Part 7: In Which We Develop Some Legitimate Conflict
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!

Or, "What Character Development You Can Achieve When You Don't Spend 15% of Your Screenplay On A Dream About A Fucking Compass."

In our previous installments, we've developed a plot device for the language barrier that makes sense, Pocahontas has a legitimate motivation, and she and John Smith have met for the first time...

So, we cut back to the settlers, John is moping as per original, but instead of cutting to Ratcliffe being buffoonish, we have the settlers trying to console themselves with fantastic dreams of the riches they’re going to find and how great it will be to be rich in a big showstopping number in the style of a rowdy sea shanty. John, in the time-honored tradition of Ariel, Simba, and Nala, takes the showstopper as an opportunity to sneak out of the camp.


Like this, but on land.

Ratcliffe belatedly notices he’s gone and sends Ben and Lon after him.

Instead of the Percy and Meeko interlude we have some more of Meeko antagonizing Wiggins. Then we go to Pocahontas moping, Powhatan comes to speak to her, he says the “Just like your mother” line (which I always found very touching, lack of insight about both women notwithstanding). But here it transitions into “I hope, someday, you will start to appreciate her wisdom as well” and something about “I want to see you married in a role I can be proud of." Pocahontas tries to tell him she wants him to be proud of her in the role she wants for herself, and his “You shouldn’t be out here alone. I’ll send for Kocoum” functions as a defensive way to cut her off from speaking her mind. Nakoma confronts her, John Smith arrives, and there’s no Nakoma-somehow-understands-John-Smith.


This makes absolutely no fucking sense.

Pocahontas still gags her, because she takes a deep breath and is about to scream. Pocahontas & John Smith run off, and Kocoum appears, but in this version he’s a little bit more ominous and bitter with his saying she can’t keep running off.

They go off to some secluded locale, but no Grandmother Willow, because fuck that. We cut to them mid-conversation when Meeko comes in and tells them what he observed from spying on Ratcliffe and Wiggins. This gives Meeko something to actually do in this story, makes Ratcliffe more present in the narrative, and clarifies the rules of magic in this universe: since Pocahontas wasn’t there, Meeko can only guess what they were talking about and describe the maps and so on.


Imagine: an alternate reality where Meeko is actually useful.

Smith fills in some points about searching for gold, and how Ratcliffe is running the settlement. Flit grudgingly comes to respect the fact that John is being honest about the settlement and has clearly learned from his earlier savage-conquering ways. They hit the same plot points from the original about there being no gold, how John Smith has never belonged anywhere, and he’s clearly considering making a move on her in answer to her invitation “You could belong here” (a charming set up, pity it didn’t go anywhere in the original!), but then Ben & Lon interrupt trying to find him, they hide, and instead of the tree smacking them around, Pocahontas enchants Meeko and Flit so Ben & Lon understand them and think they're going crazy, and they scare them off by telling them if they stay here they'll be mad forever (the translation spell signifier shapes itself into a Cheshire grin for a little cameo gag).


Pardon my very hasty photoshopping.

John gets ready to leave, Pocahontas asks to see him again, and they plan to meet that night.

The warriors arriving scene is the same, except that when Kocoum goes to embrace Pocahontas, she tries to edge away, and he gives her a bit of a forceful jerk to pull her in closer. She looks alarmed. Pocahontas goes to her father, but instead of the vague and platitudinous “Maybe we should try talking to them,” instead she again insists that she should be included, and that her powers to make creatures understand each other could be useful.


Instant drama! Just add content...

BIG ADDITION #3: Here, Powhatan is a devoted father, but deeply flawed and unable to see his daughter’s best interests as separate from his own. The argument goes roughly like this:

POWHATAN: My daughter, it is not safe for you to involve yourself with these pale beasts.

POCAHONTAS: You can’t just try to keep me shut inside all the time!

POWHATAN (more visibly agitated): I’ve already lost your mother, and there’s no way I will let you go on being so reckless!

POCAHONTAS: Father, one of these days you will have to see that I am not Mother, and I can’t want what she wanted!

POWHATAN (cold and cutting): You are not brave. You think you could be a leader, but you are just childish and stubborn, and you are ungrateful for the noble husband I have offered you.

POCAHONTAS: Well, I’m sure he’s very grateful for the chance to marry the chief’s daughter!

POWHATAN (adopting a confrontational pose): What? What did you say?

POCAHONTAS (very defiant): I said Kocoum doesn’t care one bit about me! He can barely even bother to talk to me! I’m just an opportunity to him.

POWHATAN: How dare you say that about such a leader of our people! I trust him. I trust him absolutely. If you reject him, you reject me!

POCAHONTAS: I will not be his stepping-stone, and I will not let either of you use me!

POWHATAN slaps her across her face.

Pocahontas reels from the unexpected blow, and Powhatan, taken aback by what he has done, tries to offer a hand in reconciliation. Pocahontas straightens up, gives a defiant glare, and runs off.

Cut to Ratcliffe poring over his papers and plotzing about the lack of gold and the imminent failure of the colony (including a pointed, “at this rate, we’ll all starve!”). He talks about the English way of life and how it’s his duty to bring it to this god-forsaken land. Ratcliffe says the colony can never succeed unless the natives are wiped out. The gold aspect is much less central.

John arriving at the fort, Thomas incompetently guarding it, and the fight with Ratcliffe is unchanged.

Pocahontas leaves, as shown, and Nakoma tries to stop her. It’s basically the same, but Pocahontas includes a comment that she must show her father that he needs her to make this right.

The scene of John sneaking out of the camp and Thomas being sent after him is unchanged. Nakoma goes to Kocoum, but in this version he’s a bit more indignant about what Pocahontas may be up to, rather than concerned (or whatever that emotion he was trying and failing to convey was).

Stay tuned for the next installment, with romance, jealousy, action, & revenge!

This post originally appeared on on Friday, November 14th, 2014

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


  1. Your ideas don't appeal. You're trying to turn a charming kids movie into yet another cliched super feminist movie with all the men acting really crazy and awful.

    1. 1) This "charming" movie has a 56% on RottenTomatoes, and has the dubious distinction of being the only film of the Disney Renaissance to get a "rotten" rating. It needs work, badly.

      2) Super feminist?!?! OH NOES!!!!

      3) Actually, I think you'll find the men were pretty awful in the original--I'm just following through on that to its obvious implications. Kocoum tries to kill John Smith out of jealousy: that is classic abusive behavior, so I'm showing him for what he is. All of the tribal leaders portrayed in the film are male, and the only route Pocahontas is given to "take your place among our people" is via marriage to a high-status man: I'm just looking at what it would be like to be in that system. Even Powhatan ignores his daughter's pleas to save John Smith and insists on killing him, and tries to order her around despite her objections. So this is what is ALREADY in the story, but I've noticed with anti-feminists in my sitcom dad post, you don't much mind portrayals of men behaving badly, you only get irate when women treat that bad behavior as a problem.

      4) The only person I made demonstrably worse was Powhatan, and that's not because I hate men, but because I hate under-developed and under-motivated plot contrivances. The story depends on Powhatan insisting on killing John Smith, and Pocahontas being almost unable to stop it until the last minute. As I mentioned in parts 2 & 3, with Powhatan being a decent guy, there is NOTHING to hold the climax of this story together. It just makes no sense why they couldn't talk this out like responsible adults the night before, and Pocahontas seems like a total idiot for failing to tell him what happened. Without a compelling source of tension between the two of them, the story has nothing to make it suspenseful or interesting.


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!