The "fearsome foursome" that is The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King has no equal, except perhaps the last four Pixar movies. Pocahontas is not, unfortunately in that "club" and never will be. Disney spent the next four to five years trying to recreate the "magic" with films like Hunchback, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan. Unfortunately, none of those films had the surprise and "good feeling" of the earlier Disney hits, and except for maybe Mulan, none of those films, as films, were as good either. And although Pocahontas is and was the point where the schizm occurred, in retrospect, it's a pretty damned good movie. So what went wrong?
First, it wasn't the Lion King. They could have put out something "safe" after the Lion King, and it still probably would have paled in comparison to what was then a great big giant behemoth of a movie. That movie earned over THREE HUNDRED MILLION in its theatrical run in 1994 - not as common then as it is now - thing was a juggernaut. Pocahontas, following on the heels of this bad boy, was not going to live up to expectations.
People blamed the fact that it was about PEOPLE and not animals, and that it was based on ACTUAL history rather than a fairy tale. THEN they blamed the fact that the history part of it was botched and that the film's portrayal of Native Americans was at best insensitive, racist at worst.
I'll grant you that making Pocahontas' mentor a talking tree and having her learn English "instantaneously" because she listened to her heart is a wee bit ridiculous, but racist? Come on. The message of the film - that love can conquer hate - is anything but racist and if anything, the film shows the "Indians" in a more human light than the English, who are their usual, stereotypical pig-headed selves.
Here's what else is good about the movie: The SONGS. Remember 'Colors of the Wind'? Could there be a better song about reconnecting with nature and valuing the earth more? We NEED this song right now, especially, with the world seemingly sliding ever more into a consumerist "bliss," what better than to see some beautiful chick running through the forest teaching that rugged white man how to value LIFE? And what the hell is wrong with that I ask?
And what about some of the other songs? The one about the RIVER BEND and making choices - good stuff. And the whole montage ending song that repeats SAVAGES SAVAGES BARELY EVEN HUMAN from both sides - showing that BOTH SIDES misunderstand each other. It gives me chills when Pocahontas is running and you see the war superimposed behind her and she sings "HOW LOUD BEAT THE DRUMS OF WAR!" - makes me want to cry! Don't we need this now I ask you?
But, by far the best thing about this movie is - the animation. It is absolutely GORGEOUS. The design for this film is sumptuous, with mostly blues and a seamless style that never gets in the way and illustrates the action (and the feminine nature of the film) so beautifully. Compared to the dreck that is the HUNCHBACK - that film is ugly as sin - and the absolute HIDEOUSNESS of Hercules - the animation in that is strictly straight-to-video, Pocahontas absolutely ROCKS. Only Mulan, with its chirpy story and colorful style match up to the grandeur of this one.
While Pocahontas didn't have the grand ending that the Lion King had (it was a downer, remember?), the story bucks tradition by making it about people instead of animals, and its' message outweighs the "historically inaccurate" complaint. What movie IS historically accurate? Disney took a chance with this one and they got BURNED, which is why they went back to doing "safe" crap like Hunchback, which tanked anyway. They should have done the SCARLET LETTER or something like that - really start pissing people off. How about the MARQUIS DE SADE? There's some history for you!
Watch Pocahontas again without the weight of expectations. You'll be surprised by how good it really is.