Compare Simon van de Passe’s 1616 portrait of Pocahontas, the only one made during the Algonquian Native American’s lifetime, with the beatific interpretations that followed and you quickly realize that historical accuracy is perfunctory in Pocahontas. Though much is known about Pocahontas’s life after John Smith left for England (how she was kidnapped, ransomed, and married by John Rolfe and later paraded around England before her untimely death in 1617), this 1995 Disney film focuses entirely on the myth before the facts: how Pocahontas falls for Smith and helps stave off a revolution between the British and her people. True to this idealized spirit, directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg similarly fend off history: As he sails into the horizon, Smith leaves Pocahontas with a broken heart, but the good news is that her people get their land back! (I suppose that means the American Revolution never happened, Keeple Disney II and Mary Richardson never came to Canada from Ireland, and Elias Disney and Flora Call never birthed Walt, who never created Mickey Mouse and fathered Roy, who never actually commissioned this film, which I never saw and reviewed.)
The directors have taken their liberties: Pocahontas is no longer prepubescent and her romance with Smith not only exists but seems to span over the course of just one blue-corn night rather then the widely accepted two years. These choices aren’t offensive per se (very little is known about Pocahontas’s early history and the nature of her romance with John Smith, and as such one could argue that historical authenticity is next to impossible to achieve here), at least not as unpleasant as the studio’s gross trivialization (or trifling glorification, take your pick) of Native American life and folklore. It’s the typical condescending horseshit resuscitated for Brother Bear several years back: Because of their ostensibly profound connection to Mother Nature, the natives in these two films needn’t talk—what with all the trippy fumes from their tribal fires doing all the work for them. There’s also a tree, Grandmother Willow, who croons like Marianne Faithfull and comes to represent the matriarchal presence missing from Pocahontas and her sister’s lives (in their first scene together, the sisters throw water at each other from beneath a capsized canoe, eerily anticipating Nomi and Molly’s potato chip fight from Showgirls).
The natives do talk, though, and in English no less, the rationale being that the film’s target audience can’t read. But there still needs to be some kind of lazy rationalization for why Pocahontas and Smith are able to communicate with each other so effortlessly. Here, it’s the colors of the wind—a hilarious combination of leaves, dust, and teeny-tiny Native American symbols—that whisper “listen with your heart” and wrap themselves around Pocahontas and Smith, helping the couple to bridge that misty culture gap between them and making the film’s ensuing harlequin romance possible, which is predicated on all sorts of politically correct banter and corny come-ons. After Pocahontas teaches Smith how to say hello and goodbye in her native language, he replies, “I like hello better.” Raaaaaar! Girlfriend talks as if she’s constantly burning her bras but she can’t tell when some scumbag is trying to shamelessly get into her panties. Thank God for the adorable Meeko, then, who is every bit as mortified by everything that happens in the film as I was.