The 33rd entry in the Disney Animated Canon, 1995's Pocahontas is the first (and, other than Mulan, only) one to be inspired by true events. It takes the old legend of the Native American princess who supposedly saved the life of Englishman John Smith and turns it into a musical romance with few roots in the historical record. It literally has more roots in fantasy, in fact — a supporting character is a talking willow tree.Rebellious Princess Pocahontas has been promised to the best warrior of the tribe by her father Chief Powhatan, but she senses she has a greater purpose in life than this. When English settlers arrive to form the Jamestown colony, she meets the idealistic John Smith, the one member of the group who is interested more in adventure and the beauty of the land than the gold said to lie in it, which Governor Ratcliffe exhorts the others to dig up. Each an outcast among his/her own people, they fall in love.But both groups are intensely mistrustful of the other — the Native Americans fear the English will ravage their land and people; the English regard themselves superior to the "savage" natives. When a rendezvous between the lovers leads to the death of her intended at the hands of a settler, John Smith is captured and sentenced to die by Powhatan, and (having discovered there is no gold) Ratcliffe intends to use this as the perfect excuse to exterminate the natives. Only Pocahontas can save both worlds.This was the first Disney animated feature to arrive after their world-beating success with The Lion King. Though it was a significant hit, it was not on the scale of its immediate predecessors. It also received weaker reviews, with many chiding it for Political Correctness Gone Mad, an Anvilicious approach to moralizing, and now-too-familiar story structure and character types (feisty heroine, handsome lover, animal sidekicks, etc.) And with Toy Story's arrival later in '95, Western animation would never be the same. It is the least well received film of the Disney Renaissance and is the only one to be graded Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, at a paltry 56% - even The Rescuers Down Under, which was a commercial failure, is still graded Fresh. That said, some of the ill-will this film suffered might be because of its Bittersweet Ending - one of the rare films in the canon with one - and because, as we've already stated, it had the bad luck to immediately followThe Lion King. In spite of its flaws, however, this film is one of the best-looking, most craftily animated Disney movies, renown for it's vivid colors, Scenery Porn and excellent art direction.The film did warrant a Direct-to-Video sequel in 1998, Journey to a New World, that applied similar fictionalization to Pocahontas' later life, namely her journey to England and marriage to John Rolfe. Ironically, Christian Bale, who voices young settler Thomas in the first film, appeared as Rolfe in Terrence Malick's rather different telling of her story, The New World — as did Irene Bedard (Pocahontas' speaking voice and the model for the animators) as her mother — 10 years later.Now has a character sheet!
And David Ogden Stiers, who did both their voices, has come out as gay.
Even more so if you know that James I is thought to have been homosexual or bisexual. "My dear friend King Jimmy"...
Arranged Marriage: Kocoum asks for Pocahontas' hand and her father bethrothes her to him - she has no say in it.
Artistic License - Geography: The filmmakers obviously didn't do the research on the Tidewater/Coastal Plains region of Virginia, where the movie takes place. If they did, they would've known that it doesn't have any mountains or cliffs.
And the song "If I Never Knew You", which was cut from the theatrical release.
Badass: John Smith and Pocahontas are both eventually a Badass Pacifist. Chief Powhatan comes back from winning a war and uniting several warring tribes, which makes him quite eligible for this title as well. Finally, Kocoum is a Memetic Badass both in- and out-of-universe.
Black and White Morality: Played straight at the extremes: Pocahontas is good, John develops into good, Ratcliffe is bad. Every single other character is some tint of grey.
Bloodless Carnage: Several characters are shot, sometimes fatally, with no blood or other visible sign of injury. This leads to a case of Narm with the "Savages" verse "I wonder if they even bleed" because... they don't.
Break the Haughty: For John Smith. It results in some remarkable character development in which he drops his xenophobia. Governor Ratcliffe, when faced with the same lesson as John Smith (love transcends cultural differences and other cultures are to be respected in order to preserve peace) realistically blocked out and snapped.
Book Ends: Disney goes back to its roots here, opting for more appropriate parchment instead of a storybook.
Butt Monkey: Poor, poor Percy. He's naturally clumsy, his (former) owner is a big douche, and Meeko is constantly one-upping him and stealing his food.
And Flit, who despite his caution and practical edge, is often comically abused by Meeko. Is it any wonder Meeko is The Scrappy?
Thomas throughout 3/4 of the movie—he nearly drowns (mere minutes into the movie), is clumsy, can't shoot and is manipulated by Ratcliffe. Even when he thinks he's doing right by shooting Kocoum to save John's life, he only manages to make things worse.
Chekhov's Gun: Pocahontas' dream of a spinning arrow comes into play when she is unsure of what to do during John Smith's impending execution. She then looks at his compass which she has been carrying, and it spins wildly until it points to the direction he is in, allowing her to finally follow her destiny.
Chekhov's Skill: Pocahontas' very first scene shows her effortlessly jumping several feet off a cliff into the water and appearing unharmed. Whether this is part of her spiritual abilities or not is debatable, but during Savages she finds herself capable of nigh levitation and running with the wind.
Closer to Earth: Pocahontas and John Smith. By comparison, the rest of her tribe is just as aggressive and violent as the settlers; their leaders and warriors are returning from a successful conquest when we first see them.
Color Coded Patrician: Ratcliffe's purple. Purple was the color of nobility. In the Disney universe, purple is also a sign of villainy.
In real life, the English did view her as princess and presented her to King James I as one. Of course, they were translating her position into the European terms they were familiar with, but the point is she was viewed as a princess during her lifetime, even if it wasn't by her own people.
Dramatic Wind: And how! Our heroine is almost constantly followed by winds that artistically blow leaves around. According to Wikipedia, this wind actually represents the guiding spirit of her Missing Mom.
Russell Means, who voiced Powhatan, points out that wind is a powerful spiritual force in many Native American worldviews.
Dumbass Has a Point: Wiggins hits the nail on the head for why the Native Americans attacked the Englishmen while they were digging for their gold. This astonishingly accurate assumption is ignored because Ratcliffe thinks that the Indians are hoarding the gold for themselves and don't want the English to take it.
Ironically the Native Americans weren't even attacking — Chief Powhatan's command was to observe them, not engage.
Feudal Overlord: Governor Ratcliffe. He orders the settlers to build a fortress, burn down trees and attack the natives, all to dig up gold which isn't actually present. He didn't have permission by any member of the royal family to do this.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: Quite disturbingly, the death of Kocoum has very little effect on most of the characters. While our heroine is seen mourning shortly after the event, it's not because of his death; it's because of Smith's impending execution. Thomas shows little emotion over just having killed someone, and Chief Powhatan,who had thought especially highly of Kocoum, does not seem too concerned about finding the real murderer after Smith is let go. The only character who really shows any substantial emotion about this death is Percy. Can be justified as the movie doesn't really have time to explore everyone's feelings about the loss of Kocoum, especially in light of John's impending execution and preparations of war between the settlers and Powhatan's tribe.
Inferred Holocaust: Kind of. The film ends with a "happy ending" in which the settlers and natives come to terms with each other. Anyone with the vaguest knowledge of history knows this will last about three seconds before relations go south for about 300 years.
Unless you count the film as complete fiction and interpret the ending as the settlers permanently returning to England. After all, there was no gold in Virgina, so why would they stay? Again, only if you regard the film as fiction.
Which would be a logical thing to do, since it's not historical by a long shot.
Fun fact: in real life, they stayed because they discovered the magic of tobacco. Tobacco: like gold, but more addictive!
That's what John Rolfe was doing there (I know, I know, don't bring up the sequel).
"I Want" Song: "Just Around the Riverbend" for Pocahontas; "Mine Mine Mine" combines this with a Villain Song for Ratcliffe, serving as a counterpoint to John Smith's purer intentions.
Just to make things odd, Ratcliffe seems to be saying he'll take everything they dig up for himself, but the men of the company find the song inspiring, since they seem to understand 'mine!' as a command.
Jerkass: Ratcliffe, obviously, since he is the villain of the story. Also, Meeko's behavior toward Flit and especially Percy.
Karma Houdini: Nakoma. She sticks her nose in Pocahontas's business and all she tells Kocoum is "I think she might be danger" despite being told by Pocahontas not to say anything and to trust her. Of course thanks to her nosiness Kocoum is shot and John Smith is nearly executed. When Nakoma confesses, Pocahontas doesn't hold it against her at all and she never receives any form of punishment for her actions.
Meaningful Echo: Not quite direct, but possibly intentional. When John rescues Thomas at the beginning, he says to the rest of the men, "Of course, any of you would do the same for me." When John is taken prisoner, Thomas says they have to rescue him as "he'd do the same for any of us."
By a very loose interpretation of this trope, arguably the rest of the English colonists qualify as well. They were greatly misinformed or uninformed about the realities of the New World.
The Native Rival: Kocoum, mainly because he's annoyed at John Smith for getting romantically involved with his intended bride. He ends up getting killed by Thomas (John Smith's friend) while trying to murder Smith.
Nice Hat: Thomas's green hat may not be fancy, but he's never seen without it and it is nice enough that John bothers to retrieve it from the sea when he's rescuing Thomas. There's a shot of him giving it back once they're both safely back on deck.
Non-Action Guy: Wiggins, particularly evident when you compare him to the other settlers, who are all manly looking.
Not So Different: The natives and the settlers. A fairly dark example, considering our first view of the natives is their warriors returning from conquering/destroying another tribe and the ending only avoided being a massacre because both sides launched their sneak attacks at the same time. Lampshaded when both of them sing a similar song.
Once in a Blue Moon: A "blue corn moon" is actually mentioned during the song "Colors of the Wind".
One Head Taller: Highlighted in the "Colors of the Wind" number. Pocahontas and John Smith send eagles up to the top of a tree with John Smith's eagle being one head taller than Pocahontas's eagle. This leads into a Match Fade of Pocahontas and John Smith themselves following the trope.
Picture Perfect Presentation: The movie starts with a woodcut of London Harbor that transitions to the harbor in-animation, zooming in on the dock where the colonists are boarding and loading their ship. It ends with a shot of Pocahontas on the cliff, watching John Smith's ship heading back to England, transitioning back into a woodcut.
Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Pocahontas' age being bumped up in order to tease a possible romance with John Smith. Many of the historical inaccuracy complaints directly refer to this.
The Power of Love: Not the typical magical effect it usually has in Disney movies, but saving both a lover and a people from extermination is not to be sneezed at.
It could be that the power of love helped Pocahontas and John Smith overcome the language barrier in about five seconds. Supposedly, the pink and purple leaves swirling about were her mom's spirit/symbolic of the power of love. This seems so powerful that it lets Nakoma understand English too.
Satellite Character: Despite constantly hovering about the main character, Flit seems to serve absolutely no purpose in the story. Unlike the other two animal sidekicks, he doesn't play a part in the subplot. What little contributions he has, he spends playing the Straight Man to Meeko, and he does a really bad job at that.
Wiggins too. He's just there to give Radcliffe someone to bounce his thoughts and schemes off of.
Sissy Villain: Ratcliffe subverts this. He's vain, greedy, and wears pink, but he's also the first to be suited up for battle and leads the Virginians from the front. Not to mention being the one to try and shoot Powhatan, even if John Smith jumped in the way.
Spirit Advisor: Grandmother Willow, who manifests herself in an animate tree. She is apparently visible only to Pocahontas, her animal friends and, later, John Smith.
Staggered Zoom: Used to zoom in on Ratcliffe at the start of the second half of "Savages".
Villain Song: Besides "Mine Mine Mine", which is colorful and comical, there's "Savages", which definitely isn't.
Wasn't That Fun?: John comments "That was refreshing!" after leaping overboard to rescue Thomas.
We Hardly Knew Ye: It's difficult to feel too much emotion for Kocoum's death when he barely had any screen time or characterization in the movie. This doesn't excuse some members of the cast, who should have known him a lot better, from doing the same.
Canon Discontinuity: Like most of Disney's direct-to-video sequels, this sequel is not considered canon by the company. For example: John Smith & Pocahontas remain an official couple, ignoring John Rolfe completely.
Circle of Shame: This happens to Pocahontas when she attempts to stop a bear-baiting at King James' party.
Foil: John Rolfe to John Smith: one is refined and sophisticated, while the other is way more badass.
Karma Houdini: Despite nearly starting an all-out genocidal war, and failing to bring back resources and riches back to England, Ratcliffe is seen in the Direct-to-Video sequel with no loss of power or wealth.
Historical In-Joke: "What A Day In London" features William Shakespeare, in a cameo, getting the idea for the line "to be, or not to be". (Historically, Shakespeare died a couple months prior to Pocahontas's arrival in London and Hamlet was written a few years before the setting of the first film.)