Disney had the highest of expectations for Pocahontas. It was supposed to be as successful as Beauty and the Beast. It was supposed to win Oscars. It kept all of Disney’s top animators away from The Lion King because they felt they were a part of animation history with Pocahontas.
While the film did not live up to the impressively high standards set for it, in terms of critical and commercial success, there is a lot to really like about it. First off, the animation is quite stunning. The hard lines in character faces, the wispy curves of the natural world and the way they interact with each other to show the influences of man on the forest were perfectly executed. The music plays with classic Disney themes, using songs to push characters forward, betray motives and it is expertly delivered. Even nearly 20 years later, “Colors of the Wind” is a hummable tune.
This film also succeeds in its treatment of female characters. Women are strong and independent, standing up for what they want and believe in. Pocahontas is the most feminist heroine Disney has had yet. She is also the first who doesn’t end up with her “prince” at the end when she decides what’s best for her is staying with her community. Pocahontas has a strong maternal influence in the form of Grandmother Willow, a feisty old tree who imparts wisdom. Grandmother Willow was originally intended to be a male character voiced by Gregory Peck, but Peck reportedly turned down the role because he felt the character needed to be female.