Part 6: In Which Our Main Characters Become Interesting
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. Remember to hover over anything in red for extra commentary!

Last time, we created a foundation for the rules of magic in this universe, and gave Pocahontas a motivation (and a nose). Now, the English arrive:

The interlude with Ratcliffe, Wiggins, and Smith on shipboard plays out, except that Ratcliffe is more menacing, and while still a greedy bastard is more about bringing this land into properly civilized English hands. Wiggins is the same. He makes a comment about the gold, and Ratcliffe conceals a smile and says something self-justifying and white-man’s-burden-like.

The ship lands and Pocahontas is watching. To keep this consistent, at first she can’t understand what the settlers are saying, and to communicate this to the audience, what we actually hear when we’re watching them tie off the ship from her POV, is that they’re speaking in full-on Old English (i.e., untranslated Beowulf).

No amount of listening with your heart is gonna help you with this motherfucker.

With some trepidation, and not sure if it will work, she tries to cast her spell over them, and is pleased to find that it does and the settlers are again speaking recognizable English, with whatever our little visual cue is for the spell hovering over them. She gives a self-satisfied smile. When John Smith goes up and surveys the landscape, the little scene with Meeko plays out, except the spell visual marker is only over John Smith and not Meeko, who is squeaking as shown, because Smith would notice something’s up if a raccoon were talking!

Kekata’s smoke scene stays, because it’s beautifully animated and just totally cool. The only difference is there are no women in the audience, as this is at a Council meeting where women are not allowed.


Ma'am, I'm gonna need you to step out. You're spoiling my attempts to retcon some motivation into this thing.

The plant-the-flag scene is unchanged, but I’m cutting Percy and Meeko and the bowl of cherries (see Problem #14). In fact, I'm cutting Percy entirely. Gone. So, I’ve decided instead to have Meeko antagonize Wiggins at this point, because it would be friggin hilarious. Also, Wiggins will be shown as more of a neat freak and having internalized Ratcliffe’s expectations of perfection, and completely going to pieces when he can’t control everything. Think Wall-E and the cleaning robot and you’ve basically got this scene.

Ratcliffe sends Smith off as per the original (while most of the crew is more manipulated by Ratcliffe, Smith is actually competent and thus can’t stand him), and I’m leaning towards keeping “Mine, Mine, Mine.” It’s not a bad song, but not a great one either. The point-counterpoint would be good if Mel Gibson could sing. We’ll cut the intro where Ratcliffe has to explain finding gold to the Scots, and in general Ratcliffe is more persuasive and domineering. He also lets his bullying streak towards Thomas come out a little more even in the song. And no foppy interlude about Ratcliffe back in England.

The stalking scene is unchanged (beautifully animated, too!), perhaps with the little addition that the little spell signifiers are hovering just behind John’s back, and when he turns around suddenly they scurry behind him. The ambush, the waterfall, the meeting scene, & the running away are all unchanged. The only difference is when Pocahontas is in the canoe, she at first doesn’t say anything, and John Smith rather sardonically comments to himself when he realizes he’s talking aloud that she must not be able to understand him. She suppresses a little smile like “dude, you have no idea…” The implication being before she says “My name is Pocahontas” she is intentionally stringing him along and deciding whether or not to talk to him. The magic leaves do not go as crazy in this version—he simply helps her ashore, says something to himself about “I wish I knew your name,” and then Pocahontas smiles and decides to play along and tell him.


Guys, cool it. If this device has to be in every scene where a Native American and an Englishman talk to each other, it’s gonna need to be a lot less distracting!

This time it’s John that does the double-take, rather than Meeko and Flit. He introduces himself, asks her how she speaks English, and she says she has a gift for understanding. To demonstrate, she casts the spell over Flit and Meeko: Meeko says hello, and Flit starts chewing him out for being here, and Pocahontas hastily unconjures the spell over Flit and gives John a please-excuse-my-friend embarrassed smile. He takes her hand in a gallant oh-don’t-worry-about-it sort of way.

The digging, skirmish, and cutaway to the village medicine tent are unchanged.

Next we have the same scene of Pocahontas and John getting to know each other. It’s a good place for that to belong in the story structure-wise, but as for content the original is pretty dull.

They’re by the riverbank, cut the “It’s a helmet” (yawn!), but we’re keeping in “Soo…uh, what … river is this?” You know that feeling when you’re trying to impress someone and you don’t quite know what to say? I’ve always found that a nice touch. She tells him, he tries (and fails) to repeat it, and she says what it’s named for, and this leads into her telling him one of the legends of her people (bonus points if this could actually be a real contemporary legend, but as this is a subject about which I know nothing, whatevs).

This is NOT a cutscene where we see this legend acted out, but rather we still see Pocahontas and John Smith and she’s telling the story all in her voice, and conjuring up images like the Colors of the Wind and/or smoke scene animation, and the scene is playing out between them. Remember, the point of this is to show them falling in love, not to get across the particular legend, so seeing how they react to each other is important. She gets really animated about it, and has a lot of joy telling the story, and he is captivated by it and makes doe-eyes at her admiring how she’s so passionate about the story and her culture. The story is something about love lost, but the details aren’t that important.

John Smith replies it reminds him of a story he knows, and he starts telling a synopsis of Romeo and Juliet (which was first performed circa 1595, so it’s totally legit). He doesn’t name-check it, though, because that would be gauche. He gets to the part where Romeo and Juliet meet while dancing, and Pocahontas asks how that would work because apparently in her tribe men and women don’t dance together. He says he’ll show her, and now we get an adorable scene of him teaching her a Pavane.



A little formulaic? Yeah, sure. There’s a reason for that—it’s a formula that fucking works!


Or you can just go back to this. I’m sure you’ll be enthralled.

He gets to the balcony scene, and it all goes to hell. In the context of explaining what a balcony is, John Smith starts making the same snide comments about how much better their houses are. Pocahontas’s interest in the plot of R&J evaporates, and we lead into the same argument as the original, and Colors of the Wind, which is the same except for that stupid take-the-bear-cub moment. I distinctly remember being a nine-year-old in our local Century Multiplex and thinking, “I don’t care HOW in tune with nature she is, NO ONE gets away with that shit!” (although maybe I didn't swear quite as much at that age...) It ends in the same way with the drums, except that John Smith doesn’t do that rapey physically-restrain-her-when-she-tries-to-leave thing.


Seriously, man? Not cool. Kocoum might not give a shit about her enthusiastic consent, but you had damn well better if you think you’re going to be a hero in MY story!

Join me in our next installment, in which our characters develop flaws that will make their later actions make sense!

This post originally appeared on on Saturday, November 8th, 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!