Saturday, August 18, 2012

D52 - Week 33 - Pochahontas

Kevin the Aspiring Pokéhon Trainer

Here's one I had never seen before, at all (unless you count trailer clips). And I'm okay with that because it turns out I wasn't missing much.
The first thing that strikes me is that we seem to be approaching that time in animation history where other animation studios were starting to make names for themselves. At least, I associate DreamWork's earliest and biggest hits featuring realistic(ish) human characters, and didn't Anastasia come out around this time too? Since I'm writing this offline I can't match up timelines, but I do get the feeling that Someone was influenced by Someone Else during the latter half of the 90s. I can't say I care for that animation style, either. I often find myself disappointing watching animated people - who by their very medium are unrestricted in what they can do - pretty much only do what real live actors could easily do themselves. So let's talk about the characters in "Pocahontas."
Pocahontas herself is one of many women in fiction(alized stories) who are bethrothed to be wed to a prechosen man but someone are shocked to only find out about it very shortly before the wedding. How disconnected was she from her tribe that she came to grow up as an adult without knowing how marriage works in her own culture? At least Simba and Nala got early warnings. But you can feel compassion for Pocahontas's unwillingness to marry Kokomo. He's clearly an unfit suitor, because he...doesn't smile. Yeah, about that. Do any of the other guys she knows smile? You could think it would be more of an expected trait rather than a flaw. And it ties in to my criticism of the way the Native Americans are portrayed here. They are certainly not at all "How! Smoken peace pipe" bunch seen in "Peter Pan." They're certainly handled very politically correctly. But, too much so, I would say. Up until the big battle near the end, they're calm and respectful and reserved...which are admirable qualities in real life people, but very boring qualities for movie characters. I'm not saying I would rather they hoot and holler while slapping their palms on their mouths. But look at the "white men" in this same movie. John Smith? Yes, he's also terribly boring (I prefer Mel Gibson as Rocky the Rhode Island Red). But then there's Wiggins, who actually has a sense of personality about him. And those other guys, whose names I don't remember BUT they too were, well, different from the other white dudes. What qualities set any of the NA men apart from any of the other NA men? No idea. If you can have the realisticish John Smith and half-cartoony Radcliffe interacting with the quite caricaturish Wiggins, why couldn't there, say, just one wacky Indian? I just feel that, in trying too hard not to display any negative Native American stereotypes, the movie ends up reinforcing the idea that all Native Americans are ultra-serious and completely humorless, and that's not much of a step forward.
Speaking of the integration of humor. Remember in Fox and the Hound, Boomer and whatshisname, the woodpecker and his fellow avian? I'm pretty sure I remarked at the time about how they seemed to exist as their own short within the movie, not having really much or anything to do with the actual story. Now, we get Meeko, Flit and Percy, who even moreso give that vibe. They clearly exist for the sake of distracting the youngest viewers who can't/won't get into the dialogue-heavy plot of a woman having an inner conflict about her fate and hey look, the cute animals are doing funny things! Abu was also a younger-view-cute-animal-comic-relief type of character, but at least I bought the idea that Aladdin and Abu are long-time friends who depend on each other. But to Pocahontas, Meeko is... some animal who she sometimes sees and talks to? How odd that a main character who sings entire songs about her connection to nature doesn't seem to have all that significant a relationship with her animal friend(s). Even Radcliffe doesn't interact with his dog Percy as much as I feel he should. It could've been the type of interplay we saw with McLeach and Joanna. Maybe the whole point is that he doesn't even have much time to spend with his dog? But if that's the case why does he have a dog? No, I'm reading too much into this.
Basically, Radcliffe - mostly the name - makes me think of Ratigan, and how much more awesome a villain he was. Ratigan's song was about the precise things that made him despicable, like drowning orphans. Radcliffe's song is about how much he likes money. Ugh. I don't like money-wanting songs. And it's a dull and vague motivation for a villain to boot. At least if he sang about how much new land he wanted to discover/conquer, or even flat out about how much he hates Indians, and why, that would've been something I (think I)'d never heard in a song before. I like the "mine-mine" wordplay that the lyrics were going for, but it wasn't enough to make it a solidly worthwhile song.
But it does follow the trend of the previous batch of D52ies in its acclaim-worthy visual artistic accomplishments. And even the music - that is, the score of the songs, moreso than the lyrics - is thoroughly pleasing. Never mind what's going on, but just watch as it happens. In that way, Pocahontas makes me think of Fantasia. You know what? That's what Pocahontas should have been. Imagine if the whole story was condensed - maybe even only through music and without words at all - and saved for Fantasia 2000. In my imagination it works much better that way. Or what if, instead of Pocahontas, this week's film was a newer compilation in the style of Melody Time and its tall tales, but with stories based on real events, Pocahontas being one of its less-than-half-hour segments? I bet then we wouldn't even care nearly as much about its historical legitimacy.
Favorite characters: There is only moment in the entire film that I found funny, but it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. After Grandmother Willow tells a bad joke (I think it's the one about her bark being worse than her bite), we see a shot of two owls, who are never seen in the rest of the movie at all. The expression of the owl on the left hand of the screen might go down as one of my favorite reaction shots in cinema history. I would've laughed way more often if, anytime any of the characters did something that was supposed to be funny, the camera just cut to that same shot of the owls. I wish I could screen capture it but I don't have the capacity to do so now. I would so try to start a screen-capture-sequence-told-with-impact-font-ending-with-the-same-shot-"comic" meme, called something like "Schathingly Unamused Owl."
Least necessary character: Cocoa-Yum, for the sole reason that he makes me disappointed that his name is not an actual breakfast cereal. But wasn't there a Pocahontas cereal, or am I deluding myself?
And another thing: What's Grandmother Willow all about anyway? Does she have a history that we should know about? Were Pocahontas and Pocahontas's mother the only people who knew about Grandmother Willow's existence before John Smith saw her? What qualifies her to be wise anyway? I don't think I should trust someone as being automatically all-knowing just because she's old and is a face on a tree. Stop plopping mystically magical old ladies willy-nilly into movies! And before you ask, yes, even that one.
Overall: If you only know this movie by its most-played songs Just Around the Riverbend and Colors of the Wind (and their accompanying animation sequences), your assumption of what the rest of the movie must be like could easily be better than what it actually is.

Amanda's recipe for blue corn moon pies

You'll need for this recipe
3/4 Bluecorn meal
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tblsp brown sugar
2 tblsp butter

Butter a cast iron skillet set on medium high heat.
set your oven to 350 to preheat.
Mix the first four ingredients just until combined and pour into the skillet.
after 2 minutes, remove the skillet from the heat and place it in the oven for another 30 minutes.  Slice into wedges and eat by hand.

WARNING: I just made that up.  Don't actually make this recipe... or DO and tell me how to fix it!

Anyway Pocahontas.

This movie is boring.  Really really boring.  Pocahontas is too spiritual to be interesting. John Smith doesn't have a personality except for "supposedly hot guy." The cute little animals for holding the attention of children have nothing to do with the story and are designed so incredibly differently as to be jarring.  Bah.

The bummer part is that the music in this movie is really terrific.  There are some native American influences both in the lyrics and in the rhythms.  The verses are nearly as memorable as the choruses and nearly two decades later, they still sound very modern or at least timely.  The accompanying "music video" as I like to think of that section of the movie is stimulating.  There are lots of surreal colors and interesting cinematic choices and those sections are genuinely entertaining.  If only the rest of the movie would fit in with it.  I feel quite a bit like they were trying to recreate the same style and feeling they were getting when Howard Ashman was still alive and just not quite understanding it at the depth that was needed.

Unlike Kevin, I have seen Pocahontas before and so I was quite surprised by this particular DVD edition which included the song "If I Never Knew You" not only in the credits but within the story as it was originally planned.  It was nice.  It didn't detract. It's a pretty song.  But unfortunately that's all I have to say about it.  It clearly didn't make much of an impression beyond "Hey! This wasn't here last time!"

Favorite Character: Dang it! Why did Kevin steal the OWLS? They were so dang funny. Yeah that was my favorite moment too.
Least necessary character: Do we really need a talking tree to understand that Pocahontas is spiritually connected with the Earth? I just don't think that whatever Grandmother Willow brought to the story couldn't have been done with a soliloquy by Pocahontas herself.
Overall:  It's boring.  Sorry.  It's boring and it doesn't even do a good job telling the historical story because it chooses to tell the prince and princess version of it.  The big redeemer is the fact that it's gorgeous.  This is visually stunning (except for the dumb animal antics) and easily the most technically accomplished piece of work yet!  So check it out for the visual appeal and try to zone out for the story bits.

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