The Reaction to Pocahontas

If you’re a hardcore Disney fan, you probably know the story of how, in the mid-9os, the company believed that Pocahontas would be the next epic masterpiece classic in the vein of Beauty and the Beast and the like while The Lion King would be filler. Well, you know what happened. I kind of marvel the amount of effort put into a movie that was supposedly just meant to be filler, but that’s for another post.

While Pocahontas does have its fans, a lot of people consider it snark bait, or boring, or both. And of course, a lot of people lambasted the film for not being historically accurate.

As a kid, I really loved this movie (it still has a place in my heart), and I knew it was meant to be historical FICTION, not fact. I found it odd that this movie got bashed for not being entirely accurate whilst a lot of live action historical fiction films get praised and revered despite taking a lot of liberties with history.

I think the reason why this movie gets a lot of flack (along with Don Bluth’s Anastasia) for not being historically accurate is because 1) it’s for children, most of whom don’t know the REAL history, and 2) because it becomes less of a historical drama and more like a fairy tale/fantasy. I don’t think people like it when you add magic to history. Then it no longer becomes historical.

But as I grew up, I realized that the biggest reason why people get mad at the film for not being historically accurate is because of how it portrays Native Americans (in this case the Powhatan Nation) during colonial times. There’s a stereotype of First Nations people being ~~magical~~ and *~~in tune with nature~~*, which the movie unfortunately utilizes despite trying to be AGAINST racism. And of course the film glosses over the horrors of what ACTUALLY happened during the real Pocahontas’s time.

But because of that, I get a little iffy when people’s first reaction to the movie is to say “it’s boring” or “it makes me giggle because of how silly and heavy-handed it is”. Like with Anastasia, whenever people point out how inaccurate THAT movie is, they almost always do it angrily or negatively. With Pocahontas, a lot of people go ‘lol it’s so inaccurate’.

So, the movie that’s racist makes you giggle, but the movie that doesn’t accurately portray white Russian history makes you legit angry. Okay.

Now I know there are people who genuinely hate Pocahontas for it’s inaccuracies and racism (mainly, actual Native people), but still. I don’t like how a lot of reactions to this film are to make fun of it.

I guess the reason why people prefer to make fun of Pocahontas is because, as a whole, the film takes itself too seriously. I actually think that’s the main reason why the movie wasn’t as successful as Disney hoped; while The Lion King was allowed to have fun, Pocahontas tried too hard to be serious and adult and as a result came out as too grim. So people make light of it. But again, shouldn’t that inspire more anger, not snark bait? That they woefully misrepresented an entire group and have the audacity to claim that it’s a serious epic? Well, I can’t really change people’s reactions to it.

What do I think of the movie?

Well, visually, it’s stunning. I have some issues with the character design, but overall, it’s pretty gorgeous. The music is okay, but not as good as in anything Howard Ashman did. The animal sidekicks are pretty annoying and take too much screen-time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the animals not to talk but for the tree to do so. But, the “If I Never Knew You” song (which was added in for the 1oth Anniversary Edition) is perfect. It is an emotionally powerful and beautiful song, and it makes the love between Pocahontas and John Smith feel real and genuine. (Seriously, why was the song cut from the movie? I feel like the movie could have avoided a lot of detractors if they had just kept that scene in.) And I also love Pocahontas herself.

While I do understand people who find the movie itself boring (it’s not as lively as Disney’s previous hits), I get a little offended when people dismiss Pocahontas as boring or dull. Yes, her design is pretty bad (you can read more about it HERE) and the story team used elements of the racist “Indians are so stoic” trope in her character, but even beyond that, she’s not just boring. She’s playful, she’s athletic, she cares deeply about her people, believes in the best in everyone and wants to help people look at things differently, is against violence, is against racism, war, and is pro environment, and is torn between following her passion for John Smith and her duty to her people to stay in the village and marry Kocoum. You should absolutely criticize how the writers couldn’t make her AS full of life as Ariel or Jasmine or Belle because of the stereotype of how Indians can never be fun, but don’t dismiss her as ‘dull’. There’s a lot more to her.

Granted, I could be biased. Growing up, I absolutely loved Pocahontas. I loved how free-spirited and independent she was. I wanted her hair. She was my first fave Disney Princess. And let’s be real, despite the problems with her movie, she’s still important for a lot of girls of colour (especially a lot of young native girls), and it’s a shame she doesn’t get as marketed as much.

Still, I have to ask this: if Disney wanted to make a film based on a Native American ‘legend’, why distort someone’s actual life and not, you know, adapt an actual Native American legend? There’s an ABUNDANCE of stories among First Nations people Disney could’ve adapted (with consultation from the Nation it was taking inspiration from), it’s odd that they picked something with a historical background.

Well, there’s nothing we can do about it know. The movie has been made, for better or for worse. I guess it’s a good thing it didn’t gain The Lion King level success at any rate.

I think the best thing Disney can do about Pocahontas as this rate is to make sure it ISN’T their only movie about Native Americans. I hope Moana (which is going to be set in ancient Polynesia) is successful enough to encourage Disney to make more movies about different ethnic and indigenous groups and give them the proper respect they deserve to create some beautiful films. I just hope they remember to have fun with them too.


Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm a college student with Asperger's currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on The Flying Red Robot blog. Please read the about page before commenting or following. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.