Pocahontas, the animated film produced in 1995 by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures, is intertwined with music and history, becoming a tale of great beauty and complexity. Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg, in his directorial debut, the film shines as the 33rd Disney classic and the sixth title released during the Disney Renaissance era.
An Immersive Storyline:
The work is set in the lands rich in Native American legends, and takes us through the romantic story of the meeting between Pocahontas and John Smith, outlining his legendary salvation at her hands. The screenplay, creatively conceived by Philip LaZebnik, Carl Binder, and Susannah Grant, inflects the true story to make it more engaging and fascinating for audiences, creating a unique cinematic experience.
Musical and Artistic Genius:
The soundtrack, filled with engaging melodies composed by Alan Menken and with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, elevated the film, winning it two Academy Awards. Songs like “Colors of the Wind” embellish the narrative, painting the world of Pocahontas in vibrant tones. The film's development was a creative journey, begun over a Thanksgiving weekend by Mike Gabriel, with the project coming to life alongside 1994's "The Lion King."
Cultural Impact and Influence:
Pocahontas, considered a jewel of the Disney Renaissance, has overcome criticism for its historical inaccuracies and left an indelible mark on the animation landscape. The depiction of Pocahontas as an independent heroine has shaped subsequent Disney films, such as 1998's "Mulan" and 2013's "Frozen," bringing a new level of depth to female characters in the world of animation.
Disney Vision and Aspirations:
With Pocahontas, Walt Disney Pictures aspired to create an epic and emotional narrative, in line with 1991's "Beauty and the Beast", aiming for an Academy Awards nomination. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the president of Disney at the time, saw in the film the opportunity to explore more mature and profound themes, outlining a story that goes beyond classic children's entertainment, showing the evolution of Disney's narrative philosophy.
This masterpiece of the Disney Renaissance continues to excite and influence, representing an intense and meaningful journey into the world of Pocahontas, and highlighting the importance of intercultural dialogue in animated cinema.
Story of Pocahontas
In 1607, an English expedition led by Governor Ratcliffe sets sail for the New World, seeking fortune and glory. Among the crew members is the adventurer John Smith, destined to play a crucial role in the events to come. As the expedition approaches land in future Virginia, Pocahontas, the young daughter of Chief Powhatan, is grappling with the expectations of her father, who wants her to marry Kocoum, the tribe's most valiant warrior.
With the arrival of the English, two stories intertwine: the growing tension between colonists and natives, and an unexpected love story between Pocahontas and John Smith. As the couple tries to find common ground between two conflicting worlds, the situation becomes further complicated when Kocoum, blinded by jealousy, attacks Smith, causing a series of tragic events.
Despite Pocahontas' love and efforts, tensions between the colonists and the tribe reach breaking point. Pocahontas' wisdom and ability to see beyond prejudice and hatred will be key to preventing a war that could devastate both communities. At the crucial moment, the young woman will have to make a painful choice between her love for John and his duty towards his people.
The story culminates in an act of courage and sacrifice, demonstrating that love and understanding can overcome cultural barriers and create bridges between different peoples.
Characters from the movie Pocahontas
- Pocahontas (Irene Bedard / Ilaria Stagni): She is the Native American princess, daughter of Chief Powhatan, an adventurous, courageous, independent, sweet and wise girl. She loves animals and nature and falls in love with John Smith.
- John Smith (Mel Gibson / Pino Insegno): A sailor adventurer and explorer, who initially considers the natives as savages to be civilised. He falls in love with Pocahontas, learning from her respect for nature and different cultures.
- Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers / Franco Chillemi): The British governor, is the main antagonist of the film. Greedy and unscrupulous, he wants to exploit the lands of the natives in search of riches.
- Chief Powhatan (Russell Means / Remo Girone): Father of Pocahontas and leader of the tribe, he is a wise and understanding but sometimes severe man.
- Grandma Salice (Linda Hunt / Zoe Incrocci): An old willow tree that represents nature and guides Pocahontas with his wise advice.
- Thomas (Christian Bale / Stefano Crescentini): Best friend of John Smith and member of the Virginia Company, young and loyal, he finds himself torn between friendship and duty.
- Ben and Lon (Billy Connolly and Joe Baker / Roberto Draghetti and Mario Scaletta): Two members of the Virginia Company, friends of John Smith and Thomas. They initially follow Ratcliffe, but then abandon him for their ideals of justice.
- Wiggins (David Ogden Stiers): Ratcliffe's naive servant, completely different from his master in goodness of heart.
Animals and Friends:
- Meeko (John Kassir): The mischievous but affectionate raccoon, friend of Pocahontas.
- Flit (Frank Welker): Pocahontas' hummingbird, suspicious but faithful.
- Perlin (Danny Mann): Ratcliffe's spoiled dog, who becomes attached to Pocahontas' friends.
- Kekata (Gordon Tootoosis / Giorgio Lopez): The wise elder of the village and friend of Powhatan.
- Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall / Andrea Ward): The valiant warrior and betrothed of Pocahontas, who dies of jealousy.
- Nakoma (Michelle St. John / Monica Ward): Pocahontas' best friend, quiet and naive, wants the best for her friend.
These characters, with their intertwined stories, represent the struggle between two different worlds, and the love that arises despite cultural differences, symbolized by the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith.
After the success of “Bernie and White” in 1990, director Mike Gabriel decided to team up with Disney veteran Joe Grant to create a new and different project. They initially envisioned an adaptation of “Swan Lake,” but the concept was not well received. It was during this time that Gabriel came up with the idea to adapt Pocahontas' life, focusing on her love story with John Smith, intertwined with themes of cultural comparison and mutual respect.
Expectations and Challenges
Jeffrey Katzenberg, the president of Disney, hoped that Pocahontas would replicate the success of “Beauty and the Beast,” the first animated film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Katzenberg saw similar potential in Pocahontas and pushed for a more mature interpretation of the main characters and a more realistic portrayal of the animals, who would not speak in the film.
The production of Pocahontas was characterized by a search for truthfulness and a commitment to presenting Native American culture in an authentic way. Many members of the creative team had encounters with Native Americans and shamans to better understand the culture depicted. Extensive research was conducted to authenticate the war dress and dances depicted in the film.
Eric Goldberg, who had contributed to Aladdin, co-directed the film with Gabriel. Goldberg originally expected the film to be more comedic, but the desire to explore more serious racial and cultural themes became prevalent, especially in light of the racial riots then taking place in Los Angeles.
Creative Developments and Changes
During production, there were many creative changes, including the removal of the character "Redfeather", a turkey originally intended to be voiced by John Candy, due to his death in 1994. Likewise, the spirit guide character, initially conceived as a male character, “Old Man River”, became the more maternal “Grandma Willow”. This spiritual maternal figure, now a tree, was intended to provide wisdom and guidance to Pocahontas.
In January 1993, Carl Binder joined the project, and was joined by Susannah Grant and Philip LaZebnik. Writing the film was an intensive process, with scenes rewritten up to thirty-five times to achieve the desired perfection. Tom Sito, story supervisor, conducted extensive research on the historical figure of Pocahontas and colonization, seeking a balance between historical accuracy and social responsibility.
Disney's “Pocahontas” remains an iconic film and a landmark in the animation industry. Its creation was a journey of cultural discovery and creative experimentation, with a strong commitment to telling a meaningful and respectful story of its subject, despite the challenges and changes encountered along the way.
Despite criticism and controversy over its level of historical accuracy and representation of Native American culture, the film has left an indelible imprint on the collective memory, stimulating reflections on issues such as tolerance, love and intercultural understanding.
Title: Pocahontas Original language: English, Powhatan Country of production: United States of America Year: 1995 Duration: 78 min Ratio: 1,66:1 Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Musical
Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg Screenplay: Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, Philip LaZebnik Producer: James Pentecost Production company: Walt Disney Feature Animation Italian distribution: Walt Disney Pictures Editing: H. Lee Peterson Special Effects: Don Paul, Jeff Dutton Music: Alan Menken Production design: Rasoul Azadani, Jeff Dickson
Storyboard: Tom Sito (sup.), Chris Buck, Joe Grant, Robert Gibbs, Duncan Marjoribanks, Ralph Zondag, Kaan Kalyon, Ed Gombert, Francis Glebas, Todd Kurosawa, Bruce M. Morris, Glen Keane, Burny Mattinson
Art director: Michael Giaimo Animators: Glen Keane, John Pomeroy, Duncan Marjoribanks, Ruben Aquino, Nik Ranieri, David Pruiksma, Chris Buck, Ken Duncan, Anthony DeRosa, Michael Cedeno, T. Daniel Hofstedt Backgrounds: Cristy Maltese, Robert E. Stanton
Original voice actors:
- Irene Bedard: Pocahontas (dialogue)
- Judy Kuhn: Pocahontas (singing)
- Mel Gibson: John Smith
- David Ogden Stiers: Governor Ratcliffe, Wiggins
- John Kassir: Meeko
- Russell Means: Chief Powhatan
- Christian Bale: Thomas
- Linda Hunt as Grandma Willow
- Danny Mann: Perlin
- Billy Connolly: Ben
- Joe Baker: Long
- Frank Welker: Flit
- Michelle St. John: Nakoma
- James Apaumut Fall: Kocoum
- Gordon Tootoosis: Kekata
Italian voice actors:
- Ilaria Stagni: Pocahontas (dialogues)
- Manuela Villa: Pocahontas (singing)
- Pino Insegno: John Smith (dialogues)
- Roberto Stafoggia: John Smith (singing)
- Franco Chillemi: Governor Ratcliffe
- Remo Girone: Chief Powhatan
- Stefano Crescentini: Thomas
- Zoe Incrocci: Nonna Salice (dialogues)
- Paola Giannetti: Nonna Salice (singing)
- Piero Chiambretti: Wiggins
- Roberto Draghetti: Ben
- Mario Scaletta: Lon
- Monica Ward: Nakoma
- Andrea Ward: Kocoum
- Giorgio Lopez: Kekata