring out of all channels for an engrossing listening experience.  Spoken words are clean and clear throughout, and the subwoofer and rear channels give added kick to some of the bigger sequences.  That early storm at sea will definitely rattle the breakables in your house. 

Features ****

As with many of Disney's double disc offerings of animated movies, Pocahontas is filled with extras for both the kids and the grown ups.

Disc One features an enjoyable commentary track by co-directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg along with producer James Pentecost.  Their recreations of making the film are fond and warm, and sometimes humorous.  They actually DID pay attention to historical detail when possible...listen for yourselves and find out how.

There is also an art project extra that shows kids how to make a drum and a dream catcher, a pair of sing along songs, and the video for the stirring song "Colors of the Wind" featuring Vanessa L. Williams.  A simple set top game will test the memory of you little ones.  Rounding out are some previews for other Disney attractions (including the announcement of my all time favorite coming soon to DVD...Cinderella!).

The second disc includes a half hour making-of documentary hosted by Irene Bedard, 9 deleted scenes, a look at the music of the film, the original video for "If I Never Knew You" performed by John Secada and Shanice with a making-of extra, looks at the characters' designs, three short pieces on the production, two trailers, a look at the premiere in Central Park, a publicity gallery, and one of Disney's great multi-language reels that seamlessly shows the translation of "Colors of the Wind" for international audiences, and giving credit to the many amazing women of different countries that brought Pocahontas' singing to life.

Summary:

With this 10th Anniversary DVD, now is a great time to re-experience the under-appreciated Pocahontas.  It may never take it's place amongst the greatest classics Disney has offered, but it's a wonderfully rich, beautiful and colorful film that can be enjoyed by adult and child alike time and time again.

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