Time for another long overdue blog post! School and work have kept me busy, so I haven’t had much time to think about Disney blog posts or write them. I have the ideas in my head, but actually organizing those ideas and forming coherent, interesting sentences out of them is a whole other story…
On a happier note, I recently got the newest editions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mulan for my birthday, because my two favorite Disney movies were released on Blu-Ray on the very same day! The bad news was that they did not come alone- these special edition DVDs come packaged with The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and Mulan II. The same has occured with The Lion King, The Rescuers, Pocahontas, etc. The Cinderella sequels and Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas even got their own special Blu-Ray releases! This surprises me because those direct-to-video sequels have a horrible reputation among Disney fans (the exception being The Rescuers Down Under, which was released in theaters and considered fairly awesome). Disney hardly ever acknowledges its films when they aren’t well-received, as seen with The Black Cauldron and Treasure Planet. So how come they’re now promoting the infamous DTV sequels?
Whatever the reason, I started to think it might be fun to look at some of the sequels again and see where they succeeded (if at all), where they failed, and why they didn’t necessarily meet the standards of the original. One might feel compelled to point out that these videos were meant to be made with less expenses involved and that’s why the animation looks cheaper, but cheap animation should not reflect on the quality of the story and characters. It enhances the movie, but it should never replace the movie.
I’ll be starting with Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.
This is one of the sequels I managed to watch before I decided that I was “too old” for Disney (and what a dark, misguided time that was!). Now, I mentioned in one of my other posts about Pocahontas that I loved the first movie as a child, so when I found out a few years later that a sequel was coming out, I went nuts. But watching it confused me- I knew I didn’t like it as much as the first movie, but as a kid, I couldn’t figure out why.
Today…I can honestly say that I don’t hate this movie at all. I even like it a little, though it doesn’t have the grand epicness of the first film. I like many of the new characters, including John Rolfe, who is voiced by Billy Zane. I don’t know how Disney got Billy Zane to play John Rolfe in this sequel, but you will not find me complaining about it. ;)
……and…I think he and Pocahontas had some cute romantic chemistry in this movie. COME AT ME, SHIPPERS!
I apologize to the fans of John Smith and Pocahontas’ romance in the first film. I just cannot get behind it. I know it’s just one in a long list of many historical inaccuracies in both films, but I cannot get over the fact that the real Pocahontas was around ten years old when she first met Captain Smith, and he was twenty-seven. Every time someone seethes on YouTube or IMDb or what have you about “Who cares if they weren’t married for real??? John Smith/Pocahontas 4_EVAH!” I feel like cracking myself over the head with one of the settlers’ shovels. John Smith and Pocahontas were real people. Imagine how you’d feel if somebody started writing stories about your fictional love life with a man (or woman) more than half your age? I’d feel pretty disgusted. Granted, they’re both dead now, but still. They don’t even have enough appeal to be a guilty pleasure couple for me. They had some nice scenes together, but nothing that left me wishing they had been a real couple. At most, I like them as friends.
But that’s my opinion and it doesn’t appear to be a very popular one around fans of Pocahontas. Oh well. My point in bringing all of this up is to explain why I didn’t have the same reaction to this movie that other fans did. Yes, if you loved the romance between John Smith and Pocahontas, Pocahontas II will upset you. Otherwise…it’s not a classic movie, but it’s not the worst sequel Disney’s ever made either.
Contrary to what people may think when they hear that the sequel is about Pocahontas’ trip to London and her relationship with John Rolfe, this movie isn’t any more historically accurate than the previous one. First, Rolfe and Pocahontas had already been married for two years when they came to London and they brought their son, Thomas, with them. (No, not THAT Thomas! ;)) Their reason for the voyage was different too. In the movie, Pocahontas travels to England on a diplomatic mission to save her people from being exterminated by Governor Ratcliffe. In reality, she and her husband came to promote Jamestown and Rolfe’s new tobacco industry. Rolfe was not an important gentleman that could get direct access to King James; he was just another colonist moving to the New World. King James didn’t even like him because he hated tobacco. If you’re interested in the real story, I recommend reading David Price’s Love and Hate in Jamestown. I just finished reading it myself and it’s fascinating.
But how does Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World hold up as a film?
I think the writers were really trying to make a good movie here, in spite of the downgraded animation and the less memorable songs. The story has a very good message about respecting other people’s cultures, particularly when Pocahontas ultimately decides to present herself to the king in her regular clothes instead of a ballgown. Out of context, that sounds like part of a cliched “just be yourself” moral, but it has some extra depth here. As Pocahontas puts it, “How can they respect my culture if they haven’t seen it?” Her character (and the real woman) was always shown to be fascinated by the English people, but they never show her the same respect. She has to bend over backwards to prove to them that she’s “not a savage” because she didn’t have the same upbringing they did, and that’s not fair to her. I also like that, while Pocahontas technically wasn’t a princess, she’s one of the few Disney Princesses that we actually see taking an active role in politics. That’s really cool.
Governor Ratcliffe is pretty much the same villain we remember from the first movie, but the stakes are elevated here because A) he comes very close to killing John Smith (twice!) and B) he and Pocahontas have a direct conflict with each other this time around. I like that too. Even as he insults her, sneers at her, and treats her with general disdain for allegedly keeping him from his gold, he also goes out of his way to make sure she doesn’t succeed in her mission, which implies that he recognizes and even respects her as a threat to his evil plans. Her success makes this feel all the more satisfying, though she doesn’t do very much in the final battle except get saved by Smith and Rolfe, unfortunately.
So what IS wrong with Pocahontas II? Aside from the obvious problem of wrecking a fan-favorite couple, there’s nothing horrible about the new characters and the voice acting is fine too. John Rolfe is likeable and he’s not a carbon copy of John Smith. He is a diplomat, not an explorer, and he figures out pretty quickly that he’s in WAY over his head in trying to help forge peace between two radically different cultures, unlike confident Captain Smith. And while I still have no idea how Disney got the idea to hire Billy Zane for his voice, Zane does a good job playing the adorkable hero for once.
I think the lack of stunning animation and a beautiful score is a big part of the problem, because for numerous Disney fans, those were the saving graces of the original movie. If you didn’t like the historical inaccuracies, or the characters, or you felt that the love story was dull or the message was too preachy and simplistic, you’re not going to find much relief in the sequel. Only, in Pocahontas II, the problems one may have had with these movies cannot be hidden behind Alan Menken’s score. The visuals and the music aren’t bad; they’re just not very memorable. London isn’t as gorgeous as the Disney version of colonial Virginia, and that may have been a problem for fans too, at least subconciously. I assume that, in general, people go to see sequels because they want to see a new story set in a familiar environment with familiar faces, and most of the original cast from Pocahontas either makes brief appearances or doesn’t show up at all. Once Pocahontas, Meeko, Flit, and Percy leave, that’s the end of screentime for Chief Powhatan, Nakoma, and Grandmother Willow. John Smith is barely present too, and where was Thomas or Wiggins?
With that in mind, and looking ahead, this seems to be one of two problems with bad Disney sequels: either they are too much like their predecessors, or they are too different, and that “different” isn’t better than what fans previously enjoyed. Compared to some of these other sequels, Pocahontas II definitely isn’t the worst, but it’s not at “Disney classic” levels either.