This article was written by Rebekah Brannan as part of the Breening Thursdays series.
In 1995, Disney released its fourth Renaissance Princess film, Pocahontas. This story is an extremely romanticized account of the famous relationship between the Native American princess and the English settler, John Smith. Although this film is the latest Disney film I have breened and one which, I understand, received quite a bit of criticism for dealing with too mature a topic, I find it to be the cleanest and deepest Disney Renaissance film I have seen. The romance between Pocahontas and John Smith was overall quite touching, and the characters were all deep and believable. Also, the film dealt with a more mature topic without containing serious “adult content,” and it rarely resorted to cheap, vulgar humor. The Code violations in this film proved to be the smallest I’ve had yet, coming in at the shockingly small amount of thirteen! These violations were not deeply ingrained in the film’s story, but they all contributed to the story in some way, rather than merely being stupid, unnecessary jokes and nonsense. Although a few vulgar jokes may seem better to some parents than these more relevant problems, I appreciated that the filmmakers didn’t seem to put in vulgarity just to be funny or just for the sake of being vulgar. Although this movie didn’t quite have the feeling of an old Disney film, it had a good message and brought a deeper and more mature topic to its young viewers, which is the beauty of a lot of Code films. This movie is my topic for this week’s Breening Thursday article, which is the fourth article I have written in the series. Now, the lights dim, the theater hushes, and the screen swirls into life. Get ready for a gold mine of fun, because here comes Pocahontas!
- The first problem is first seen during the credits. As in so many Disney films, this costume problem is an ongoing one throughout the film. A few Native American men are seen wearing rather skimpy loincloths and no shirts. Though their torsos may be bare, all the men should be wearing pants, as many of them already are.
- There is a similar problem with practically all of the women’s costumes. A good deal of the women wear dresses which are low-cut, have one strap, have very short skirts with slits on both sides, or which show their midriffs and navels. Although these people are uncivilized, I know from pictures and illustrations that women in Indian tribes often wore covering dresses. All the women’s dresses should have two straps, fully cover their chests, be decently long, and not show their midriffs. Nakoma, a prominent character in the film, wears a two-piece outfit which shows her midriff, and her skirt is too short. The upper part of her top is a good example of how the women’s tops should look, however, since it covers her properly while still seeming like accurate Native American clothing.
- The final costume problem is Pocahontas’s dress, which she wears for the entire film. Once again, it has one strap, unduly reveals her chest, is much too short, and has two very high slits on both sides. Since Pocahontas is the lead character in the film, her look has become iconic, so she must be wearing proper clothing. I know from illustrations of the real Pocahontas that she wore a very long, covering dress. She is the chieftain’s daughter, and she should not rush about in such skimpy clothing. Like I said about The Little Mermaid, such persistent clothing throughout the film accustoms viewers to seeing women less than properly dressed. This is a serious problem in three of the four Disney films I have breened, and it must be eliminated.
- The next problem involves the wise personified tree, Grandmother Willow. Although animals and inanimate objects speak in some Disney films, there is no other magic in this film, and none of the animals talk. Thus, the film presents the notion that the Native American belief about spirits in nature is undeniably true. This is very misguiding to young minds and could be detrimental to a child being raised with a different religion. Seeing this talking face in the tree also could be frightening or disturbing to a very young child; my sister was frightened by it when she watched this film at age six. It is also possible that Native Americans would be insulted by this, since I don’t think their ancestors believed trees have faces or voices. I understand that they believed in internal, unseen spirits, but I doubt that they ever made a practice of talking to trees. Instead, there could be a wise old woman who lives in a house in this giant, hollow willow tree. She is the oldest, wisest member of the tribe, and everyone calls her Grandmother Willow because of her rather unusual abode. When Pocahontas brings John Smith to see Grandmother Willow, he could hear her voice from inside the huge tree and maybe even see her face in a window carved out of it. Thus, we can keep John Smith’s amusing line that a tree is talking to him. Pocahontas would tell him it’s just Grandmother Willow, and the wise old woman would emerge from the tree to talk to them.
- The next problem occurs during the villainous Governor Ratcliffe’s song, “Mine, Mine, Mine.” As he imagines his return to British court after digging up mountains of gold, he is shown walking down a grand staircase and having his hand kissed by a many women. A couple of these women are wearing extremely low necklines which expose far too much of them.
- Later in the song, as Governor Ratcliffe sings about his “dear friend, King Jimmy,” he sticks his head right through a painting of King James. This is extremely treasonous and could be insulting to British people. It must be eliminated.
- During this same song, the settlers are shown using cannons and dynamite to knock down trees. In one shot, a huge number of trees are shown crashing down in the middle of a huge cloud of smoke. This is rather insulting propaganda about the destructiveness of the British settlers. Although Governor Ratcliffe is the villain, this excessive destructiveness is insulting and disrespectful. These men were our country’s founding fathers, so we should be more respectful of them. The men may be shown chopping or sawing down a few trees, but they must not be so absolutely destructive.
- The next problem occurs during the song “Colors of the Wind.” As Pocahontas tries to bring John Smith closer to the earth and animals, she takes a bear cub from its mother’s side and hands it to John. Children watching the film could be tempted to do this themselves if they came upon a bear cub, and this could be very dangerous. John and Pocahontas may fondly watch the bear cubs play from a respectful distance, but they must keep their hands off them.
- Later in the song, Pocahontas and John Smith do cartwheels and roll down a hill in a field of grass. Then, right before it cuts to a new shot, Pocahontas appears to roll right over John Smith, who is lying in the grass a little way away from her. It is indecent for her to do cartwheels and roll in the grass, and this should be changed. She should merely run through the field with John then take his hand and begin to run away again before it cuts to a new shot.
- In a later scene, Governor Ratcliffe’s assistant, Wiggins, stumbles into the former’s tent with an arrow through his head. He soon reveals that it is a fake arrow with a band that fits around the head. This is extremely violent and must be changed. If the arrow is necessary to make Ratcliffe think the Indians have all the gold, it must appear to have gone through his arm, not his head.
- The next problem occurs during the song “Savages.” One of Governor Ratcliffe’s lyrics in this song is, “Their skins are hellish red.” This is unacceptable and should be changed. It should be changed to something like, “Their skins are fiery red.”
- The final problem occurs when John Smith is about to board the ship back to England. He was accidentally wounded in an earlier scene, and he must go back to England to be treated. He begs Pocahontas to go with him, but she says that she must stay in America. Before he is taken aboard the ship, they share a final kiss. This kiss is in a horizontal position, open-mouthed, unduly long, and overall quite lustful. I do understand that they will never see each other again, but that is no reason for them to kiss like this. It is necessary for the kiss to be horizontal, since John is on a stretcher, so I will not require that this be changed. However, the kiss must be made shorter and less lustful, and both characters must have their mouths closed.
This concludes my breening of Pocahontas. Before I close, I would like to repeat how pleasantly surprised I was by this film. Growing up, the only Disney Renaissance films I watched were The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. My sister saw Pocahontas and Mulan once each when she was a young child, but the three former films were the only ones we owned. It seems we thought these three were the best for us to watch when we were young, but Pocahontas is a much more family-friendly film than any of them. I believe that it is not quite as popular as the other three films because it lacks a certain intangible quality which these other three films have. However, I would highly recommend it as a good animated film for people of all ages. If all the films in the Disney Renaissance had been like this, I think the generation that grew up watching them would have been better off. Imagine how good these films would have been if they had been breened! I would like to thank all of my readers for their support. I hope that you will all continue to read my breening articles. I’ll see you all next time.
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