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Walt Disney Home Video presents

Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition (1995)

"I've seen hundreds of new worlds, Thomas. What can possibly be different about this one?"- John Smith (Mel Gibson)

Stars: Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Russell Means
Other Stars: James Apaomut Fall, Michelle St. John, Christian Bale, Linda Hunt, Danny Mann, Billy Connolly, Joe Baker, John Kassir
Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg

MPAA Rating: G for (some violence)
Run Time: 01h:24m:10s
Release Date: 2005-05-03
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AC-A- A


DVD Review

For its 33rd animated feature, the Walt Disney studios turned to a different kind of source material: real people rather than fairy tales or children's stories. Although frequently considered a second-tier Disney release, it holds up well as a piece of work. That's particularly true in this 10th anniversary edition, which restores a sequence and a song that were cut from the original release after they tested poorly.

In the early 17th century, the English, led by Governmor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) and Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson) are determined to settle Virginia and corner for themselves some of the gold that the Spanish had found in Central and South America. The Powhatan tribe, led by Powhatan (Russell Means) and his daughter Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), is fearful of the white men who immediately start to dig up everything and cut down the trees. When Pocahontas and John Smith meet, they immediately find an attraction, but before their love can take shape, their peoples are soon ready to go to war.

The story is based on the sometimes apocryphal tales that were told by John Smith and others regarding the founding of Jamestown; the legendary nature helps keep the real universe from being too binding upon the Disney approach. There's a very serious theme of culture shock at work here, with predictably tragic consequences. Racism and venality are up front, and both sides are to blame to some extent. Pocahontas herself is an unusual Disney heroine as well, being portrayed as an adult with responsibilities rather than the more typical vacuous adolescent princess. She's conflicted and has a depth and strength of character that's very appealing, and the animation provides a fair amount of acting that is equaled in few other such features.

The animation also has numerous other strong points. During Colors of the Wind there are some striking uses of pastel-like movement and silhouette that are truly brilliant. The character designs are intriguing, with Pocahontas having a very ethnic look. Her hair has a life of its own, constantly in motion and as one with the breeze, emphasizing Pocahontas' relationship with nature. Color is very vividly used, particularly in the climax as the reds and blues are brought into violent contrast. The design is very streamlined, but more naturalistic than just about any other Disney feature. Pocahontas has some animal friends as usual, but thankfully the verisimilitude is not disrupted unduly by having them talk. They stay silent and it helps make a big difference in the impact that the film has.

Once again there's a star-quality voice cast, with Gibson lending Smith an appropriate cockiness and charm. David Ogden Stiers puts in a dual performance as both Ratcliffe and his fey servant Wiggins. Indian activist Russell Means comes on board with a powerful Powhatan, and Linda Hunt makes a memorable appearance as the spirit of a willow tree that advises Pocahontas.

The songs are particularly well-suited to the story, lending depth to the characters and moving the story forward instead of getting in the way. For this 10th anniversary edition, the long-excised song If I Never Knew You as performed by Gibson and Judy Kuhn (the singing voice of Pocahontas), an affirmation of love sung as John Smith awaits execution. It does bring things to a bit of a halt, but it also makes Pocahontas' intervention a more natural progression of character. The film really works better with it, and Mel Gibson fans will certainly be happy to see it at last.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks decent, with no frame damage and a vivid color throughout. Unfortunately, there is an excessive amount of edge enhancement and ringing added to mess up the picture. It's frequently distracting, to the point of the credits being nearly illegible. There also seems to be some unnecessary digital noise reduction, since linework is frequently eradicated; about half the time the soft lines delineating the blue necklace that Pocahontas wears are a mess of pixelation that's very ugly. This is a very disappointing transfer, especially in light of the serious criticism that met the original release of this film on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 tracks, on the other hand, sound perfectly fine. There's no noise or hiss, and the audio has very nice range. There's not a lot of deep bass (nor would it be appropriate here), but the soundstage is reasonably broad and there's mild surround activity.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Chicken Little
8 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
11 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by producer James Pentecost and directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Golding
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:54m:05s

Extra Extras:
  1. Sing-alongs and music videos
  2. Game
  3. Art projects
  4. Presentation reels
  5. Design galleries
Extras Review: There are all kinds of extras on this two-disc set, starting with a full-length commentary from the principal crew. It has quite a lot of background information and points out many little tidbits that the casual viewer might miss. Three music pieces are included, with the Colors of the Wind music video plus two sing-alongs. A "Follow Your Heart" set-top game is merely a set of identifications of principal characters. There are also art projects, including how to make a dream catcher and a drum.

Disc two has a fair amount of meat to it, though the first segment, a 28m "Making Of" is a electronic press kit piece of fluff. It can safely be skipped but the rest of the content of the second disc is much more substantial. The design galleries include eight featurettes regarding the creation of the designs of various characters, as well as extensive still and drawing materials and animation tests (including one of a turkey character cut from the film). Two featurettes are devoted to the music of the film, one a general overview and one devoted to If I Never Knew You in particular, including why it was cut in the first place. It wasn't the only thing cut, though, and eight deleted scenes (plus a bunch of slightly longer sequences) are on the DVD, with many character bits and one additional song plus a devastating reprise of Just Around the River Bend. A presentation reel of early concepts gives a look at the first ideas for the film. A short storyboard comparison includes a look at some gorgeous charcoal storyboards that have a wonderful mood and might have been the basis for something truly extraordinary had they been taken more literally into the film. It's a nice assemblage of material that will satisfy most fans of the movie.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

An under-appreciated Disney classic, with a large quantity of extras but alas far too much edge enhancement spoils the effect.

Mark Zimmer 2005-05-02