Pocahontas is Disney’s animated version of the Pocahontas myth. This movie is not history, but a Disney-fied version of it. European settlers came to North America and disrupted the Native American way of life. John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) and his British plunderers attempt to rob the “New World” of its riches. Chief Powhatan, and his daughter Pocahontas (voiced by Irene Bedard), might have something to say about this. In the end, in typical Disney fashion, a moral emerges: both cultures have a lot…to learn from eachother.
Pocahontas hits all the right Disney animated film notes, but not as strongly as other films. The villain, the scheming leader of the expedition Ratcliffe (voiced by David Ogden Stiers), is no one to be scared of, really. He comes off more like a goofball. Ratcliffe is not in the tradition of the great Disney villains we’re used to. The cute cuddly comic relief characters (a raccoon, a hummingbird, and a dog) are not as funny or endearing in comparison to, say, Poombaa or Scuttle (from Little Mermaid). And the romance between Pocahontas and John Smith isn’t as charged as Belle and the Beast, for example. It seems a little forced here. So without a great villain, funny comic relief characters, or a believable romance, what does Pocahontas have? It has scope. The “New World” is a wonder to behold. The animators have done an amazing job. And the “Colors of the Wind” song (an Oscar winner) is quite lovely.
You may watch the film in two versions. One version is the theatrical version; the other is this restored version. There is no difference between the two except for one thing: a deleted song. That’s it. So you’re virtually watching the same movie, except the missing song is inserted for the DVD version.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The effect of this mix is impressive. Music, voices, and sound effects are presented in a “clean as a whistle” fashion. There’s some nice activity on all speakers, front and rear. Ambient sound, in particular, is well implemented on the rear speakers. The constant drumming also gives your sub-woofer a good cleaning out. A clear and effective audio mix. Good job Disney.
But an even better job on the video. Presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, this video transfer is gorgeous. Dare I say, luscious? Colors are vibrant and rich. Blacks are extremely solid. In comparison to the grainy look of the film on some of the features, this restoration job is a wonderment to behold. I could not detect any digital artifacts whatsoever. There are some minor ringing effects, but this is as flawless as a video transfer can get. Well done Disney, once again!
There is a ton of extras. Let’s start on Disc One.
There is a feature length commentary with producer James Pentecost and directors Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel. This is a wall to wall commentary, nary a dead spot to be found. Many issues are discussed, from animation, to casting, to public reaction. Very entertaining.
There is a feature called Disney’s Art Project. It’s an instructional video describing how kids can make, either, a drum or a dreamcatcher. Each of these items can be used using household materials. Something to keep the kids busy. There is a set top game called “Follow Your Heart”. This is a simple game where the child is asked questions about characters from the film. The sing-a-long is simple as well. Kids can sing to “Colors of the Wind” and “Just Around the River Bend”. Although the words appear too fast for smaller kids to keep up. There is a sneak peek for Tarzan II, as well as a Sneak Peek option for other children’s films.
And now on to Disc Two. There are less “kiddie” features here, and more for adults and animation geeks. Older kids might find the features interesting though.
There is a half hour “Making of Pocahontas” featurette. This featurette is hosted by Irene Bedard, the voice of Pocahontas. This is a pro-Pocahontas piece (isn’t this movie great?!), but there are many fascinating behind-the scenes moments; the historical sources, the casting, and the animation are discussed.
Production is a 3 part feature that details the evolution of the animation production aspects. There is an Early Presentation Reel, which can be played with audio commentary. There is a Storyboard to Film comparison, which can also be played with an audio commentary. Finally, there is a Production Progression segment; the segment shows how early drawings progress to the finished product.
Design is a massive feature that details the evolution of 11 characters from the film. An animator introduces all of the major characters. There are animation tests for almost every character. And there are hundreds of stills to be found. These stills show the progression of the character drawings at every stage of the game. Massive. There is also a segment called “Art Design, Layouts and Backgrounds”. This is a short segment that explains what an art director in an animated film does.
Music is a 3 part feature that, well, talks about the music of the film. “The Music of Pocahontas” is a 7 minute segment that gives a general overview of the musical score. There is also a music video of “If I Never Knew You” (the song that was deleted from the theatrical cut). This video features Jon Secada and Shanica on vocals. Finally, we have “The Making of If I Never Knew You”. This segment talks about the reasoning behind cutting this song out of the theatrical cut. But now the producers and Roy Disney himself are glad the song is back in the DVD cut. If people were strong supporters of the song before, then why was it cut out?
Deleted Scenes are scenes that were deleted from the movie, or extensions of scenes that were chopped off in the final cut. The scenes are also shown in various stages of animation. Some scenes are in the very basic stages of drawings, some look they were in the original film but deleted. These deleted scenes, combined, run about 15 minutes.
The Release is a 6 part feature that includes 2 theatrical trailers. There is also a short documentary about the premiere of the film in Central Park. This premiere appeared to be quite the undertaking. Four big screens and 100,000 people. That’s New York for ya. The “Multi-Language Reel” is a hoot. The song “Colors of the Wind” is sung by different singers, and in different languages. For example, we get samples of the tune in Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Korean (to name a few). After the feature was over, I felt like I spent 4 minutes at the United Nations. The Publicity Gallery segment is just more still images, but this time it’s posters and cover art for the film.
While not the best Disney movie to come down the pike, Pocahontas is a gorgeous piece of animation. And no computers either. This is old school, beautiful hand drawing. The video, audio, and the sheer volume of extras make this purchase a no brainer.
Special Features List
- Commentary by producer James Pentecost, directors Eric Goldberg & Mike Gabriel
- Disney’s Art Project
- Set Top Game
- “Colors of the Wind” video
- Tarzan II Sneak Peek
- The Making of Pocahontas featurette
- Production featurette
- Design featurette
- Music featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- The Release featurette