Part 3: The Gloves Are Coming Off!
How Do You Solve A
Problem Like Pocahontas?
the good, the bad, and the ugly

Start at the beginning of this series or catch up on previous posts on the table of contents.

So, in our last review we covered the first six unforgivable sins that damn this movie, so today let's do six more!

7. There is no indication whatsoever that Powhatan would not be sympathetic to Pocahontas and John had he found out what actually happened. Yes, Powhatan is a little stern and rather a stick-in-the-mud, but he comes off as a kindly father who is primarily motivated by Pocahontas’s well-being. If he found out Kocoum was ignoring her clearly stated pleas to leave John alone, would he have defended that behavior for a second? Moreover, in the fight scene Kocoum quite violently throws Pocahontas to the ground. Everything we’ve seen of Powhatan as a father says that if he heard about that he’d respond to Kocoum’s death with “Good riddance, fuck that bastard.”

image image

Yeah, this happens. Why does everyone just forget about it for the entire fucking rest of the movie?!

8. The stopping-the-execution climax really falls flat as well. It’s not really a sacrifice or a risk given that Powhatan would never do anything to hurt his daughter. The only risk she’s running is that Powhatan couldn’t physically stop the momentum of the club once it’s swinging, and even that’s only because Pocahontas was cutting it so close with her pointless dithering all night (see #2). All she’s doing with this is a dramatic gesture that says “Daddy, I really, really, really don’t want this!” It’s much sexier and faux-noble, but it’s the same basic idea as a toddler flinging herself on the floor in the candy aisle.


I waaaant Reeeeese’s Pieeeeeeeeces!!!

9. Painfully obvious willow tree plothole. Remember how I said I was glad the main plot of the movie didn’t depend on that much magic? Well, that’s great and makes for a more mature piece…but then you have to make sure your story is actually internally consistent without magic to pull you through, thus making pet peeves #2-#8 all the more glaring. Perhaps even more annoying than that, though, is a plot that operates on very little magic even when in-universe magic would clearly be expected to operate. Which leads me to the next absolutely unforgivable sin of this movie: Grandmother Willow does fuck-all to save John Smith when he’s being attacked right under her branches. I mean, she’s already shown she can lift roots and whip people with her vines to force the two Scottish sailors to leave…


Shown: A dire emergency.

… and she moved her leaves into position to create a secluded curtain for Pocahontas and John Smith to make out in the first place…so why does she suddenly become inanimate at the very moment when John Smith is fighting for his life?


Eh, I'm sure he's got this.

Bad form, movie. I’m not angry, movie…I’m just disappointed. Now go to your vault and think about what you’ve done.

10. Fuck Mel Gibson. This isn’t really a deep analytical issue; it’s just the simple matter that his performance sucks. You can watch this movie and play “What continent will John Smith’s accent be from in this scene?” because he hops around from London to Melbourne to Los Angeles willy-nilly. If you’re going to do a dashing British settler that makes the Native women swoon (ignoring all the colonialism-upholding implications of that particular trope), it’s full-on sexy British accent or GTFO.

Apropos of nothing, here is Jude Law reading “Poker Face.”

I blame Mel Gibson directly for most viewers thinking John Smith isn’t interesting—he jumps off boats (ok, this movie officially has a thing for dramatic jumping!), he’s cocky & grandstanding, he mentors a cute kid, he stands up to Ratcliffe, he has clear motivations and has understandable reactions and changes of heart…but he’s voiced by a flippant, incompetent douchebag and that’s that. For contrast, Phoebus is a very similar character, but Kevin Kline imbues him with so much more humanity and the result seems much more interesting.

11. Kocoum is a Machiavellian, abusive asshole. This itself wouldn’t be a problem, except that the movie displays no understanding that Kocoum is a Machiavellian, abusive asshole. He’s clearly just interested in Pocahontas because of her social status, and otherwise he barely seems to know her at all much less interact with her. Does this obvious red flag come up when Pocahontas is objecting to him? Of course not! Moreover, he is clearly shown trying to kill John Smith when he has been told Pocahontas was in no danger from him, and her efforts to intercede for John make Kocoum MORE intent on killing him than he was before! And why does the whole movie give him a pass for this? Pocahontas even says “Kocoum was just trying to protect me.” No, facepalmheaddeskhulksmash, he was trying to CONTROL you. There’s a very significant difference. It would be one thing if a character doesn’t have insight into this, but the moral framework of the movie needs to, and frankly it doesn’t have time to teach the character the nuances of gaslighting and the dynamics of abusive relationships. This is one 90-minute Disney film, not three seasons of Mad Men, so Pocahontas needs to see that Kocoum turned out to be an abuser and she needs to straightforwardly curse his departed soul for it.

12. Ratcliffe is a weak, silly, & ineffectual villain. A serious story with grown-up themes needs someone at least as sinister as Jafar, and preferably a Frollo. Someone who is ruthless, self-righteously convinced of his own rectitude, and who manipulates the other colonists rather than being universally derided. And, really? Let’s have the fat guy be the embodiment of greed? Boring & overdone. I like the idea that he isn’t as knowledgeable as he pretends to be, but I’d rather that be covered over with defensiveness and sneering, rather than buffoonery. He also does relatively little to actually advance the plot, except his tacked-on role in the end. Otherwise, he’s just … there … being himself but not actually involved in much of anything.

But wait, there's more! Our next post will be even more multitudes of problems!

This post originally appeared on on Sunday, October 19th, 2014.

Many thanks to the following reviews for helping me crystalize all the thoughts that were bugging me about this film:

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About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!