Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'Pocahontas' Twin Bill on Blu-ray

Today, it's my pleasure to welcome my good friend, Heather Antonio, as a guest columnist. Heather is a lifelong Disney fan with a particular fondness for Tinker Bell. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, just a stone's throw away from the Walt Disney Family Museum. This week, she's helping me catch up on some reviews of Disney's most recent Blu-ray releases. If you like her, we just may ask her to stick around. :-) Thanks Heather! -- Tim

Until I sat down to watch Pocahontas with my children, I hadn't seen it in about 10 years. My daughter loved the Disney princesses when she was small so it was part of the rotation in our home for a long time and a well-loved movie. My boys, however, had never seen it, so I was curious to see what their reactions would be.

When my 13-year old boy was little he was all about everything Buzz Lightyear and had no time for princesses, but when we watched Pocahontas, he was enchanted particularly by the music, songs he had grown up listening to. My almost 3-year old son has now asked to watch it three times since his first viewing. I take that as a very good sign.

We were all enjoying the movie in our own ways--watching Pocahontas (voiced by Irene Bedard; singing voice by Judy Kuhn) and John Smith (Mel Gibson) navigate a forbidden friendship, laughing at the comic antics of Pocahontas' critter friends Meeko and Flit, embracing the wise guidance of Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt)--when I noticed a common thread. All four of us were charmed by the music. The heart of the story may be about bringing two cultures together, but it's the music that matters. My oldest son put it simply, “The music was magical.”

There are certain Disney songs that become a part of our personal history. They speak to us in ways that stand out and move us. The songs of Pocahontas have always done that for me. I had forgotten how "Steady as a Beating Drum," sung over the opening credits, could send a chill through me. And you can be sure I'll be belting out "Just Around the River Bend" and "Colors of the Wind" off-key as I drive down the freeway this week.

Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz made magic together with the soundtrack for Pocahontas. Released in 1995, it went on to win Academy Awards for Original Score and Best Song ("Colors of the Wind"). "Colors of the Wind" was also honored with a Grammy for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television. I'm glad I’m not the only one who loves the music of Pocahontas. It will always stir up such a range of feelings and emotions for me.

I also appreciate what a unique Disney film this is. Pocahontas was the first Disney animated
feature based on characters that really existed--and one of the few features to not have a happily-ever-after. Historians dispute how much of the Pocahontas-John Smith legend is actually true, and Disney took plenty of artistic license with the legend, but the movie works musically, visually and emotionally.

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World

Included in the new Pocahontas Two-Movie Collection Blu-ray Combo Pack is the 1998 direct-to-video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. Admittedly, it's not my favorite Disney film, but it's still an amusing movie to watch.

In Journey to a New World, Pocahontas goes to England as an envoy of her people to try to prevent war with the British. She must ultimately convince King James to stop his armada from searching for gold and attacking the Powhatan nation. The decision to leave home is not easy for her and she consults with Grandmother Willow for advice:

Once in England, Pocahontas is escorted by her host, John Rolfe (Billy Zane), while accompanied by Uttamatomakkin, sent by Chief Powhaten to act as her protector. Uttamatomakkin is
virtually silent, but is very expressive and provides welcome comic relief. In fact, he became my favorite character in the movie.

Pocahontas must prove to the King that she and her people are worthy of respect without compromising who she is. In the process, she struggles to fit in with the culture and customs of England. She is invited to a hunt ball and must don an elegant gown (complete with hoop skirt and high heels) to show just how civilized she is.

Throughout the evening, she is confronted with challenges meant to show her as an uncivilized savage. When her nemesis, Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), arranges for entertainment at the ball designed to offend and incite a reaction from her, she finds the strength within herself to throw aside the silly trappings of so-called civilized society. She'll listen to her heart and discover there just might be a way to help her people and to find the love that has been missing since John Smith sailed away.

I have to admit, Pocahontas II surprised me. It was a very entertaining movie to watch with my children.

~Heather Antonio

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