(Air Date: Week Of 6/21/95)
Chick movie. There aren't two more damning words you can use to describe a summer release. A chick movie means no lines around the block after the first weekend, no five-year-merchandising plans and no compulsive filmgoers who will see it umpteen times and word-of-mouth it to anyone who can stand to listen to them recite the plot verbatim. They only do that with a GUY movie, you see, or maybe, a makeout movie. That's why they were so careful to build up the Beast character in "Beauty And The Beast" and why the Genie and Aladdin both knocked Jasmine out of the plot for most of "Aladdin's" running time. So the marketing folks at Disney are understandable jittery about "Pocahontas". Pocahontas is a chick, she's real and she's Native American, a group that has been maligned beyond recognition by virtually every movie studio for the century, including Disney.
The new "Pocahontas" movie isn't a documentary, not by a long shot. But its heroine is gutsy and resourceful, none of her little animal friends talk and the English settlers, for a change are shown as the opportunistic greenhorns they were. Historians have a valid point when they remind us that the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith was a chaste one since the lady in question was only twelve when they met. But historians create myths by accident rather than by design and they hardly ever develop blockbuster movies.
Anyway, this isn't an animated film for grownup nitpickers, it's for dreamy-eyed kids & Broadway-style musical buffs & for those groups, it succeeds admirably. It builds dramatic tension without lavish battle sequences & by showing that it takes more courage to make peace than to wage war. Clearly, the Disney studio sustained a major effort to reveal the Native American culture with sympathy and understanding & small children won't be rooting for the English settlers to launch full-scale genocide on the people they regarded as their savage enemies.
Alan Menken's score, the well-defined characters and the sprightly voiceover work (with Irene Bedard in the title role, Mel Gibson as gallant Captain John Smith, David Ogden Stiers as the villainous Governor Radcliffe, Russell Means as Chief Powhatan & Linda Hunt as wise Grandmother Willow) all contribute to re-inventing 17th century history as a late 20th century fairy tale. For the most part, it works, especially for its intended audience who are grabbing up Pocahontas dolls & books at Toys 'r 'Us as I speak. Everyone else can watch A & E's biography or dust off a book, This is Disneyland, not the library, for heaven's sake!
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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