“Not Another Sequel!” The Good and the Bad in Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World

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.

Yeah, I'm not feeling it either, Pocahontas.  (Picture found on Disney Wiki)

Yeah, I’m not feeling it either, Pocahontas. (Picture found on Disney Wiki)

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.

Musical Monday #29: “If I Never Knew You”

Weird, but true: one of my favorite Disney love songs comes from one of my least favorite Disney couples.

As a kid, I only wanted to watch Pocahontas having fun with Nakoma and the animals in the forest, making new friends through John Smith, and trying to bring about world peace.  The more adult romance flew right under my radar, though it didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.  Now that I am old enough to appreciate the romance, I still don’t appreciate it, because it’s hard to like a couple based on two historical figures who, as far as we know, didn’t have anything close to a romantic connection.  The real Pocahontas was a little girl when she met the real Captain John Smith.  He was in his thirties.  I know Disney’s Pocahontas is a fictional retelling of the story, but this particular historical inaccuracy still bothers me.  It feels disrespectful to the lives of the real people, moreso than any other inaccuracy in the movie.

On the other hand, their love ballad that got cut from the finished film is beautiful.  I only wish it described the love between two other characters in some other Disney movie.

While I prefer the pop version by Jon Secada and Shanice, here’s the animated version sung by Judy Kuhn and Mel Gibson, which was re-inserted into the movie for its 10th Anniversary DVD release:

You can also hear pieces of an instrumental version woven in and out of Alan Menken’s score throughout the film.  Unfortunately, “If I Never Knew You” had to be cut from the film because it apparently bored the kids in the test audience.  As much as I love this song, I can sympathize; I probably would’ve been squirming in my seat too.  If you grew up in the ’90′s, ask yourself, what was your favorite song in each of the Renaissance films?  “Hakuna Matata?”  “I’ll Make a Man Out of You?”  “Under the Sea?”  “Be Our Guest?”  The villain songs?  My friends and I loved bouncing around to the fun, high-energy songs, and while we did like the love songs too, I don’t think they made a very big impression on us beyond, “Oh, this sounds nice.”  The Disney love ballads are really meant for the teenagers and adults in the audience to enjoy, and I think out of all of them, “If I Never Knew You” is particularly touching and probably should have stayed in the final cut- though that montage of flashbacks looked silly to me.

This song is not like any of the other Disney love ballads, because the other songs’ lyrics describe how happy the two characters feel now that they’ve found each other and how wonderful their love is (i.e. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”, “So This Is Love,” “A Whole New World,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “I See the Light,” etc.).  But Pocahontas and John Smith think that they’re about to be separated permanently, and Pocahontas wonders if they would have been better off never meeting at all, so that John would not be in danger of execution.  They’re not singing about how great their lives have become since they met and fell in love.  They’re basically saying, “You know what?  Our people hate each other, one of us is probably going to die because of it, and we’ll never be able to have a happily ever after, but none of that matters.  The time we did spend together was amazing and worth any pain and suffering we have to endure now.  If nothing else, we’ve become better people from knowing each other.”

That is absolutely beautiful.  There are no other words sufficient enough to describe it.  I still don’t like the idea of turning Pocahontas and John Smith’s relationship into a romance, but I love this song.

Let’s Discuss: Pocahontas

Can Pocahontas still be considered a good, enjoyable movie even if it’s historically inaccurate?

Pocahontas was the first movie I saw in theaters that didn’t leave me feeling completely terrified.  (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Lion King and Toy Story!)  Just the opposite in fact; I loved it.  Pocahontas was my heroine and all I wanted to do was pretend to live in the forest with my animal friends and fight off that nasty Governor Radcliffe (and I suppose that was completely missing the point of the movie, but oh well…).  Looking back on my childhood, I went through many little “phases” of loving one Disney (or non-Disney) movie more than any other: Snow White, Cinderella, The Lion King, Anastasia (yes, I am fully aware that’s not a Disney movie), Mulan, etc.  But out of all the animated heroines that I loved, Pocahontas was the one who resonated with me the most.  And I didn’t just put her doll on my Christmas list.  I wanted John Smith, Nakoma, Kocum, Chief Powhatan…everybody.  (Guess I was a die-hard fangirl collector before I even knew what that meant!)

I think that, while I loved animals and playing outside as much as Pocahontas did, part of why I loved her so much had to do with her personality.  Those who don’t like her character sometimes complain that she was just like every other strong, independent ’90′s woman at the time and there wasn’t much more to her than her serious agenda.  But to a shy, introverted little girl like me, Pocahontas was amazing.  She paddled her canoe down waterfalls with no fear!  When John Smith unintentionally insulted her family and called her a savage, she gave him a verbal smackdown!  She faced down two angry opposing armies and stood up for what she believed in!  She was loving and kind, but also strong and brave.  She just radiated confidence, while I was getting less and less adept at that sort of thing.  She was just so cool.

And she smiles a lot more than the promotional materials would have you believe! (Picture found on Disney Wiki)

So, as you’ve probably guessed, the whole issue of Disney’s Pocahontas being very historically inaccurate and offensive to descendants of the Powhatan tribe make me feel very uncomfortable.  My initial opinion was, “But it’s a Disney movie.  It might not be authentic history, but it tells a good story.  So what if they changed a few things?”  Then I checked out the page on Wikipedia and started reading about the criticisms to see just what it was that Native Americans were so upset about.  They had a link to the reaction of the Powhatan nation, and it’s pretty harsh: http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html   And…I can see their point.

Now, I don’t think the Native Americans come off looking bad in the movie at all.  They’re just trying to protect their home.  When the English settlers first arrive, the tribe smells trouble, but the chief advises that they just observe and see what the newcomers are doing.  It’s Radcliffe that flips out and tells his men to start shooting.  Also, unlike the real John Smith’s account of the “clubbing incident,” the Disney Powhatan comes off more justified in his decision, because he believes that Smith killed one of his best warriors and attacked his daughter.  (Which sort of begs the question: why didn’t Pocahontas tell him what really happened?  That might’ve stopped the execution…)

But the movie does alter and trivialize the real story and ultimately, I think the reason why few people care is because these events happened too long ago.  If the Disney company made an animated musical love story about the terrorist attacks on September 11th and twisted many of the facts to suit the story that they wanted to tell, there’d be a huge uproar, and rightly so.  Those who watch The Nostalgia Critic and his reviews of two horrible animated musicals about the Titanic disaster shudder, laugh, and roll their eyes.  We wonder how those people could’ve had the audacity to turn such a tragic event into a cheesy story in the style of a Saturday morning cartoon, and rightly so.  So why is it any different when it’s a story about the mistreatment of Native Americans who lived many centuries ago?  Because they’re not alive anymore, so they can’t complain about what they experienced?

And yet…unlike those Titanic movies, Pocahontas displays stunning, gorgeous animation and beautiful music.  It’s not subtle, nor is it very factual, but its message of peace and understanding between different cultures is important.  This Pocahontas might not be like her real-life counterpart, but she’s still a fantastic role model for young women and a Disney character that will always have a very special place in my heart.

But enough about my opinion.  What do you think of Pocahontas?  Let’s discuss!

Ten Worlds I’d Like to See in a Future Kingdom Hearts Game (Part 1)

This isn’t the first blog to come up with a list of ideal Disney movies to include in Kingdom Hearts, and I doubt it will be the last.  But with Dream Drop Distance coming out next year and Kingdom Hearts III still on the horizon, I wanted to throw in my two cents as well.  So, without further ado…

10. Phineas and Ferb

Picture found on Phineas and Ferb Wiki

I realize that this one will probably never happen because KH has yet to include a world based on a Disney Channel show.  Also, I’m not sure that the simplistic designs of Danville and its characters would translate well with the art design of Kingdom Hearts.  For example, how would Square’s development team make Phineas’ triangular head three-dimensional?

But the spirit of the show would fit very well in the Kingdom Hearts universe, and Phineas and Ferb would love to help Sora, Donald, and Goofy fight Heartless with all the crazy inventions they’ve made over the summer.  And considering that the newest game, Dream Drop Distance, is supposed to be all about the Realm of Sleep and well, dreams, how perfect would it be to show Sora or Riku running amok with Phineas and Ferb’s imaginations?

If nothing else, it would be great to have Agent P as a Summon ally!

9. Toy Story

Picture found on Pixar Wiki

It’s probably only a matter of time before these classic characters make an appearance in a Kingdom Hearts game.  Pixar worlds haven’t been included yet, but now that they’re owned by Disney, this is something that fans have been begging for for years (myself included).  To be honest, Toy Story isn’t the Pixar world that I want to see the most, but it’s a wonderful trilogy, it’s beloved by so many people of all ages, and it has some of the best examples of friendship in cinema.  And isn’t friendship what Kingdom Hearts is all about?

8. Pocahontas

Picture found on Disney Wiki

At first, Pocahontas got added to the list purely for nostalgic reasons.  It was my favorite Disney movie for years, until Mulan was released.  Then I started thinking about whether or not it could really fit with KH thematically and got stuck.  Pocahontas focuses on specific issues about learning to accept other cultures, respect the enviornment, and find nonviolent solutions to conflicts.  That doesn’t really fit well in an action RPG setting, because A) such games always end with a big, long boss fight between the hero and the villain, not a diplomatic meeting with a peaceful resolution, B) hacking and slashing at nature is one of the best ways to get bonus items, and C) Sora has never had a problem with other cultures.  He’ll easily befriend anyone, as long as that person has no evil intentions.

Then I realized that this clash between the morals of Pocahontas and basic action video game mechanics could make for an interesting story.  Sora knows, based on past experiences, that sometimes it’s necessary to take action when dealing with something that’s genuinely evil, like the Heartless.  On the other hand, depending on what’s happened to Terra and Master Xehanort since Birth By Sleep, Sora might have to take an alternative route if he wants to save Terra.  Interaction with Pocahontas could inspire him to try something different.  Likewise, Pocahontas would have to come to terms with helping Sora fight invading Heartless in the New World if she became allies with him.  I think adding Pocahontas’ world could open up some different story possibilities.

And it looks like I’m not the only person who’d like to see a Pocahontas world: there’s a fantastic hypothetical theme for a Pocahontas world on YouTube, created by a talented fan called BlueNctrn.  Check it out if you’re interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKD5WN47DOU&feature=channel_video_title

7. Darkwing Duck

Picture found on Disney Wiki

Like Phineas and Ferb, Darkwing has a less likely chance of appearing in a game because he’s the star of a Disney television show, not a movie.  But if Square-Enix ever wanted to experiment and include characters outside of the Disney movie canon, Darkwing would be a good candidate because his show is a spinoff of Ducktales, and we’ve already seen some of the characters from that show make an appearance in the games: Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewie, and Louie.  Of course, you don’t have to be familiar with Ducktales to know who those four ducks are, but I had never seen Tron or The Nightmare Before Christmas before I started playing the Kingdom Hearts games, and that didn’t stop me from enjoying Halloween Town and Space Paranoids.  Darkwing Duck is a very entertaining character, along with Launchpad, Gosalyn, and the Fearsome Five.  St. Canard could easily be included as another section of the world of Disney Town, like how Timeless River was added as Disney Castle in the past.

So what are you waiting for, Square-Enix?  Let’s get dangerous! :D

6. Treasure Planet

Picture found on Disney Wiki

To be honest…I don’t have an amazing, well-thought out reason for this, beyond the simple, “Treasure Planet was an awesome movie and I want to see my favorite Keyblade wielders fighting space pirates!!!”  I love everything about that movie, from the jaw-dropping, gorgeous animation, to the sad and complex relationship between Jim and Long John, and the song, “I’m Still Here,” and the awesome action scenes, and it’s just highly underrated and underappreciated, in my humble opinion.  I don’t know how Jim’s emotional coming-of-age journey would fit well with Sora’s story, unless the writers had Riku or Kairi visit that world instead, but I think it would be a lot of fun to fight Long John Silver’s crew and more Heartless pirates.

Tomorrow I’ll post the top 5 worlds I’d like to see in a Kingdom Hearts game, so stay tuned!