Part 9: FINALE In Which Our Hero Nearly Gets His Head Bashed In
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!

When we last left our noble heroes, Pocahontas & John Smith's ill-timed making out led to Kocoum getting stabbed, John getting captured and Pocahontas making a determined (*coughoriginalmoviesuckscough*) but unsuccessful plea to save his life.

Thomas runs back to the camp and sounds the alarm, with the only difference being no one is so fucking stupid as to ask “Who got him?” Ratcliffe doesn’t have any silly aside about the gold, he just tells Wiggins “If this is what it takes to get them to wipe out those savages, then so be it!” He’s also very cruel to Thomas for letting John get taken, and reminds Thomas that John risked his life to save him from drowning, and look how Thomas has failed him. Thomas is dejected and humiliated and is being pushed aside by the rest of the crew.


Oh, good. We still get sad Christian Bale eyebrows. For a moment there I was worried.

This leads into “Savages,” pretty much as written, perhaps without those lines more obvious than Albi the Racist Dragon:

Do you think the song was directly inspired by this movie? Sometimes, I honestly do.

Also, if you're willing to overlook musket-vs-guitar, when Jemaine says "Because we're different to them..." Bret looks EXACTLY the same as Thomas when Ratcliffe says "They're not like you and me, which means they must be evil..."


Now, I'm not going to go starting an insane new conspiracy fan theory...but I will point out that insane conspiracy fan theories have been started on considerably less.

The interlude to "Savages" is now a sad reprise of "Just Around the Riverbend" where Pocahontas sings that she realizes she was unprepared for the events that came along, that she is scared of what's in store but something metaphorical about how the rough water is beautiful, and she resolves not to give up in the face of what adversity comes her way. She is NOT, however, moping around trying to figure out ethical questions less complicated than a game of Candyland.


Also, we’re not wasting our time with this shit.

"Savages" picks up the next morning, except in this case Pocahontas is right there with the execution party (because in this version, our heroine will have her shit together, dammit!) and her contrasting verses in the melody are sung to her father and are last-ditch pleas to spare John Smith. There’s also no giant cliff, because:

1) they don’t exist in coastal Virginia,

2) it totally gets in the way of the English seeing what the hell is going on in this scene,

3) it makes it feel static instead of epic, and

4) the geometry of the cliff coming to such a sharp point is ALL WRONG for blocking the scene. Have you noticed this? Am I the only one who is insanely bugged by this? In order for Pocahontas to lie over John’s face but not the rest of him, and for her to confront her father and speak face-to-face with him, John apparently flips a full 180 from where they threw him down. Don’t believe me? Look:

Here he is getting put on the rock:


Powhatan is behind him getting ready to swing:




What the fuck? How’d he fucking do that?! And more to the point, if he could ninja-flip like that, why didn’t he just MOVE HIS GODDAMNED HEAD?!

And where exactly Pocahontas is has a lot of blocking problems too:

Is she parallel to the plane of Powhatan’s swing?


Or perpendicular to him?


I’m not sure if she is actually flipping around as egregiously as John did, or if it’s audience disorientation from the direction pretty incompetently breaking the 180 Rule, but either way, it’s just plain awkward.

Instead the execution takes place on a modest promontory on the bank of the river. We exchange a few glances of the English looking consternated that they’ve wound up on the wrong side of the river from the action.

Here is that scene set & blocked properly:


Anyway, Pocahontas, having exhausted every plea she can think of, and muscled toward the back of the crowd for making such a fuss, finally makes a run for it and dives onto John Smith. Now, in the context of her father being furious at her and already having demonstrated that he can get worked up enough to hurt her, this does considerably raise the stakes of this gesture. Of course, he softens, his speech is basically the same, Pocahontas casts a spell so the Englishmen can understand it too, John gets released, and they have their tender embrace. Ratcliffe needs to finish out his story arc, so he’ll go ahead and urge an attack, and this time John turns to the Englishmen and orders them to stand down. Ratcliffe taunts him that he’ll never be welcome on English soil again, and John Smith embraces Pocahontas and says he has no need to be. Exasperated, Ratcliffe grabs a gun and fires at Powhatan, but Thomas tackles him just as the shot rings out and we see the gun veering upwards as it goes off. John has reacted to the shot by pushing Pocahontas out of the way and diving in front of Powhatan, but there's really no need to have this whole story end on a pointless, contrived downer. There’s a moment of confusion where neither the English or Pocahontas can see if Powhatan or John were shot or just knocked/fallen down, but NOT a drawn-out maudlin fakeout. Three seconds max. The dust settles, John & Powhatan realize they’re both all right, and help each other up. Powhatan is very touched that John would risk his life for him, and embraces him. The other colonists cheer, clap Thomas on the back, and tie Ratcliffe up and cart him off. Ratcliffe shouts something ominous about there being more ships and more settlers and vows they will take over the land (we have to have some hint of how terribly this is all going to turn out in the long run, right?).

The eagle swoops in with the now-mended necklace in its talons, and drops it in Powhatan's hand. Powhatan looks thoughtfully at it, and presents it to Pocahontas, and announces there will be a feast in honor of “my daughter, a wise leader of our people,” and John, “my new son.” They kiss, everyone cheers, and we pan out and the final still is rendered like Native American artwork rather than the English engraving from the beginning. Credits.


Vaguely this, but actually appropriate to the place & time (Google images is failing me, and failing me hard!).


So, that was Pocahontas, with infinitely more internally-consistent metaphysics, 500% more believable motivation, 50% less preaching, 85% less moping, and 100% fewer giant cliffs. We’ve created and resolved the following character arcs:

1) Pocahontas gets her talents recognized and is embraced as a leader of her people, learns she can’t just coast on having a single skill and expecting that to make everything work out perfectly, and she learns to trust her instincts about abusive red flags (and she gets the blond Adonis, for good measure).

2) John Smith learns to respect other cultures rather than just trying to conquer them, and he appreciates Pocahontas’s courage and intelligence as well as her beauty.

3) Powhatan learns to love his daughter for who she is rather than what he wants her to be.

4) Thomas learns to see the humanity in others, and has found the courage to stand up for what’s right.

5) Kocoum gets his comeuppance in the form of a cardiac tamponade, because fuck that bastard.

6) Ratcliffe gets his comeuppance for being a jingoistic bullying douchebag.

Rather than just the “Nature good, greed bad, war bad!” lesson that we got hammered into us with the actual movie, that angle is moved to the background and we have a multi-layered interpersonal drama to run front & center.

Of the 81-minute original runtime, we’ve kept only 50:45 with no or minimal changes, which leaves more than enough time for the extra conversations needed to develop everyone’s motivations believably, plus 1-2 additional songs--not to mention that 81 minutes is extremely short even by Disney movie standards, which strongly suggests the original really had nothing to say:


My thoughts exactly, dear.

What do you think? Do these changes work? Would you have done something differently? Let me know in the comments!

This post originally appeared on on Sunday, November 30th, 2014

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


  1. While I don't dislike this movie as much as other people do, I have to admire your version. For some weird reason, I was totally okay with Pocahontas and John being separated back when I first saw it when I was eleven years old. But my sister (who was twentytwo years old) did not like it, and I now agree with how she felt back then. Yeah, I know that Pocahontas (hopefully, as she only was twelve) never had a real love affair with John Smith. But yeah, why did they have to be historically correct about that one all by a sudden? So applauds to you!

    1. Thanks so much for reading! Yeah, when I first saw it at age 9, I just assumed the ending was something that, while I didn't like it then, I would like it when I was older and able to appreciate a more mature ending. In other words, at 9 I chalked up my not liking it to my not being mature enough. Then, I watched it in my 20s to do my first Eddie Izzard/Disney crossover, and then I was like WOW, this doesn't hold up AT ALL! And now that I can better identify what is actually good filmmaking, I've grown out of my nine-year-old mentality that I should like something just because it's sad and seems noble.

  2. So much better! I really enjoy Thomas saving the day at the end- good wrap up to Ratcliffe treating him poorly.
    (And better than him applying John's advice at the worst time.)

  3. This is great! So much better! It was only when I watched this recently that I realised how, to be frank, insubstantial this movie is. It suggests and screams that it has themes and is very VERY SERIOUS, without really delivering on it. Your version not only fixes its most problematic plot devices and characterisations while adding so much, like better protagonists and antagonists and best of all a big fun showstopping musical number, which is sadly lacking from the original. I mourn the loss of Grandmother Willow, but it certainly makes sense. You should pitch it to Disney for the inevitable (and misguided) live-action remake in a few years time. Perhaps that is your destiny? Your spinning arrow if you will. (Sorry).


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!