- “This is my land! I make the laws here! And I say anyone who so much as looks at an Indian without killing him on sight, will be tried for treason and hanged!”
- ―Ratcliffe to Smith[src]
Like most Disney villains, Ratcliffe is very power-hungry. He is unbelievably greedy, as evidenced by his insatiable craving for gold, which would make him a very wealthy man. He is also highly xenophobic (even for the period in which he lives), ruthless and incredibly manipulative. While he exudes great confidence and gives the impression of being rather vain, Ratcliffe in fact seems to take a rather dim view of himself, admitting in a sad voice that he has never been a popular man. In addition to the fact that his peers at court consider him a "pathetic social climber", this makes him a somewhat sympathetic character in spite of his villainous nature. His mission to colonize the Americas is his last chance to make a name for himself. Ratcliffe's lack of self-esteem stands in contrast to the egomania of most Disney villains, such as Gaston, making him somewhat unique. Despite his self-confessed lack of popularity, Ratcliffe seems quite charismatic and commands the respect of his troops until the end of the film.
Another thing that distances Ratcliffe from most Disney villains, and similar to Judge Claude Frollo, is that he actually believes that he is a good person and refuses to find fault in himself. He believes what he does to be in the name of the crown and even goes as far to call John Smith a liar, sees the land he found as his own, believes what Pocahontas told Smith to be lies and even calls his own men traitors at the end. He also believes himself to be powerful as he threatens his men that he will have them hanged or executed when they turn on him at the end of the film.
Ratcliffe is calm and collected for most of the two films. For example when John Smith tells him there is no gold in Virgina, Ratcliffe, rather than lose his temper, insists in a stubborn voice that it's a 'lie' and will hang anyone who refuses to shoot an Indian. However, he does get flustered at times but is easily calmed.
Ratcliffe is also sarcastic as he 'praises' John Smith for saving Thomas, which implies he is actually did not care whether Thomas had drowned or not. In the second film, he flirts with Pocahontas at the ball and mocks John's death in a sarcastic voice.
Ratcliffe is also somewhat lazy and self-indulgent, as he simply slouches off eating rich food while the settlers do all the manual labor digging for gold and survive on stale and unappetizing supplies.
Ratcliffe is a tall and obese man with long black hair tied up into short pigtails with red ribbons, thick black eyebrows, and notable lavender eyelids. He is most often seen in a rose-colored long-sleeved shirt with a long V-cut neckline underneath a magenta-purple coat with lavender collar and cuffs, black linings on the chest and waistline, and a magenta-purple colonial hat with a blue feather on its black band with a turquoise medallion resting around his neck to top his sophisticated look off. He also wears magenta-purple keen-length pants, lavender calf-high socks, black colonial boots, and a red cape. In his imagination at the King's ball, he wore a golden yellow version of his uniform with a red medallion.
Ratcliffe leads an expedition to Virginia to find gold and other riches (which he wants to keep for himself). He fails to tell any of the other crew of his real reason of going to Virginia and recites the "adventure of our lives" and "freedom" speech to cover it up. When they see land, Ratcliffe meets with John Smith, whom the crew admire, about his plan on dealing with the "savages" and "filthy little heathens" (what he calls the Native Americans,) and Smith assures his success and the meeting's through. Ratcliffe arrives on the Shore of Virginia shortly after Smith and Thomas, a new recruit, then takes some land in the name of King James and calls it Jamestown.
After Smith leaves to search for the Indians, Ratcliffe orders some men to build a fort and clear the ship while the rest dig for gold. Unfortunately, the men's search turns up nothing, and morever, several Indian warriors spy on the settlers, which Ratcliffe soon notices. Believing that they are about to launch an ambush, Ratcliffe panics, and a battle ensues between the settlers and the warriors, during which Thomas nearly shoots Ratcliffe by accident and the governor himself wounds one of the warriors, forcing them to retreat. The men celebrate, but Ratcliffe, knowing the Indians will return and in bigger numbers, orders his men to return to camp, bring the rest of the ship's cannons ashore and finish the fort's construction. He then chastises Thomas' ineptitude on the battlefield and warns him to learn how to shoot properly, or he'll never be considered a man.
A few days later, as the men finish the fort, Ratcliffe starts to panic over the fact that after so much digging, he and his men still have not found any gold at all. He struggles to figure out what he's overlooking, when Wiggins, his servant, stumbles into his tent, having apparently been shot through the head with an arrow. Ratcliffe is shocked, but Wiggins happily notes it to be a joke, having made the contraption himself using a broken arrow. Irate, Ratcliffe snatches it from him and derides the thing as silly, but then, it gives him an idea about why they haven't found any gold. Ratcliffe asks Wiggins why the Indians attacked them earlier. Wiggins correctly points out that they invaded the Indians' land and began stealing their resources, but Ratcliffe dismisses this, explaining his belief that the Indians are hiding the gold, and begins forming a plan to take it from them. He then goes out to find John Smith, only to find that he has gone off and sends Ben and Lon, two other settlers and friends of Smith's out to find him.
Later that evening, after John Smith returns from supposedly "scouting the terrain", Ratcliffe orders him to prepare the men for battle so they can destroy the Indians and take the gold. But Smith tells Ratcliffe that there is no gold and that they don't have to fight the Native Americans because he already met one of them, and suggests the Natives can help them by showing them their land. Ratcliffe, however, refuses to believe this, declaring that the land belongs to him and announces that anyone who refuses kills an Indian on sight will be sentenced to death by hanging for treason.
Later, when he sees John Smith running off somewhere that night, Ratcliffe sends Thomas to follow him, hoping the "poor excuse for a soldier" will be able to prove his worth. He later overhears the men talking about Smith's capture (Smith had been attacked by a warrior named Kocoum, whom Thomas had promptly shot dead during the fight, but had been ordered to flee the scene for Smith to take the blame) and decides to wage war against the Indians to rescue Smith, exterminate the "savages" and take their gold for himself (although he merely tells his men it is solely rescue mission to ensure their support). After the two sides march their way to one another, they are stopped abruptly by Pocahontas, who tells everyone that they were led onto the path of hatred. All the men on both sides are deeply touched by the woman's love and wisdom, and lower their weapons. The would-be combatants now make it clear that there will be no battle.
Ratcliffe is the only one not moved by this, however, and orders his men to open fire anyway, thinking it is a trick, but they refuse. Outraged, Ratcliffe grabs a gun from one of his men and prepares to shoot Powhatan himself. John Smith sees this, jumps in the way and takes the bullet (though not fatally). Finally seeing Ratcliffe for the corrupt, greedy monster he really is, and realizing that Smith was right all along and they should never have listened to him in the first place (even when he tries to defend himself by saying it was Smith's own fault for stepping in the path of the blast), Thomas, Ben, Lon, and the other settlers rebel, disarming, chaining, and gagging the governor and sending him back to England in disgrace to face punishment for his crimes. All the while, he angrily tells the settlers that they are the real criminals for turning against him and warns them that they are the ones who will be punished.
Ratcliffe returns in the sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, where his personality changes from just mere greed to pure menace. Apparently, upon being questioned by King James in the time between the two films, he had fabricated his own version of the events in Jamestown to implicate John Smith as the traitor, and despite the impossibility of his honesty, he is easily believed by the King (mostly due to their close, personal friendship) and sent to capture Smith for questioning along with some soldiers. In the ensuing fray, Ratcliffe tells Smith "Pity. I so would have preferred to see you hanged", knocks Smith off a building to his apparent death in a canal, and tells King James that Smith had died in an accident while being apprehended, despite Ratcliffe's attempts to save him; unbeknownst to anyone, this is part of Ratcliffe's plot to go to war against the Powhatan Nation and find the gold he still believes they possess, all while getting revenge on his enemies and avoiding punishment for his own crimes.
When John Rolfe, who had been sent to Jamestown to bring back Powhatan for negotiations to prevent the war, returns with Pocahontas instead, Ratcliffe immediately plots to get rid of her, convincing James to invite Pocahontas to the Hunt Ball, where he has planned a bear baiting with a jester, knowing about her "savage" instincts. Pocahontas, at first, impresses the King with her manners taught by Rolfe, but naturally becomes outraged at the bear baiting, especially when the snobbish aristocrats in attendance do nothing but laugh at the creature's torture, and openly insults Ratcliffe and King James, calling them savages. Ratcliffe convinces King James to imprison her and sentence her to death, and is allowed to take his armada to Jamestown for war with the Powhatans. However, unbeknownst to Ratcliffe, his lies are finally exposed when John Smith, who survived his ordeal with Ratcliffe, aids Rolfe in breaking Pocahontas out of prison and presents himself in the King's court. Realizing that he has been fooled, King James orders Ratcliffe to be stopped.
In the subsequent battle, after the armada is successfully halted, Ratcliffe attempts to end Pocahontas's life until Smith intervenes. The two duel, with Smith ultimately disarming Ratcliffe. However, in a sneak move, Ratcliffe pulls a pistol on Smith and almost kills him for real, but is subdued by Rolfe and then thrown overboard by Smith. Before he falls into the river, Smith ironically quips to Ratcliffe the latter's earlier remark: "Pity. I so would have preferred to see you hanged." Ratcliffe makes it to shore where King James and his soldiers are waiting. He makes a last and feeble attempt to lie to King James, telling the king that the "fugitives are getting away", and of them stopping the armada. However, King James, who has already learned the truth of Ratcliffe's treachery, coldly tells his now-former friend, "No more lies", and orders his men to arrest him while walking away to his carriage in disgust. Ratcliffe's sentence for high treason is unknown, though realistically, he would have been put in prison for life and/or executed.
Ratcliffe plays a notable part in Disney's Hollywood Studios' version of Fantasmic! Ratcliffe and his men claim the mountain as King James' land and battles the Indians, whom he still believes are savages.
Ratcliffe also appears in the interactive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, in Frontierland and Liberty Square. Here, Ratcliffe is freed from prison by Hades (in the guise of Lord Indigo) and makes a deal to take control over Frontierland in exchange for the crystal of the Magic Kingdom. Ratcliffe agrees, but soon enough, Ratcliffe begins to panic as the crystal is nowhere in sight, but being that Pocahontas knows the land, he kidnaps Meeko to force her into helping him find it. Fortunately, the guests defeat Ratcliffe by blasting him with magic, making him fall off of his ship.
Wiggins (also voiced by Stiers) is Ratcliffe's manservant. In sharp contrast to his villainous master, Wiggins is light-hearted, timid and very playful (in one scene, he is seen cutting topiary from Virginian shrubs). Although he could in no way be considered an "evil" character, he nonetheless appears to be very loyal to his master and Ratcliffe, though constantly annoyed by his shenanigans, seems to trust him implicitly. At the first film's end, he expresses regret at seeing Ratcliffe for the greedy monster he truly is, and even sobs. He does not appear in Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.
Percy was originally Ratcliffe's pet pug. He appears spoiled and seems to have an irritable personality, especially in the first film. Percy and Meeko spend most of the first film fighting, usually over food with Meeko always coming out on top, only to apparently become friends by the film's end. Percy leaves Ratcliffe at this point and remains with Pocahontas and her people. Ratcliffe never reacts to the fact Percy isn't with him anymore in Pocahontas II. Percy, on the other hand, seems to have had a change of heart and does not want to go back to Ratcliffe, at one point cowering underneath a carriage in Ratcliffe's presence.
- Unlike most of other Disney animated villains, Ratcliffe is one of two villains based on an actual historical person, with the other being Prince John from Robin Hood. Ratcliffe was the governor that came after Sir Edward Wingfield. Contrary to the movie: Ratcliffe wanted peace with the natives and war escalated primarily due to Chief Powhatan's hostilities. It was John Smith that led the invasions against the Powhatan: Ratcliffe was sent back to England during this time for accusations of corruption (specifically using his political status in Jamestown to hoard food during times of famine). Ratcliffe's rivalry with John Smith is somewhat accurate, as the real life Ratcliffe tried to suppress Smith's political status within Jamestown.
- His confession that he is not a popular man, coincidentally also seems to apply to real life. While he has a small, but dedicated fanbase and in spite of his obvious panache, he is in fact one of Disney's least popular villains.
- In the foreground of Ratcliffe's first scene in the film, a rat can be seen boarding the ship in exactly the same manner (thereby pronouncing the 'rat' in 'Ratcliffe').
- Despite being the main antagonist of the first film, Ratcliffe does not interact with Pocahontas until their first true meeting in the second film.
- In the final scenes of both films, Ratcliffe is wearing his armor.
- The Governor Ratcliffe action figure doesn't come with the hat or cape.
- In real life, the supervisor of John Smith's ship on the journey to America was Christopher Newport, not Ratcliffe.
- He symbolizes the deadly sin of greed and mistaken speculation, due to his obvious and insatiable craving for the non-existent gold that would forever elude him. Ironically, in real life, Ratcliffe had the exact opposite flaw, being way too generous towards the Indians, which was part of the reason why the colonists later hated him since his generosity significantly reduced the supplies of the colonists.
- Of Ratcliffe's songs in the two movies, "Mine, Mine, Mine" is about his greed, "Savages" is about his racism, and "Things Are Not What They Appear" are about his manipulation, hence his personality change.