If you're looking for an accurate history lesson concerning the settling of the New World then you've come to the wrong place. Disney's 'Pocahontas' is not interested in historical accuracy. The only thing historically accurate about the movie is that it gets the names of some historical figures like explorer John Smith and Native American princess Pocahontas right. The rest of the movie is filled to the brim with colorful Disney songs and annoyingly simplistic side characters.
Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is living an idyllic Native American life. She runs around her tribe's forest lands, cliff dives, and generally sings about the good wholesomeness of her land. Only, trouble is coming from the east. Settlers from England, led by the rotund evil-doer Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), are on their way to what they call "the New World." In that crew of settlers is John Smith (Mel Gibson), a cordial man who just wants everyone to get along, especially when he ends up meeting Pocahontas.
Once the foreigners land on New World soil, they claim it in the name of King James, and begin trying to mine gold from the earth. Ratcliffe is obsessed with finding gold at any cost. The only thing his character is missing is a scene where his eyeballs turn to dollar signs. Yes, Ratcliffe is evil, but he's one of those Disney villains who is overly caricatured and underdeveloped. He stands there, sneers and yells things like "Kill the savages!" He's even got a thin black moustache which proves beyond a doubt that his soul is as dark as they come.
'Pocahontas' came directly after a trio of extremely popular Disney hits ('Beauty and the Beast,' 'Aladdin,' and 'The Lion King'). After 'Pocahontas,' the quality of Disney animated features sort of trailed off, leaving one or two noteworthy ones, but otherwise, quality became pretty sparse. 'Pocahontas' ushered in the less-than-impressive run of Disney movies. Its story is flimsy at best. It's heavy focus on side characters like a cute raccoon and a talking mystical willow tree, are its downfall (notwithstanding its complete disregard for anything remotely factual). Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt) gets to me every time I see the movie. Why did Disney feel the need to throw that into the mix? My favorite part about the whole movie is when John Smith finally becomes acquainted with the talking tree, he doesn't have a difficult time getting used to the fact that he's communicating with a giant plant.
There are a few things that save 'Pocahontas' from itself. First, is the believable chemistry between Pocahontas and John Smith. While the love story isn't as epic as Disney tries to make it seem, it still comes across as somewhat genuine in the end. Second, is that even though the movie seems to suffer from narrative flatness most of the time, it's Alan Menken-produced songs keep the movie afloat. Most of the movie's songs are some of Disney's most memorable. From "Just Around the River Bend" to "Savages," 'Pocahontas' has one of the Disney's most unforgettable soundtracks. The movie may lack the real magic we'd come to expect from Disney animated features. The songs, however, provide much needed quality. Thirdly, the animation – even by today's standards – is lushly vibrant and exquisitely beautiful most of the time.
'Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World,' which is also included in this set, hardly demands recognition. The lush, beautiful animation of the first film has been swapped out for cheap Saturday-morning-cartoon quality. Also, if you were offended by the historical inaccuracies of the first movie, then the assumptions in this movie are sure to make your inner historian's blood boil. Basically, the entire safety of Pocahontas' people depends upon her ability to impress the upper-crust of English society at a ball. No I'm not joking. Yes, it's as offensive as it sounds.
The second movie scarcely needs to be mentioned because it is that bad. It's animation is sub-par, it's musical numbers are terrible, and it's treatment of the first film is an outright travesty. Not that the first film is great, but why treat its contents with such disregard? Man, I really hate 'Pocahontas II.'
The real reason to purchase this set is because of the original (surprise, surprise). 'Pocahontas II' is one of those dreaded Disney sequels that seems to have no reason for being in existence. I have a feeling it was included here because Disney didn't think they could even give it away had they released it on its own.
'Pocahontas': 3 Stars
'Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World': 1 Star
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Both feature films have been packed onto one 50GB Blu-ray Disc. The discs are packed in a regular size keepcase that comes with a slipcover that offers the same artwork as the case. Inside there is a code for Disney Movie Rewards. The release is region free.
'Pocahontas' looks spectacular in 1080p high definition. Disney has done a fine job getting this movie ready for the high-def treatment. Detail is superb. Each animation line is distinctly clear. Many of the musical sequences, like when Pocahontas and Smith are beginning to love each other, there are hand-painted figures of deer and eagles moving silently against the background. In each of those animations you can see the brushstrokes, which adds to the rich vividness of the overall presentation.
Colors are extremely lively. Every time the multi-colored leaves blow past Pocahontas' face purples, greens, and oranges pop off the screen. The rich greenery of the surrounding forest is something to behold. 'Pocahontas' is already a great looking animated title and presenting it in HD makes it look even better. The original film looks darn near perfect as far as I'm concerned. Compression artifacts go unseen.
'Pocahontas': 4.5 Stars
The second film doesn't look nearly as good. Putting aside its inferior animation, there are some technical problems that plague 'Pocahontas II.' First is evident banding which resides in gradient skies and is pretty easily seen. The other is some bad jaggies and aliasing that is produced in a few scenes. Now these problems are most likely due to the out-dated CGI technology that was used on the movie, but it's still noticeable. In one scene a large ship moves into the distance. As it becomes smaller its mast and sails turn into a cascade of dancing jagged lines running around the edges of the animation. There is another scene where Pocahontas looks at her reflection in a pond and her reflection is ringed with jagged aliasing lines which are quite unsightly.
The rest of the movie is unspectacular, but is presented cleanly without hampering artifacts. Animation is clean and free of noise. I'm not a fan of the sequel's underachieving animation and its dull color palette, but these technical snafus are pretty hard to overlook.
'Pocahontas II': 3 Stars
Like the video presentation, the audio presentation for 'Pocahontas' is quite captivating. Each of the memorable songs is belted at lofty volumes that seem to surround the listener. The best example of this is the "Savages" musical number. The sub-woofer pounds out the drum beats while both camps sing about their hate for each other. Their voices echo throughout the soundfield. The low-end sonics are deep and rumbling. It's probably the best sounding sequence of the whole film.
Dialogue is always clear. Judy Kuhn's (Pocahontas' singing voice) vocals soar as the music crescendos. Clarity and fidelity are top-notch. Directionality and prioritization are demo-quality. Again, the "Savages" sequence features two competing groups, their vocals contending for supremacy. They slowly move together in the front of the sound stage and then clash in the center. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provides the perfect stage for 'Pocahontas' musical numbers to shine.
'Pocahontas': 5 Stars
The sequel's audio track, like its video counterpart, is underwhelming. Again, this is due to the fact that the sequel simply doesn't have a decent song to really make use of the Master Audio mix. At least this track doesn't have any technical problems similar to its video presentation.
The fact of the matter is that voices are clear. Directionality seems forced in some scenes though. Even if the action is happening just to the side of center, the sound is pushed entirely into the right or left speakers. Directional effects don't travel as seamlessly as they do in the first movie. Surrounds are lighter than the first movie too. Musical numbers don't have the deep LFE either. In other words there just isn't anything spectacular about this track.
'Pocahontas II': 3.5 Stars
'Pocahontas' is worth owning because of its splendid animation and its rousing soundtrack, not so much because of its story or characters. However, with the good comes the bad. This set also includes one of Disney's worst sequels. 'Pocahontas II' really is quite terrible on every front. It only serves to undermine anything the first film accomplished. If you do end up buying this, you'll be better off if you never watch the second movie. Disney fanatics are going to purchase regardless, for everyone else this set is worth a look for the right price.