1995 was a big year for Mel Gibson. Braveheart won Gibson two Oscars, best directing and best picture. That was not the only Oscar-winning film he took part in. Mel Gibson voiced John Smith in Pocahontas. Irene Bedard, a Native Alaskan, voiced Pocahontas and Judy Kuhn sang the Pocahontas parts. Linda Hunt, of Dune fame, is also featured as Grandmother Willow. Grandmother Willow is one thirsty tree. Disney loves to sneak in adult jokes and I think even some kids will fully understand some of Grandmother Willow’s desires for John Smith.
The real stars of the film are the animal cast, Meeko, the raccoon, Flit, the hummingbird, and Percy, the dog. Their interactions always bring laughs and are a highlight to the film. They are all non-verbal and rely on slapstick style humor that is executed well. Their action scenes are evenly spaced through the film to bring some joy into a story that is of questionable quality when viewed through a modern lens.
Disney did a good job casting some Native American actors for Native American roles, but the story will always be a partially white savior. Pocahontas is a strong-willed female character who drives change between her people and John’s, but she still lives in patriarchy. The real story of Pocahontas is no doubt less positive. Multiple times John, and to a lesser extent, Powhatan and Kocoum mansplain to Pocahontas. She is clever when it is John Smith, pointing out his foibles and miss-steps, but she loses autonomy when she is with her tribe.
Pocahontas was a step in the right direction for Disney Princess films. It followed Aladdin and preceded Mulan. It won Oscars for best original song and best original score. It still has some damsel in distress vibes but is moving towards a princess with control. I want to find which part of Virginia has ten-story waterfalls within a mile of the Atlantic Ocean. Classic Disney animation was classic for a reason and this film is still beautiful.