Part 5: In Which the Language Thing Makes Sense Now
How Do You Solve A
Problem Like Pocahontas?
how it could have been good!

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

Here we go—plot outline for a version of Pocahontas that (I hope) would actually work! This is not going to be a full screenplay, just a description of the major themes & structure. Would you have made other choices? Then share them in the comments!

Note: I want to share some analysis of why I'm going with these choices, but it was just getting in the way of developing the new narrative. So, I'm hiding any analysis in anchor tag titles: just hover over any words in red if you'd like more detail, and if not, then just read on!

Obligatory digression on historical accuracy: this makes no attempt whatsoever to make it any better. Although they should probably have just changed the names, and set it on the first attempt to build a colony on Roanoke. For the purposes of this outline I’m sticking with the original names, so we all know who I’m talking about.

So, what’s the same: we have the same dramatis personae, and they all look the same, except Ratcliffe, who is more realistically rendered and is not buffoonishly fat and has no pigtails. I think David Ogden Stiers could still do it. John Smith is voiced by some British actor who is actually good (and can sing), and has less of a mullet. Irene Bedard & Judy Kuhn can stay (and we may even give Pocahontas a nose, because I’m feeling generous like that). I’m not sure if Russell Means can stay. Young Christian Bale most definitely stays. The general visual design of the film is unchanged, of course, because it’s beautiful.

The opening is unchanged, as is saving Thomas.


The giant iron phallic symbol stays.

We get our same 6-minute-late opening credits (that was *such* a fad in 1995!). The Native Americans are introduced with a song like “Steady as the Beating Drum” but it's about how glad they are to have their warriors back. This is where things start to change:

We do not get introduced to Pocahontas on that stupid cliff.


This does not say “relatable and compelling character.

So, when Powhatan is talking to Kekata, Pocahontas rushes in to embrace him. They share a tender moment (although could we please deliver the line “I’m so glad you’ve come home safely” in a more invested tone than a corporate spokesperson says “We wish him all the best in his future endeavors” when someone has been sacked?), and then he turns to the assembled crowd and gives the whole speech straight through without the whole introduce Pocahontas interlude. Kocoum gets honored, then Kekata starts to give thanks for the victory. An eagle soars over the gathering and starts to call.

BIG ADDITION #1: In this retroactive reboot, Pocahontas has the magic power to cast spells that interpret what any other living being is saying.

So, Pocahontas summons the eagle to land on her arm, casts a spell (it can look like the Magic Leaves of Understanding in the original, or maybe something a little less obtrusive, but in any case throughout the movie there needs to be some visual cue for when she’s casting the spell versus when she isn’t), and then we hear the eagle say something prophetic about their military dominance being short-lived, and that they must beware of changes coming, and then the eagle continues to circle overhead. The villagers look confused, Powhatan says a few words to save face, and then calls the Tribal Council (or whatever it’s called) for a meeting.

BIG ADDITION #2: Pocahontas feels that due to her powers, and being at least as spiritually connected as Kekata, she deserves a place in the Tribal Council, but of course as a woman she is not permitted (is this accurate to pre-contact indigenous societies? I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care).

BIG DELETION #1: There is no fucking dream and no fucking spinning arrow. This frees up an inordinate amount of screen time.


“Your dream stinks.”

Clearly, Pocahontas needed more life coaching from the denizens of the Snuggly Duckling.

Pocahontas goes up to Powhatan states she should be included in the meeting. He sighs, like they’ve had this argument before, and that it’s not her destiny. She asks how could he be sure, and he asks the rest of the council to wait a moment as they’re walking into the ceremonial hut where we presume the meeting is to happen. He takes her hand and as they walk he tells her that Kocoum has asked for her hand in marriage, and this scene plays out basically like the original, with the necklace, the river metaphor and all, except she doesn’t say “serious,” she just says “so…so…” and trails off when she can’t quite vocalize her objections. There’s a slight change to the mother here as well—she and Powhatan were still very much in love, except here she’s described as everything steady that Powhatan wants Pocahontas to be. He leaves her at the river bank and goes to the meeting.

Nakoma catches up to Pocahontas and tells her she’s certainly got her nerve to challenge her father like that, but in a sort of “you go girl” way. Pocahontas makes some comment about how he’s been repeating her insights at the council for her, and now as a grown woman she would like to be involved in her own right. They debate Kocoum—Nakoma points out he’s handsome, anyone else would be excited about such a proposal, and Pocahontas says he’d never let her be herself, and that she’s not sure why, but she’s very uneasy about the whole thing. Nakoma starts trying to defend him again, Pocahontas says she needs to be alone to collect her thoughts. Nakoma gives a very irked expression and leaves Pocahontas alone at the riverbed.

Just like in the original, Meeko and Flit come up to her looking at her necklace in the river, but now she casts her spell so Meeko and Flit can actually speak and say what they think about Kocoum (Flit is pro, Meeko is con). We then segue to “Just Around the Riverbend” basically unchanged. She takes the wild stream as in the original, except:

BIG DELETION #2: There is no Grandmother Willow in this version. I have no objection to Linda Hunt voicing some animal that Pocahontas talks to, but the rules of magic in this universe are that Pocahontas can translate any utterance made by a natural being, but trees can’t vocalize anything so that’s out.

Pocahontas goes to a shaded glade by the banks of the river and casts some spells to talk to the various animals about her dilemma. The two cute otters stress the importance of a happy marriage, the beaver is very pro-sturdy-walls, a stag states she deserves the role she wants in the tribe, and Meeko and Flit continue to argue about Kocoum. It gets pretty cacophonous, and she gets exasperated and tells everyone to quiet down and then de-spells everyone to force them to speak one at a time.



Whatever animal Linda Hunt is playing advises her that while she’s very different from her mother, her mother knew her own heart and found happiness, and would want Pocahontas to do the same. At this point the eagle swoops in with the line about the strange clouds. Pocahontas goes off to investigate, pretty much as in the original.

BIG DELETION #3: That stupid “Listen with your heart” song. Good riddance.

Join me next time for the next installment of our new-and-improved plot!

This post originally appeared on on Sunday, November 2nd, 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!