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  Pocahontas Indian Summer
Year: 1995
Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
Stars: Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, John Kassir, Russell Means, Christian Bale, Linda Hunt, Danny Mann, Billy Connolly, Joe Baker, Frank Welker, Michelle St John, James Apamut Fall, Gordon Tootoosis
Genre: Animated, Romance, Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: British sailors are boarding their ship to sail to North America to settle, and more importantly to Governor Ratcliffe (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) to find all the gold that is purported to be there. One of the sailors is John Smith (Mel Gibson), well-liked by his fellows and proving his mettle when, once they are halfway across the Atlantic, he bravely leaps into the sea during a terrible storm and saves a crewman who has been swept overboard. Meanwhile, at the location of where they are headed, the young Indian princess Pocahontas (Irene Bedard and Judy Kuhn) is wondering about the path life will take her...

And when they met, it was moider! Well, not murder exactly, as the death here is by and large unintentional and born from misunderstandings, but Disney apparently thought the Pocahontas meets John Smith tale was a real life Romeo and Juliet that could get them in the good books of those who champion equal rights. Great care and attention went into rendering the natives and their world, here presented as a Garden of Eden that promoted the simple pleasures of nature, but this meant that the British were somewhat less affectionately portrayed, making them more the typical stereotype English baddies so beloved of Hollywood.

Only one British character escapes this, and significantly he is Smith, notably not voiced by anyone from Europe but by the Australian-American Mel Gibson, not doing much to adopt an appropriate accent. Funnily enough, although the Brits didn't complain about their design, the Indians complained about their's, leaving Disney in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" quandary, but in truth this film had more problems than its caricaturing. It was intended as a serious, prestige production which would take the studio into a new age of not only financial success, but artistic respect as well, only it didn't play out that way, with many grumblings about it being, if anything, too serious, and historically dubious.

That last point is a little unfair, as this was a family film so they obviously glossed over the fact that the real Pocahontas was about twelve years old when she and the fifteen years her senior Smith fell in love, but then, she probably didn't have a comedy racoon and hummingbird as companions either, and nobody felt the need to accuse that aspect of blatant playing about with the truth. Those animals are the main concession to the Disney of old, and in no way mesh with the more sombre tone of the main plot, leaving them looking as if they have wandered in from the wrong film. The love story takes centre stage, then, yet not necessarily to the film's benefit as yes, there had been love stories in Disney before, but this one buckles under the weight it has to carry.

Pocahontas gets advice from a talking tree (Linda Hunt), which lets her know she should follow her heart and all that stuff, so when the more interesting than her intended suitor Smith appears, he seems the better option and once by the medium of magic pixie dust they can communicate in the same language (a particularly clunky device) they get on famously. Well, almost, as Smith starts telling his new girlfriend that the British have it in mind to civilise the Indians, and it takes a talking to from Pocahontas to set him right that they were fine as they were. But the battle of wills between the natives and settlers sets the stage for some heavy handed, "just because they are different doesn't mean they are your enemy" moralising, which might have a valid point to make, but subtlety has long flown out of the window by that time. Add too many mediocre songs and bland visuals, surprising when you consider how long it was worked on, this was not a Disney classic by any means. Music by Alan Menken.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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