Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pocahontas, a True American Princess

Pocahontas, New World Babe

Pocahontas

The History of Pocahontas - and a Curious Disney Movie

Pocahontas (original name "Matoaka") was born in what later became known as Virginia. Her father was Powhatan, the chief of all the tribes in the Tidewater region. The name "Pocahontas" actually was a childhood nickname that meant "Little wanton one." No doubt, to earn such a nickname, she was a bit of a troublemaker. As the daughter of a chief - not just any chief, but the big chief of the entire coastal area - Pocahontas is considered a princess under European ideas of that status, though she never was in line to inherit any titles from her father. Her mother was a nonentity in tribal politics, with no more status than anyone else.

Pocahontas and son Thomas Rolfe
Sedgeford portrait of Pocahontas and her son, Thomas Rolfe

Captain John Smith arrived in the area in April 1607. There were over a hundred settlers with him, and they quickly built a fort on a marshy peninsula, clearly worried about hostile natives and an easily defended spot. That December, Powhatan's brother captured Smith while hunting and brought him back to the native capital, so clearly not all the natives were friendly. Powhatan threw a big feast and had a long talk with Smith. After that, Powhatan apparently was going to execute Smith, Pocahontas - a pre-teen, perhaps 10-12 years of age - interceded.

Pocahontas' earrings
The eaarings Pocahontas wore in the Sedgeford portrait

Smith was to be beaten to death with clubs, but she put her head over his so that she would have to be killed if he were killed. Obviosuly, nobody wanted to kill the chief's daughter, so Smith survived. Afterwards, Pocahontas convinced Powhatan (perhaps he was just looking for any excuse not to provoke the English, who seemed very capable of defending themselves) to let Smith go. Powhatan gave Smith an escort back to the settlement, Jamestown. The plucky little girl had saved an awful lot of lives, not just Smith's, and Powhatan was smart enough to realize it.

Pocahontas saving Smith from a beating
This probably wasn't far from the truth of the matter

After this, Pocahontas, obviously a free spirit, would go to Jamestown and play games with the English boys. The colonists were starving during that first winter, but Pocahontas regularly came with her friends bringing food, saving many lives. Clearly, she liked Smith in some fashion despite their age difference and everything else. In 1609, Smith was injured by a gunpowder explosion and sailed home for England. Once Pocahontas found out, she stopped visiting Jamestown, another indication that she went there because of Smith and not out of some general love for colonists. As to whether they had an affair - who's to say. Things were much different back then, people were less superficial and didn't worry as much about age or looks. He was a strong, fearless buccaneer whose mere presence made her entire world quake - one could see a possible attraction that bordered on hero worship. Perhaps not at the time, but in retrospect as she thought it all through.

Pocahontas
This later idealized portrait pretty much sums up the phrase "noble savage"

People today ("scholars") question Smith about his account of what actually happened. The thing is, he was there, and they weren't. When he first got back to Jamestown, he never officially mentioned Pocahontas. However, that may have been simple bravado, as it wouldn't have looked good for him to have had his life saved by a native child, chief's daughter or not. Besides, it essentially was a personal matter - why put something that was bound to be misinterpreted as salaciously as possible in official reports? Later, much later, Smith wrote down the whole story and Pocahontas' part in it, when it no longer mattered for him but might help Pocahontas.

Pocahontas filmprincesses.blogspot.com
Pocahontas, as imagined later

If she hadn't done something for or with Smith while he was a captive, there is no reason why Pocahontas would have felt comfortable visiting the Jamestown fort afterwards, to play games and bring food (and those appearances had to be considered extremely odd by everyone except them). If Pocahontas had no connection to Smith by saving him, he would have been just another dirty Englishman - and, clearly, he wasn't. Some prefer to think that Smith lied about the incident later, back in England, just to make Pocahontas look good - but that's an awfully strange story to dream up for no reason. If Smith did just invent the incident, Pocahontas picked her man well - he truly was a nice guy to write lies to the Queen of England just to make some random native girl look good.

Captain John Smith portrait
He's the real hero of the Pocahontas story, quite a fellow
During 1609, the English began spreading out. They practiced the old "divide and conquer" strategy and allied with one of Powhatan's tribes against him. Pocahontas was tricked into captivity and then held for ransom. Powhatan didn't particularly feel like submitting to blackmail, so Pocahontas had plenty of time to learn English and be baptized. Eventually, Pocahontas herself got tired of her dad's obstinacy and told him to forget it - she'd prefer to stay with the English. She must have been a handful! It's also an indication that the English couldn't have treated her all that badly, despite what some want to believe otherwise. Pocahontas eventually met tobacco farmer John Rolfe, who wrote to the governor for permission to marry Pocahontas for the purest of reasons. Imagine writing for such permission today! They lived in Virginia for a couple of years, and the mere fact of their relationship kept things peaceful between the English and the natives throughout that time. Pocahontas sure was an influential woman whose every move people watched closely. She was like an unofficial ambassador of peace.

Pocahontas wearing a necklace
That's an awfully nice necklace for a continent without a single jeweler

The company that owned Jamestown - the Virginia Company of London - got wind of Pocahontas and her influence. The company figured that putting Pocahontas on display as a good example of "those savage" might encourage others to get over their fears and help develop Virginia (and plant more tobacco for the Virginia Company of London). Accordingly, in 1616 Rolfe and Pocahontas were induced to go on an extended visit to England with a cadre of other tribal members. The English still didn't know how much power the native Americans had, so they were extremely sensitive in their handling of this "king's daughter." Pocahontas had the best seats at the theater (quite important then) and chatted with King James himself (you know, of the Bible). It was politically wise to treat her well, one word from her and daddy might burn down Jamestown and anything else he could get his hands on - so Pocahontas received the sort of special care that today might be accorded a Princess from Pluto.

Pocahontas in ruffled collar and hat
We always see the past through our own prisms....

When Pocahontas finally did have one last meeting with Smith, it was a curious and sad affair. Pocahontas got extremely emotional at first sight of Smith and couldn't face him at all. It must have been quite a shock to see again the fellow who had been on the chopping block before her, who had changed her life and her tribe's future in so many ways and whose fate her father had speculated correctly about. And there he was, this Titan of the New World, just standing there sheepishly at the door in a dress coat. After disappearing "for hours," Pocahontas returned to try again, but Smith made the further mistake of treating Pocahontas like a curiosity in the same rote way the other English did, addressing her obsequiously as a "king's daughter" and so forth. It wasn't the the way you'd want an old ... friend to treat you, especially in a foreign world where you felt alienated and friendless. Where was the old adventurer living on the edge that she knew, the man full of bluster whom she could still look up to and admire, one she secretly had kept in her heart since he disappeared so suddenly? Pocahontas just wanted Smith to be real again, someone who would ignore the passage of the intervening years and again just be good old John. But all of his naturalness was lost, left in the squishy marshland of Virginia, and John Smith was unable - and perhaps unwilling - to turn back the clock's iron hands.

1616 Engraving of Pocahontas
This awful engraving is Pocahonta's only contemporaneous depiction

When she had to leave England not long after this brief reunion, never to return, Pocahontas died mysteriously before the ship even got out of the harbour. One could be romantic and speculate it was of a broken heart.

How Did Pocahontas Make a Difference in the World?

The question often arises, how exactly did Pocahontas make a difference in the world? Or, put a little differently, why did Pocahontas matter? There are several couple of very good reasons.

First, Pocahontas played a key role in helping the English colony of Jamestown survive. Besides saving Smith's life, her acquaintance with him led her to bring the colonists food during a terrible winter. Recent research indicates that the colonists were so hungry that they resorted to cannibalism. Pocahontas had access to plenty of food, and she brought it to Smith for reasons only the the two of them really understand. She also apparently just hung out in town and played with the English children. This must have raised the settlers' spirits, knowing that the daughter of the local warlord was their friend.

Second, she served as a vital diplomat between the English and her powerful father. Powhatan likely had the means to crush the English settlement if he really felt like it. With his daughter involved with an English settler, though, there was much less reason to attack the English. Just how "involved" the two were is a matter of debate, but Smith did take the trouble to go see her after she arrived in England. The meeting was extremely awkward, because Pocahontas had some kind of feelings about seeing Smith again. If they were just mild acquaintances, that would not have been the case. There is no question that Pocahontas saved many lives, both English and native.

Third, the success of the Jamestown settlement against the odds, which partly resulted from Pocahontas' kindly influence with her father and her bringing the settlers food, ultimately helped convince the English that more settlements should be started. The English might have done this anyway, but the success of Jamestown no doubt helped accelerate the process. This helped the English establish a hold on North America before the Spanish or French had a chance to develop more settlements there and perhaps create a more lasting presence.

Fourth, Pocahontas made a lasting impression due to her actions on the English when she went to England. She met the King, who did not impress her, but he was impressed. She displayed good manners and adapted well to the English way of life, which couldn't have been easy. By proving to the English that the "savages" were not quite as savage as some might have believed, Pocahontas helped mold the attitudes of other, future settlers. They would be less likely to shoot first and ask questions later if they felt that the natives were intelligent and sensible, and Pocahontas helped foster that impression.

Fifth, Pocahontas taught the British important things about her culture simply due to her status. Even aside from the fact that she was bright and adaptable, Pocahontas was recognized as a princess. This might not technically have been true, but John Smith did his best to make sure that was how the English perceived her. Rather than viewing the native Americans simply as so much rabble to be exterminated, the British learned right from the start to treat them with at least a modicum of respect. That Pocahontas was given prime seats at the theater was no mere empty gesture, but rather an indication of the esteem in which she, as a princess, was held. Pocahontas was living proof that the native Americans not only had interesting, intelligent inhabitants, but that they also had an advanced social structure not so much different than that of the English themselves. The English might not have understood what a "Chief" was, but they sure could understand what a king represented, and a princess as well. This respect undoubtedly influenced relations between the advancing English and the natives for decades.

Sixth, the long-term implications of Pocahontas' diplomacy are incalculable. Pocahontas is upheld as an icon of good-heartedness by people throughout the United States and, really, the entire world. She is a shining example of the ability of even the most widely separated cultures to find some kind of middle ground of understanding based on common humanity. Pocahontas was one of the first great peace-makers in an age when violence often was a first resort. Even as a young girl, Pocahontas changed the world, and she did it just by being a nice person. The English were not particularly soft-hearted, being armed conquerors and all, but they were captivated by the story of this native girl. Years later, the English brought Pocahontas back across the ocean, and the King of England himself went out of his way to meet her. That magical quality about Pocahontas continues some four hundred years later.

Seventh, Pocahontas continues to fascinate people to this day simply because her story continues to resonate. She is a role model for young girls, both because of her class and generosity and because she is a real-life heroine from a time when women tended not to be cast in such a role. Pocahontas helps to demonstrate the power of the individual, no matter what the situation, to make the world a better place. People love the story of Pocahontas, and she inspires genuine emotion to this day.

Pocahontas continues to make the news. In July 2013, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and Native American tribal officials re-dedicated the Werowocomoco (WER-ruh-wo-KOM-uh-ko) site near Gloucester, Va., in a day-long event. Now an archaeological site, the village held the longhouse where Smith famously encountered Powhatan after the founding of Jamestown in 1607. This was where Smith was to be executed when young Pocahontas stepped in and saved him.

Pocahontas as Disney Princess

Pocahontas is the seventh official Disney Princess, officially inducted after Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora from "Sleeping Beauty," Ariel the Little Mermaid, and Jasmine from "Aladdin." Since her induction, she has been joined by MulanTianaRapunzel, and Merida from "Brave." Two characters from "Frozen" (2013) are scheduled to be inducted in 2014, Anna and Elsa the Snow Queen.

Pocahontas (1995) - A Real Disney Movie Princess

Pocahantas Creates A Disney Movie Controversy

DVD cover Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com

In its 33rd animated feature, Walt Disney Feature Animation finally got around to creating a film that wasn't pure fantasy, but instead was about a real, known historical figure (one could make the argument that Arthur in "Sword in the Stone" and that "Robin Hood" were real people, but very little is known about them and there is no direct proof that they were more than popular legends). Pocahontas was very real and even traveled to London, England, where she died, which is kind of like one of us going to the Moon. Naturally, this Disney movie "Pocahontas" (1995), directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg, takes some liberties with the story, but by and large "Pocahontas" is based on actual records and accepted folklore about this true American Princess.

English Ship Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
The geometry of the animation is impressive

It is 1607 in the New World, and a group of English settlers has arrived to start life anew there. They are led by Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) and Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson), and the voyage across is rough. During a storm, Smith saves a young man, Thomas (Christian Bale), from drowning. Eventually, they make it across, and Ratcliffe builds a fortress in a clearing.
DVD Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Disney DVD artwork is just jaw-dropping

Meanwhile, nearby is a Native American tribe led by Chief Powhatan (Russell Means). His daughter, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), is rumored to be wed to Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall), a grim warrior who does not interest Pocahontas. Pocahontas is friends with the animal world, and her close companions are  Flit the hummingbird (Frank Welker) and Meeko the raccoon (John Kassir). Together, they go and see Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt), a spirtual entity, for advice. Grandmother Willow tells Pocahontas about the Englishmen.

Radcliffe Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Yes, every Disney movie needs a villain....

Smith enjoys exploring the countryside, unlike the other settlers, and while doing so he runs into Pocahontas. After spending time together, the two fall in love. Unfortunately, the other natives fight the settlers, and Chief Powhatan forbids his people from associating with the English. Pocahontas disobeys her father and continues seeing Smith, introducing him to Grandmother Willow.

Pocahontas kissing Smith Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas on top

Kocoum finds out about Pocahontas' relationship with Smith and attacks him. Thomas, watching nearby, kills Kocoum instead. Chief Powhatan declares war on the settlers and decides that his captive Smith will be executed at sunrise.

Chief Powhatan Pocahontas Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas and Chief Powhatan

Thomas, who got away, warns the other settlers. Ratcliffe, convinced that the tribe is hiding a fortune in gold, assembles the men to go and wipe it out. Meeko gives Pocahontas a compass which leads her to Smith rather than where she intended, which is fate. Pocahontas manages to deter her father from killing Smith, but Ratcliffe shows up and shoots at the chief, hitting Smith instead. Smith is not killed, but at that point it is unclear whether he ever will be with Pocahontas, the one that he loves.
Pocahontas and Smith Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
It's nice to see a little affection, relatively rare in Disney movies

The music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz in "Pocahontas" is its main draw. It won two Academy Awards and had a successful soundtrack, winding up triple platinum. "Colors of the Wind" is a fine song indeed, and the recording by Vanessa Williams went top five in the United States. While not a traditional fairy tale princess, Pocahontas has all the trappings of a Snow White from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," as she lives in the forest, is friends with the animal creatures who love and admire her but do not speak (marking this as a "serious" film), and is pursued by a really cute man who would do anything for Pocahontas. The message is the same as in every other Disney movie fairy tale, that love conquers hate and greed, and haters get their just desserts.

Pocahontas canooing Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas having some fun

The quality of "Pocahontas" is impeccable. The animation is gorgeous, with lots of pretty blues and browns, earth tones that are tastefully presented in a complex color scheme that has many angular shapes and clear facial expressions. The English ship in particular is a thing of beauty. Disney movies were on a roll after "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and The Lion King," and "Pocahontas" flowed seamlessly from those films. Mel Gibson was riding high, so having him as a lead was as good a selling point as having Robin Williams in "Aladdin." The film made a lot of money upon release, $346 million worldwide, and continued the Disney Renaissance that had begun with "The Little Mermaid." However, executives were not satisfied with the take, having presumed all along that this was a sure-fire hit that was better than "The Lion King."

Pocahontas and Smith Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas' face is very well drawn

"Pocahontas" never quite ascended into the true pantheon of Disney movie classics like the aforementioned hits. The reasons are complex and open to debate, and include a rather thin and perfunctory storyline by - I mean, really, Ratcliffe obsessed by gold, you couldn't do better than that? - and a lack of truly engaging characters beyond star-crossed lovers Pocahontas and Smith ("Peter Pan" had Tinker Bell and a corny villain, for instance, and "Pocahontas" has nothing similar). Bending over backwards to make certain characters appear either too noble or too evil, without faults/redeeming qualities all around and merely acting like robots programmed in a certain way ("good" or "bad") may look good on paper, but plays poorly as drama. This Disney movie falls squarely into that trap, and the pity is that it didn't have to be that way - if Disney had actually embraced their critics during production, it might have been surprised that those critics wanted the characters to be people and not totems. Brushing them off, however kindly or reasonably or whatever else you want to say, was disaster for "Pocahontas."

Pocahontas and Smith Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas spying on Smith

The bottom line, though, appears to be that this Disney movie overstepped the company's social bounds. The Disney movie "Pocahontas" just makes a lot of viewers who over-analyze Disney movies uncomfortable. For one thing, they make Pocahontas too cute for words, which isn't realistic, and warp her truly noble act of kindness in saving Smith's life into a "haha, now I have a boyfriend!" moment. It is one thing to make films about non-existent princesses and talking mice and cute kissing dogs, it is quite another to venture into the real world and take historical characters to use as heroines, heroes and villains. To make the point, imagine a Disney movie about noble slaves or concentration camp prisoners or something like that and you can predict with reasonable accuracy the resulting furor. Beyond that, Disney movies have a history with Native Americans that is dubious, to say the least. In "Peter Pan," the natives are portrayed in a humorous but ultimately stereotypical fashion, and that is one of the few criticisms that have stuck to that otherwise exceptional Disney movie. Tackling that area again, even with the purest and most honorable of intentions, especially when done without clearing everything completely with the offended parties, was a huge error in judgment. If you are going to venture into political territory (not wise for a Disney movie), you have to be prepared to be political. It is not difficult to interpret some small fraction of the angst about "Pocahontas" as really being stored-up resentment about "Peter Pan" and some portrayals of Native Americans  in other Disney movies of the past, and a tiny bit of some folks just wanting a piece of the action and to be shown a little personal respect - and heck, so would I. But the reasons don't matter - this was their territory, and Disney was the interloper.

Pocahontas and animal friends Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Pocahontas is one with nature

It is difficult indeed to see how "Pocahontas" could have made its title character more sympathetic, but that is not what the detractors are worried about, apparently. Rather, they claim that the English are portrayed in too favorable a light, despite the fact that the main villain is one of the English (and that villain, incidentally, was completely fictional aside from his name and presence, as Ratcliffe had nothing to do with Pocahontas). Like it or not, when you try to tell someone else's story, the people who feel it is theirs are going to want to tell it themselves or at least have it told their way - or not at all. This Disney movie went ahead anyway, without catering to anyone's desire to alter it to fit their agendas, with the predictable results that it was called inaccurate (which absolutely is true for any number of reasons, including the fact that Smith looked like a goat) and offensive (difficult to see that except in an agenda-driven point of view, but everyone is entitled to their opinion). Kocoum had absolutely the correct attitude about the invaders in a sense - the English were going to take everything once they got established and kill and enslave practically everyone - but that is not something that ever is going to change, no matter how much you find watered-down depictions of those times "offensive." If you want realism, incidentally, Pocahontas almost certainly would have been topless throughout this Disney movie, so if you are are going to hop on that bandwagon, think it all the way through through. Finally, if you want to carry a four-hundred-year-old grudge, don't expect the world to hold a four-hundred-year pity party for you.

The ship Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
The ship with sails set

It is no surprise that subsequent Disney movies were about "safe" subjects like "Hercules" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Atlantis: the Lost Empire" (no pressure groups involved with those topics, whew) and they weren't nearly as good. The Disney Renaissance momentum evaporated like Mel Gibson's career. "Pocahontas" was a game changer for Disney movies, and not in a good way. The curse of becoming as big and powerful (in a social-message sense) as Disney movies have become over the decades is that everybody starts examining their messages minutely because of their cultural impact. You see the same thing happening more recently with Disney movies like "Tangled" and its attempt to attract boy viewers as well as girls. Disney movies are excellent, but once you get into the realm of identity politics, you are asking for trouble, and this Disney movie found trouble, for sure. When you sanctimoniously ban "Pocahontas" from your house, though, bear in mind that kids aren't worried about politics and realism and also have an inquiring mind. Don' be surprised if you child loves the idea of an actual American princess with long, flowing hair and rushes to start researching the names he/she hears in "Pocahontas" on Wikipedia. Kids inherently love history that speaks to them (as long as it's not in a textbook), and anything that gets them excited about that is good - and "Pocahontas" just might spark that flame.

Smith and Pocahontas Pocahontas 1995 animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com
Things turn out well when people love each other

"Pocahontas" is a fine Disney movie if you just watch "Pocahontas" as a fictional story based on historical truth, technically superb and entertaining. The movie "Pocahontas" is all fairy tale, not reality. Unfortunately, few people want to watch a Disney movie that they know is considered offensive by some others, it destroys the whole fairy tale suspension of belief. If you are sensitive about the portrayal of people of different groups or controversy about such things interferes with your enjoyment of works of art, give "Pocahontas" a pass, otherwise, enjoy.

The trailer of "Pocahontas" is below:




2013

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World - A New Land and a New Love

DVD cover Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998

In Walt Disney Feature Animation's "Pocahontas," Captain John Smith befriended the young native American Pocahontas, chief's daughter, and they fell in love. Loosely based on real-life events, Walt Disney Pictures' direct-to-video "Pocaontas II: Journey to a New World" (1998) continues the story of "Pocahontas" pretty much up to the end of the real story. Almost all of the voice actors return from "Pocahontas," with the exception of Mel Gibson as John Smith, who now is voiced by Mel's brother Donal Gibson. Smith is not the central male figure in this continuation anyway, as Pocahontas engages on adventures of her own. Both "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II" take tremendous liberties with the facts, which is upsetting to some people who expect a more respectful stance. Disney movies, of course, never have been likened to documentaries. Watching the two movies is a fairly seamless experience that might excite interest in the real history by younger viewers, though the quality difference and enjoyment factor between them is staggering.

Pocahontas John Smith in a canoe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas, Meeko and John Smith

Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) obtains a warrant for the arrest of John Smith from Ratcliffe's friend King James (Jim Cummings) by underhanded means. John Smith is arrested, and everyone is told that he is dead. Wishing to avoid issues with the Powhatan Nation, the King sends diplomat John Rolfe (Billy Zane) to Virginia to smooth things over with Pocahontas' father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means). The King wants Rolfe to bring the chief back to England for discussions. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is sad about Smith's death, but she comes to terms with his passing. Rolfe arrives and tries to take charge of matters, which irks Pocahontas, who is a free spirit and feels everything is under control already.

John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
John Rolfe

Rolfe doesn't know the name of Chief Powhatan and mistakenly comes to believe that his name is "Pocahontas." At a dance that night, Rolfe brings a gift of a horse for "The Mighty Pocahontas." When he sees who Pocahontas is, Rolfe is embarrassed. He finds the real chief and asks him to come to England, but the chief refuses. Pocahontas, wishing to avoid a war, volunteers to go in her father's place. After some timely advice from spiritual tree Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt), Pocahontas sets off with Rolfe for England. Pocahontas' animal friends racoon Meeko (John Kassir), hummingbird Flit (Frank Welker) and pet dog Percy (Danny Mann) stow away. The ship's captain, unclear as to what is happening, tries to arrest Pocahontas as a stowaway herself, but Rolfe protects her, softening her feelings towards him somewhat.

Pocahontas with Flit and Meeko Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas with her animal friends

Upon arriving in England, Rolfe learns that Ratcliffe has convinced his buddy the King to send an invasion force to Virginia if things do not go smoothly. Rolfe then takes Pocahontas to his estate outside of London, where his housekeeper Mrs. Jenkings (Jean Stapleton) treats Pocahontas with kindness. The King invites Pocahontas and Rolfe to The Hunt Ball, where it is understood that if Pocahontas acts improperly, the invasion force will sail for Virginia. Pocahontas gladly accepts the challenge and dresses up in the English style, a hoop dress and high heels. Taking the event seriously, Pocahontas learns English manners from Rolfe, and he teaches Pocahontas how to dance. Pocahontas even replaces her mother's necklace with an English one.

London England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Medieval London, England

At the ball, Pocahontas flatters the King and gets along well with the Queen (Finola Hughes). Ratcliffe, though, is determined to have her make a poor impression so that he can invade Virginia, so he arranges a bear-baiting. Pocahontas gets upset and berates the King and others for laughing at the bear's mistreatment. The King in turn gets upset at Pocahontas and, at Ratcliffe's suggestion, arrests her and her bodyguard Uttamatomakkin (Brad Garrett) with the intention of executing them. Rolfe, desperate, encounters a hooded stranger who succeeds in breaking Pocahontas and her bodyguard out of prison. When safe in the woods, the hooded stranger reveals himself as none other than John Smith. It turns out that both Smith and Rolfe have feelings for Pocahontas.

King James of England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
King James

Pocahontas returns to her normal look and visits the Queen, explaining what happened. John Smith then appears and convinces the King that Ratcliffe lied about gold being in Virginia, the reason for an invasion fleet thus being negated. Smith, Rolfe and Uttamatomakkin then rush to stop the invasion fleet, captained by Ratcliffe, from sailing. Arriving at the last moment, the three manage to throw the sailors overboard and then crash the ships together. Ratcliffe fights a duel against Smith and loses, but then draws a pistol. Rolfe and Pocahontas capture Ratcliffe, who then is arrested by King James on shore.

DVD Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas DVD

With her mission at an end, Pocahontas decides to leave for home. Rolfe and Pocahontas come close to admitting they like each other, but Smith butts in and says that he wants to be with Pocahontas instead. Rolfe leaves, and Pocahontas breaks up with Smith. Then Smith leaves, and the ship sails, with Rolfe nowhere to be seen. As the ship sails off, Rolfe appears on deck as a stowaway, and he and Pocahontas kiss as the ship sails into the sunset.

Pocahontas dressed up Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas in her ballroom attire

The plot of "Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World" is so far from real events that anyone familiar with the real events may have difficulty watching it. Ratcliffe was not involved with Pocahontas at all, and, in fact, was long dead by the time that Pocahontas ever sailed for England. There was no invasion fleet, no motivation of invading to find gold, and Rolfe's entire relationship with Pocahontas (they were married) occurred prior to and during the stay in England. That Pocahontas died suddenly and mysteriously right at the point that "Pocahontas II" ends is perhaps the oddest relationship between film and real life of all.

Pocahontas dancing with John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas and Ratcliffe dancing

The almost universal reaction to "Pocahontas II" is one of disappointment. The animation is inferior to the original, with faces that are far less expressive. In fact, if Rolfe and Smith did not have different-colored hair, it would be difficult to tell them apart. The (fictional) story is weak and melodramatic, and the songs by Marty Panzer and Larry Grossman would have been better off left out (though "Things are Not what they Appear" is fairly tuneful).

Ratcliffe in chains Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Governor... former Governor Ratcliffe

All that is minor, though, compared to the travesty of the story line. If Disney wished to completely fabricate events in a real person's life, why not at least complete the set-up from the original "Pocahontas" and have her wind up with Smith? Of course, she married Rolfe in real life, but only because Smith left and (yes, the film is correct on this) everyone thought him dead. One may argue that there was nothing between Smith and Pocahontas in the first place, but if you spend an entire film establishing a deep and abiding live, carelessly brushing that off in the final five minutes of a sequel makes absolutely no sense. This is the rare Disney movie with a supposedly happy ending that, in fact, is quite unhappy for many viewers. One can make the argument that "Pocahontas II" ruins all the good feelings engendered in "Pocahontas," which, for all its faults, lay a lot closer to historical truth than "Pocahontas II."

Pocahontas, Ratcliffe, Smith Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The romantic triangle

"Pocahontas II" was a tragic mistake on Disney's part. It is no wonder that Disney stopped making direct-to-video sequels to its feature animated films a few years later. Having directors Tom Ellery and Bradley Raymond end the sequel with Pocahontas breaking up with her big lover from "Pocahontas" just leaves you gaping at the screen in frustration, especially since Rolfe is so unimpressive. Even little kids who see "Pocahontas" likely will be disappointed.

Pocahontas Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
A fantasy moment

Underlying the other problems is that there is very little chemistry between Pocahontas and Rolfe. In an odd way, Rolfe is almost made to appear unlikeable throughout "Pocahontas II." It is as if the screenwriters Allen Estrin, Cindy Marcus and Flip Kobler were unclear until the end themselves how they wished to end "Pocahontas II," then flipped a coin and decided to have Pocahontas wind up with her real-life husband rather than her "boyfriend" from the first film. There also was little humor, as the sidekicks Meeko, Percy and Flit seem "just along for the ride" in more ways than one. Pocahontas turns from being a sweet lover of the forest into an insistent peace activist who never seems happy, which never was the case in real life and robs her in "Pocahontas II" of having any meaningful relationship with anyone.

Blu ray package Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The Blu ray package has nice extra features

It is amusing how Disney could completely change the ending of "The Little Mermaid" to make it happy, but with "Pocahontas II," it changes everything but the man who she really ended up marrying - making the ending sad for any fan of the first film. On the positive side, there is more action in "Pocahontas II" and Ratcliffe is more central to the story as a creepy villain. It also is fun seeing Pocahontas doing different things, as long as you don't dwell too long on what those things are. "Pocahontas II" may be useful for showing kids that life doesn't always turn out the way that you expect or want. The two-disc, two-movie blu-ray set does have an interesting documentary on the Disney project "Hiawatha" and how that directly influenced the genesis of "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II." "Pocahontas II" really isn't any worse than your average animated television series show, but it is only recommended for die-hard fans of the first film who just want to see more of the real American princess and aren't too demanding about things like plot and character development.

Below is the ball-room scene from "Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World."



2013

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