Monday, December 12, 2016

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 7: Pocahontas

Click to read Part 1 (Snow White)Part 2 (Cinderella)Part 3 (Aurora)Part 4 (Ariel)Part 5 (Belle), and Part 6 (Jasmine).

Did Disney bite off more than they could chew when they chose to make an animated movie out of the legend of Pocahontas? Some say they did--but I find (after watching the movie a couple of more times) that they did about as good of a job as they could have and I'm in fact growing fond of this 1995 film (you just have to remember that the story of Pocahontas, from the beginning, was always intended as a legend rather than a history--people forget that there is little point in talking about it as a history, unless you are analyzing the history of legends). The point remains, however, that this is a difficult film for children to feel much connection toward. But let's move on with our usual analysis of Pocahontas as an animated, female character.

As children, apparently my brother and I said that Pocahontas was ugly--though I have no memory of this (I would have been around four at the time). What she is is a complete departure from the previous Disney princess look, and I guess we just weren't used to seeing diversity in animation. Jasmine was supposed to add diversity--but other than her outfit, she doesn't really look too different from her predecessors. Pocahontas does, and I think the artists gave a real effort to not Europeanize her features. Her skin is a warm color, and her profile is completely different from Cinderella's or Belle's. And of course the actress, Irene Bedard, who performed her speaking voice is Native American. So I give Pocahontas full points for actually adding racial diversity to the princess group.

Other than our comment about Pocahontas's looks, I'm guessing that what makes this film more inaccessible for children is the depth of its themes. There is so much material in there. Questions of two worlds colliding. Of people following or listening to others without checking to see if what they say is true. Of respect--for other people and for the world we live in. You could take this film as a message from environmentalists.

I bring this up to speak to this aspect of Pocahontas's character. She is not at all like Snow White, the moral figure representing all good virtues. Yet she doesn't have the childish rebellion of Ariel, either. She is perhaps the most intelligent of all the Disney princesses, taking Belle's love of reading one step further into wisdom that has nothing to do with books. Pocahontas respects and she thinks--two highly laudable traits. When she hesitates about marrying Kocoum, for instance, she truly takes time to consider what it would mean to marry him and what it would mean to refuse him. She doesn't rashly yell out that she won't marry him, and she doesn't submissively agree without hesitation, either.

What I describe could almost sound like hesitation. But Pocahontas is not the hesitating sort. She thinks before she acts, yes, but she also takes risks and tries to see the full potential of circumstances. She's an optimist. When she knows a waterfall, she will dive headfirst into the water below just for the fun of it. And so when she meets a stranger, she will think well of him until he proves otherwise--and then she will try to turn him from the wrong. Since she doesn't fear situations, you could call her brave. It's hard to find anything to pick on when it comes to Pocahontas: like Belle, she is a well-rounded character, and she is kinder and less quick to anger than Belle.

Pocahontas is wise, with a sense of right and wrong, and yet she also has a sense of fun to accompany her sense of duty. A time to be serious, and a time to play. This is why the river metaphor is so strong throughout the movie: it expresses this sense of being many things at once, or many things throughout the length of life.

I think Pocahontas does get the short end of the stick. With all the merch Disney sells, there is little to nothing for Pocahontas because people just don't want to buy when they can buy Snow White or Rapunzel merch instead. And people try to be smart by saying that Pocahontas is nothing like "what really happened"--even though they're missing the fact that John Smith himself intentionally wrote the story of Pocahontas the legend, not the history, and it's that legend that Disney made a movie on (if you miss John Rolfe that much, he shows up in the sequel). So we get sidetracked from what the film does offer. Pocahontas is intelligent, respectful, adventurous, and a diverse addition to the Disney princess group.

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