- “The most challenging part of drawing Pocahontas is going to be trying to capture who she really is.”
- ―Glen Keane
Pocahontas is a 1995 American animated musical romance-drama film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios and the thirty-third full-length animated feature film in the Disney Animated Canon. The film is the first animated feature Disney film to be based on a real historic character, the known history, and the folklore and legend that surrounds the Native American woman Pocahontas, and features a fictionalized account of her encounter with Englishman John Smith and the settlers that arrived from the Virginia Company.
The film was directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg and produced by James Pentecost and produced during a period known as the Disney Renaissance.
Grossing $346 million at the worldwide box office, Pocahontas received two Academy Awards for its achievement in music; Best Original Score for Menken's score and Best Original Song for "Colors of the Wind". However, the critical reaction was and remains mixed. It is considered the start of the downfall of Disney animation, of which Disney would not recoup until the Disney Revival era.
In 1607 England, a ship carrying British settlers sails for North America on behalf of the Virginia Company in search of gold and other material riches. Among those on board are Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson) and Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogen Stiers). A storm erupts, and Smith saves the life of an inexperienced young settler named Thomas when he falls overboard, befriending him in the process.
In the "New World", Pocahontas is on top of the waterfall where she can dive into the lake to swim and then get on to Nakoma's canoe. She learns to her dismay that her father thinks she should marry Kocoum, one of his finest warriors. But though he is handsome and a fine warrior, Pocahontas does not love him, feeling he is far too serious. This is emphasized by a scene showing several children trying to play with him, while he stalwartly ignores them. She asks the advice from the talking tree spirit named Grandmother Willow. Grandmother Willow tells Pocahontas to listen to her heart and she may understand.
The British settlers land in what will become Virginia and dig for gold under Ratcliffe's orders. Less concerned with gold, John Smith explores the territory, finding the new world to be a place full of adventure. All the time he is followed by the curious Pocahontas and comes to encounter her. The two spend time together, with Pocahontas teaching John to look at the world in a different way, and to not think of people who are different as 'savages'. Back at the settlement, Powhatan has sent some scouts to learn more about the new arrivals, but they are spotted. Governor Ratcliffe assumes that it is an ambush, and one of the warriors is shot. The warriors retreat and Powhatan declares that the white men are dangerous and that no one should go near them.
A few days later, John and Pocahontas meet again, during which John learns that there is no gold in the land. They agree to meet at Grandmother Willow's glade again that night.
When Pocahontas returns to her village, she finds that warriors from neighboring tribes have arrived to help Powhatan fight the settlers. Back at the English fort, John tells Ratcliffe there is no gold in the land, which Ratcliffe does not believe. Thinking that the natives have hidden the gold for themselves, he declares that they will eliminate them all.
That night, Pocahontas' best friend Nakoma catches her sneaking off and informs Kocoum that she has gone. Meanwhile, John sneaks out of the fort, and Ratcliffe orders Thomas to follow him. Pocahontas and John meet in the glade, where both Pocahontas and Grandmother Willow convince John to try talking to Chief Powhatan to resolve the conflict. Both Kocoum and Thomas watch from the shadows as John and Pocahontas kiss. Kocoum, overwhelmed by jealously, attacks and tries to kill John, but even as he is successfully being pushed off, Thomas intervenes and kills Kocoum. Hearing voices approaching, John tells Thomas to run. A group of natives takes John prisoner, thinking he is the murderer and that John attacked Kocoum instead, and Powhatan announces that he will be executed at dawn before the war with the settlers begin.
Thomas returns to the fort and announces John's capture. Ratcliffe sees this as an opportunity to attack and rescue John at the same time, and they arrive just as John is about to be executed. Before Powhatan can strike, Pocahontas throws herself over John, telling him that she loves John and that Powhatan must see where the path of hatred has brought them, asking him to choose his own path. Powhatan thinks about his daughter's words and realizes that Kocoum wouldn't have wanted them to have a war. He lowers his club and orders John to be set free, convincing his troops to stand down and not attack. Ratcliffe orders the settlers to fire anyway, but they too refuse, wanting peace after seeing John released. Ratcliffe fires at Chief Powhatan himself, but John pushes the chief aside and is shot instead. The settlers turn on Ratcliffe, capturing him and sending him back to England to await punishment for high treason.
John survives the gunshot, but he must return to England for medical treatment. Pocahontas and her people arrive to see them off, and John and Pocahontas bid their goodbyes. Pocahontas promises John that she'll always be in his heart as she stands atop a cliff and watches the ship carrying John depart, ending the movie.
- Irene Bedard: Pocahontas
- Mel Gibson: John Smith
- David Ogden Stiers: Governor Ratcliffe/Wiggins
- John Kassir: Meeko
- Russell Means: Chief Powhatan
- Christian Bale: Thomas
- Linda Hunt: Grandmother Willow
- Danny Mann: Percy
- Billy Connolly: Ben
- Joe Baker: Lon
- Frank Welker: Flit
- Michelle St. John: Nakoma
- James Apaumut Fall: Kocoum
- Gordon Tootoosis: Kekata
- Judy Kuhn: The singing voice of Pocahontas
- Jim Cummings: The singing voices for the Chief and Kekata
- John Pomeroy (John Smith)
- Glen Keane (Pocahontas)
- Duncan Marjoribanks (Governor Ratcliffe)
- Ruben A. Aquino (Powhatan)
- Chris Buck (Percy, Grandmother Willow, and Wiggins)
- Michael Cedeno (Kocoum)
- Anthony DeRosa (Nakoma)
- Ken Duncan (Thomas)
- T. Daniel Hofstedt (Ben & Lon)
- David Pruiksma (Flit and Forest Animals)
- Nik Ranieri (Meeko)
Following the release of The Rescuers Down Under, director Mike Gabriel was eager to collaborate on a vastly different follow-up project with veteran Disney story artist and character designer Joe Grant. They first partnered on an adaptation of Swan Lake for four months with Grant typing up ideas, making small drawings, and then departing the studio with Gabriel staying behind to draw his visualizations. "We developed the story and plot for Swan Lake into written form, and Joe said this is exactly how Dick Huemer and he always worked," Gabriel stated. Once the two submitted their outline to be greenlit for approval, it was returned only to be remarked as "the most amateurish, worthless nothing. There is no movie here, no story." Despite that their styles and sensibilities meshed well, a new project had yet to come together. During Thanksgiving weekend in 1990, Gabriel developed ideas of classic western legends such as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and Pecos Bill to adapt until he conceptualized the tale of Pocahontas. Pitching his idea at the Gong Show pitch meeting, Gabriel took a one-sheet color image of Tiger Lily from Peter Pan and wrote the title Walt Disney's Pocahontas on it, and on the back, he taped a one-sentence pitch of "an Indian princess who is torn between her father's wishes to destroy the English settlers and her wishes to help them—a girl caught between her father and her people, and her love for the enemy." At the time, Feature Animation president Peter Schneider was developing an animated version of Romeo and Juliet for many years and Gabriel's timely pitch had many of the same elements. "We were particularly interested in exploring the theme of 'If we don't learn to live with one another, we will destroy ourselves,'" recalled Schneider. Gabriel's pitch was quickly accepted becoming the quickest story turnaround in studio history.
Following the Best Picture nomination of Beauty and the Beast at the 64th Academy Awards and its subsequent loss in March 1992, then-studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg opted to produce another animated sweeping romantic epic in hopes of replicating another Best Picture nomination. With Aladdin and The Lion King too far into development, Katzenberg believed that Pocahontas had a chance, and pushed for the title protagonist to be older, the romance between Pocahontas and Smith to be more adult, and for the animals to be mute. Head of Story Tom Sito went on the record stating he wanted to include more and broader jokes, but the "higher-ups wanted it more winsome, more gentle. Some of the folks were so concerned about political correctness, they didn't want to be cuckoo-wacky about it." Likewise, Eric Goldberg – following his work on Aladdin as the supervising animator for the Genie and with all of the animation units for The Lion King already occupied – was asked to co-direct Pocahontas with Gabriel, in which he agreed to and was given a pitch of the film. Goldberg had expected the film to be more comedic and cartoonish like Aladdin, but Schneider told Goldberg that the film would be produced in the vein of Beauty and the Beast, and the ongoing Los Angeles riots in 1992 further inspired him to commit to the film because of its racial overtones. The executive interference would eventually grow too much that Goldberg himself worked under the pseudonym "Claude Raynes" for Chuck Jones Productions during production. Executive paranoia eventually reached a peak when Joe Grant had drawn Percy wearing an Indian feather, by which the animators took the concept one step further by placing a Spanish ruff on Meeko. One executive exclaimed, "Animals don't have the intelligence to switch their clothes! They don't even have opposing thumbs." The animators would retain their concept for the film.
Under Katzenberg, Frank Wells and Michael Eisner, the Disney studios began a correlation of hiring Broadway personnel to manage the Disney animation staff on their feature films that brought such producers as Amy Pell to Aladdin and Sarah McArthur and Thomas Schumacher to The Lion King. For Pocahontas, Broadway stage manager, director and producer James Pentecost was brought onboard where he made his feature film debut as a producer. In June 1992, the filmmakers embarked on a research trip to the Jamestown Settlement where Pentecost first met Shirley "Little Dove" Custalow-McGowan, herself a descendant of the Powhatan Indians. The trip also included a visit to the Pamunkey Indian Reservation and conducted interviews with historians at Old Dominion University. Following the research trip, Custalow-McGowan served as a consultant traveling to the Disney studios three times, and while Custalow-McGowan offered her services free, Disney paid her a $500 daily consulting fee plus expenses. Ultimately, when it came to light that historical accuracy was not being pursued to the extent she had hoped, McGowan has voiced her feelings of shame she felt in conjunction with her work on the film, saying, "[she] wish[ed her] name wasn't on it". Additional Native American consultants were brought in to authenticate the clothing and war dance choreography.
That same month, Katzenberg held a meeting with the Feature Animation staff in which he declared Pocahontas to be a hit, while the concept for The Lion King was deemed experimental. As a result, most of the animators of Walt Disney Feature Animation decided to work on Pocahontas instead, believing it would be the more prestigious and successful of the two.
In January 1993, Carl Binder joined the project, having previous expertise as a television writer on popular sitcoms such as Punky Brewster and television series such as War of the Worlds, Friday the 13th: The Series, and Top Cops. Four months later, Susannah Grant (no relation to Joe Grant) and Philip LaZebnik joined the writing team. Grant herself was selected by Disney as a screenwriter on Pocahontas after winning the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the year before while still attending film school. Onboard as a screenwriter, she was only one of the many who was contributing the specific vision the upper management at Disney had in mind and collaborated alongside with Native American consultants. While working on the movie, Grant wrote to a specific story outline, and no scene was rewritten less than thirty-five times until it was perfect.
Story supervisor Tom Sito, who became the project's unofficial historical consultant, did extensive research into the early colonial era and the story of John Smith and Pocahontas and was confronted over the historical inaccuracies from historians. Already knowing that in reality, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, Mike Gabriel explained it was felt that "the story of Pocahontas and Rolfe was too complicated and violent for a youthful audience" so instead, they would focus on Pocahontas' meeting with John Smith. The filmmakers discovered that Pocahontas was around twelve years old and Smith was "not a very likable character", in which producer James Pentecost confessed that dramatic license was indeed to be taken. Likewise, when searching for an appropriate age for Pocahontas to begin her relationship with Smith, Glen Keane explained, "We had the choice of being historically accurate or socially responsible, so we chose the socially responsible side" by increasing Pocahontas's age from a girl into a young woman.
One of Gabriel's early ideas was for Pocahontas's mother to be embodied in a certain star in the sky that by the end of the film, she would help Pocahontas find her path to Smith. However, The Lion King had concurrently carried a similar idea of the ancestors giving wisdom and guidance to the protagonist so the idea was discarded. Similarly, Michael Eisner pushed for Pocahontas to have a mother lamenting that "We're always getting fried for having no mothers." The writers countered that Powhatan was polygamous and formed dynastic alliances among other neighboring tribes by impregnating a local squaw and giving away the child, so it was believed that Pocahontas herself probably didn't see her mother that much. "Well", Eisner conceded, "I guess that means we're toasted." Ultimately, her mother's spirit would become the swirling wind that occurs throughout the film. For the villain, they chose John Ratcliffe, whose portrayal was based on actual British captains, including John Martin, Christopher Newport, and Edward Maria Wingfield. In reality, it was Winfield who despised John Smith, but the filmmakers preferred the sinister sound of "Ratcliffe". The writers would continue to adapt actual events into the film such as Pocahontas warning Smith that the Indians were after him so he can escape in the middle of the night, Powhatan ordering the captured Smith to make bead necklaces to humiliate him, and Pocahontas being captured by Ratcliffe (instead of Samuel Argall), though none of them worked with the story.
Sito mentioned that Joe Grant contributed heavily towards the film, and was the creator of Redfeather, Meeko, and Flit. Redfeather was to be voiced by John Candy and Percy, who was to be voiced by Richard E. Grant, was revised to become mute. Following the death of John Candy in March 1994, co-screenwriter Susannah Grant decided the turkey was inappropriate for the script she co-wrote for Pocahontas, and a more realistic approach would have the animals pantomime instead of talking. Joe Grant stated Redfeather "had comic potential–he thought he was handsome, a lady's man. When we decided he couldn't talk, and, having no hands, he couldn't mime..." Grant would later draw a concept sketch of a hair-braiding raccoon, in which Glen Keane animated and claimed the directors "loved the idea and got rid of the turkey character." Likewise, according to Sito, Meeko was created because they were "naturally enigmatic because they have little hands and a little mask over their face like a thief." Gabriel described the inspiration for Flit the hummingbird where "I have hummingbirds all over my backyard, [and] I thought, 'That's a great animal to animate.'" According to the directors, Governor Ratcliffe's pampered pet, Percy, was based on history as the royalty of the time often carried small pugs wherever they went. For the spiritual ancestor, a male character named Old Man River was originally envisioned, and Gregory Peck was cast in the role. However, Peck realized the character ought to be a maternal figure so the character was scrapped. Conceived as a Tree of Life whose seasonal changes would frame the story, Grandmother Willow grew out of a concept sketch of a sawed-off tree with a branch pointing to its right drawn by Grant, which would serve as a narrator that would "remember back to Pocahontas 300 years earlier". Grant would continue to protest to have the tree be more a character within the story and her character flowered into the idea of a grandmotherly spiritual adviser to Pocahontas. However, fellow veteran story artist Burny Mattinson stated "Jeffrey [Katzenberg] wanted to get rid of Grandmother Willow. He didn't like her because she was ordinary, unfunny. They were having [story] problems, some of the story men were bolting. Peter [Schneider] said I want you to get over there and work in there." Assigned the storyboard sequence of Pocahontas sitting on a tree slump delivering straight, dull dialogue, Mattinson was given tree puns for Grandmother Willow to say by Grant such as "My bark is worse than my bite", "The roots of all problems", and "They're barking up the wrong tree." Mattinson reluctantly added them to his pitch for the next morning, and during the story meeting, he exclaimed, "Everybody loved it! All of a sudden: 'Oh, I want her in!' 'Let's build her part bigger!'" The character Nakoma was also created to serve as the voice of reason and the practical woman.
Throughout most of the production, the cast members performed their dialogue in separate recording sessions.
In September 1992, Disney began casting actors for Pocahontas telling talent agents that it's particularly interested in Native American actors for the project. For the role of Pocahontas, Broadway actress-singer Judy Kuhn was hired to provide the singing voice for the titular character before Irene Bedard was cast. Kuhn explained, "They said, 'You are going to do the dialogue unless we find a Native American actress whose singing voice matched yours.' I was cast before Irene, so it actually went backwards." Bedard herself was filming Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee where she was informed by the casting director that they were looking for someone to voice the title role. According to Bedard, she took a train to Buffalo, New York where she was walked in wearing a sundress and a straw hat, and read for the part. Back on the set of Lakota Woman, she learned that she was cast in the role. Michelle St. John had also auditioned for the role of Pocahontas, but despite that Bedard had been cast, the producers liked her voice enough to cast her in the role of Nakoma.
Mel Gibson was cast as English settler John Smith following a desire to make "something for my kids." In a notable contrast to previous voice actors for Disney animated features, Gibson provided the singing voice for his character, in which the actor stated was the most difficult part of his role. Christian Bale auditioned for the role of Thomas, and he explained in an interview with Disney Adventures that after he was cast, "the directors played with Thomas being Irish and Scottish and younger than I am, so I had to raise my voice and do different accents. But the more we did it, the more he became like me--older and English." Richard White, the voice of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast was supposed to voice Ratcliffe, but the crew was worried he might sound too much like Gaston, so he was replaced by his fellow co-star, David Ogden Stiers. Russell Means also auditioned for a role, though he expressed displeasure with the script stating that Native Americans addressed each other using proper names rather than the traditional "my father" or "my friend". Native American actor Gordon Tootoosis was also cast as the tribal shaman Nekata.
Design and animation
Renowned for animating female characters such as Ariel, supervising animator Glen Keane was immediately tapped to draw the titular Indian princess. Following the demands of Jeffrey Katzenberg to make the title character "the most idealized and finest woman ever made", Keane first began to seek his inspirations for his depictions for Pocahontas from Shirley 'Little Dove' Custalow-McGowan and Debbie White Dove, women he had met during the research trip to Virginia. Keane recalled meeting the women, "So I turned around and there's this beautiful Indian woman walking up; a Native American. She said 'Are you Glen Keane? The animator that's going to do Pocahontas?' I said 'Well, yeah.' And then from behind another tree another woman came up and she said, 'Well, my name is Shirley Little Dove, and this is my sister Devi White Dove, and we are descended from Pocahontas.' And as they stood there, I mean I took a picture of both of them, and between their faces was Pocahontas' face in my mind – I could see her." Other inspirations were Charmaine Craig, Filipino model Dyna Taylor, Natalie Belcon, Naomi Campbell, Jamie Pillow, white supermodels Kate Moss and Christy Turlington, and her own voice actress Irene Bedard. Keane also looked to a 1620 depiction of Pocahontas from a history book he had to check out, though Keane would state she was "not exactly a candidate for People's "Most Beautiful" issue [so] I made a few adjustments to add an Asian feeling to her face." Because of the complexity of the color schemes, shapes, and expressions in the animation, a total of 55 animators worked on the design of Pocahontas' character alone, which included Mark Henn and Pres Romanillos.
The canoes seen in the film were created using CGI animation.
Following the closure of Sullivan-Bluth Studios in 1993, John Pomeroy, who notoriously resigned alongside Don Bluth during work on The Fox and the Hound in 1980, returned to his former employer and was assigned as the supervising animator of John Smith. Describing Smith's development throughout production, Pomeroy stated, "The first concepts looked like a real well-groomed adventurer. Kind of predictable. Then we started making him a little sloppier. We tried looks where he was sloppily dressed, or where he had a couple of days' growth of beard...At first, Smith carried a lot of guns and daggers, but eventually, these were cut out. Each time the design got simpler, it got better." Additionally, Pomeroy cited inspiration for John Smith from Errol Flynn and physical attributes of Gibson. Initially assigned as a supervising animator on The Lion King, Nik Ranieri did character designs and test animation for Timon but moved over to Pocahontas growing frustrated with an indecisive vision from the directors. There, he was assigned to animated Redfeather until Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered for the animals to be mute. Finding feathers difficult for Redfeather to gesture with, he was again assigned to animate Meeko using a Little Golden Books animal book illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren as a reference. Animating Chief Powhatan in Florida, Ruben Aquino modeled his facial structure after Means and stylized the animation after J.C. Leyendecker as were Pocahontas and John Smith. Duncan Marjoribanks utilized geometric shapes to create Ratcliffe. In early drafts of the character, he had the body similar to a pear, but to make him appear more arrogant, the animator increased the force of gravity on his chest so that he seemed more pompous and physically threatening. Chris Buck served as the supervising animator for Percy, Wiggins, and Grandmother Willow. For Grandmother Willow, the face was traditionally animated by Buck, while the cowl and the trunk of the tree were digitally animated under the supervision of Steve Goldberg. Assisted with the effect animators, a 3D software program was employed for the bark to be individually manipulated and for the face to match with the computer-generated texture. The following supervising animators included Anthony DeRosa for Nakoma, Michael Cedeno for Kocoum, Ken Duncan for Thomas, T. Daniel Hofstedt for the settlers Lon and Ben, and Dave Pruiksma for Flit. While Mulan was within its pre-production stages, 18 minutes were animated by 170 animators and artists at the Disney-MGM Studios.
For the film's art director, Gabriel selected Michael Giamio who shared his painting style of shape-based and secondary art details. For Giaimo, he relied on a color-saturated, elegant designs in a less-than-realistic format inspired by "prehistory Caribbean themes and creatures derived from African/Mexican folk art." Giamio also drew the look and style of the film from the filmmaker's numerous visits to Jamestown, Virginia as well as by extensive research into the colonial period such as the tall, vertical shapes of the Virginian pine forests set against the vast horizontal landscapes being incorporated into the layout aspect of the film in its use of strong vertical and horizontal imagery, as well as sought out inspiration from the works produced by earlier Disney art designers such as Richard Kelsey's story sketches from his unproduced film Hiawatha, Eyvind Earle, who worked on Sleeping Beauty and Mary Blair.
- Main article: Pocahontas (soundtrack)
Following the death of his longtime collaborator Howard Ashman in 1991, Alan Menken wrote the remaining songs for Aladdin with Tim Rice at his home in London, in which the New York-based composer found to be difficult. When work on Aladdin was commenced, Kevin Bannerman – the film's director of development – stated Rice "was always gallivanting around the world and it was difficult to get him and Alan together ... And so here was Stephen [Schwartz], who had written scores that we all loved and we were huge fans of, and he lived in the New York area." Disney immediately contacted Stephen Schwartz – whom working on Working, Rags, and Children of Eden had quit theater and was taking psychology courses at New York University – and was brought onboard to compose the lyrics. This would mark the first time Menken had collaborated without Ashman for a Disney animated film. Menken commented that their work included moments of tension because Schwartz is also capable of writing music and Menken has had experience with lyrics. They both wanted to go the keyboard, but they arrived at a working strategy.
- "The Virginia Company" - Chorus
- "Ship At Sea" (Score)
- "The Virginia Company (Reprise)" - Mel Gibson & Chorus
- "Steady As The Beating Drum (Main Title)" - Chorus
- "Steady As the Beating Drum (Reprise)" - Russell Means
- "Just Around The Riverbend" - Judy Kuhn
- "Grandmother Willow" (Score)
- "Listen With Your Heart" - Linda Hunt & Bobbi Page
- "Mine, Mine, Mine" - David Ogden Stiers, Mel Gibson & Chorus
- "Listen With Your Heart" - Linda Hunt & Bobbi Page
- "Colors of the Wind" - Judy Kuhn
- "Savages (Part 1)" - David Ogden Stiers, Jim Cummings & Chorus
- "Savages (Part 2)" - Judy Kuhn, David Ogden Stiers, Jim Cummings & Chorus
- "I'll Never See Him Again" (Score)
- "Pocahontas (Instrumental)"
- "Council Meeting" (Score)
- "Percy's Bath" (Score)
- "River's Edge" (Score)
- "Skirmish" (Score)
- "Getting Acquainted" (Score)
- "Ratcliffe's Plan" (Score)
- "Picking Corn" (Score)
- "The Warriors Arrive" (Score)
- "John Smith Sneaks Out" (Score)
- "Execution" (Score)
- "Farewell" (Score)
- "Colors of the Wind (End Title)" - Vanessa Williams
- "If I Never Knew You (End Title)" - Jon Secada & Shanice
If I Never Knew You 10th Anniversary Edition
In 2005, Disney released the tenth anniversary edition of Pocahontas, which had the song fully animated and integrated into the film, but was an optional feature that you could refuse and watch the original theatrical version instead, due to seamless branching. It was performed by Mel Gibson (John Smith) and Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas) within the film's narrative. It was recorded for the original film in 1995.
To replicate the promotional buzz of The Lion King, the four-minute musical number, "Colors of the Wind", was released in November 1994, accompanying a theatrical re-release of The Lion King. On February 3, 1995, Disney began its promotional marketing campaign starting in San Diego, California launching a nationwide 18-week tour of fashion malls located within twenty-five cities where a mall exhibit named Pocahontas Animation Discovery Adventure was created to help promote the release. There, a Disney animator would guide shoppers on a presentation tour, which featured a walk-through maze with interactive lily pads, flying birds, and huge video wall, a studio workshop where visitors can become the voice of their favorite animated character, and an area where visitors can electronically manipulate images. Additionally, they would demonstrate animation techniques and discuss the design and creation of the Pocahontas character. Further promotional tie-ins included Burger King distributed 55 million toy replicas of the film's characters with kids' meals, Payless Shoes featured a line of moccasins, and Mattel peddled a Barbie-like Pocahontas doll.
A behind-the-scenes documentary television special titled The Making of Pocahontas: A Legend Comes to Life was aired on June 20, 1995, on the Disney Channel where the animators, voice cast, crew, and studio heads were interviewed on the production of the film. The special was hosted by actress Irene Bedard.
The film had the largest premiere in history, on June 10, 1995, in New York's Central Park, followed by a live performance by Vanessa Williams. Disney officials estimated the crowd at 100,000. Dignitaries that attended the premiere included then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Caroline Kennedy, Mariah Carey, and then-Disney Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner.
Timed with Pocahontas' 400th birthday, Pocahontas had a limited release in North America on June 16, 1995, playing in only six selected theaters. The film grossed nearly $2.7 million during the weekend of June 16–18, standing at the eighth place in the box office ranking. The wide release followed on June 24, 1995, in 2,596 screens. Studio estimates initially ranked Pocahontas earning $30.5 million ranking first beating out the previous box office champion Batman Forever. The figure was later revised to $28.8 million with Pocahontas falling second behind Batman Forever. However, the final estimates placed Pocahontas narrowly ranking first grossing $29.5 million in its first weekend with Batman Forever falling into second place taking $29.2 million. By January 1996, the film grossed $141.5 million in the United States, being the fourth-highest-grossing film in North America behind Apollo 13, Toy Story, and Batman Forever respectively. Foreign wise, the film was expected to gross $225 million outside the United States, though foreign box office grosses eventually amounted to $204.5 million. Cumulatively, Pocahontas grossed $346 million worldwide. Seen as a commercial box office disappointment in comparison to The Lion King, then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner contested in an annual shareholders' meeting in January 1996 that "Pocahontas is well on its way to being one of our most successful films of all time. It equaled Beauty and the Beast's box office numbers domestically, and now it has taken Europe by storm and is playing well in every country in which it is being shown. Sales of Pocahontas merchandise have been phenomenal."
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a "rotten" rating of 56% based on reviews from 50 critics and reports a rating average of 6 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 58 based on 23 reviews. The film was harshly criticized by Chief Roy Crazy Horse as historically inaccurate and offensive for glossing over more negative treatment of Pocahontas and her tribe by the English. He claims that Roy Disney refused the tribe's offers to help create a more culturally and historically accurate film. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times pointed out America's fascination with the Indian princess who was rarely shown as having anything more important in her life than her male relationships.
Home video release
- Main article: Pocahontas (video)
Pocahontas, together with the second film, were re-released in a combo pack on Disney Blu-Ray and DVD.
- This was the fifth and last Disney feature during the Renaissance to win the Academy Award for both Best Original Score and Best Original Song. The previous films were The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. After this film onwards, Disney features either won or were nominated for score and song, but did not win both.
- The United Kingdom flag used is historically incorrect since the movie takes place in 1607, and the current flag would not be created until 1801 with the unification of Great Britain and Ireland.
- Gordon Tootoosis later portrayed Powhatan in another Pocahontas movie called "Pocahontas: the Legend".
- Pocahontas is the only Disney Renaissance movie to have a "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes
- It is one of the two previews to the 1995 video release of The Santa Clause. The other preview is Toy Story.
- Meeko and Flit don't speak, this is to make the movie more serious.
- Disney animators said this was one of the hardest films to produce because the complex colors, angular shapes, and facial expressions took longer to create.
- As Roy Disney said in the VHS tape of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1994, "It's the adventure of a young Native American woman who fought against hatred with the power of love.".
- Pocahontas was in production at the same time as The Lion King.
- This animated film features a moose which is geographically not found in Virginia. Moose in North America are often seen in northern American states (including Alaska) and all Canadian regions.
- The animation is flatter and has a more geometric appearance. Movies such as Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians carry the same style.
- "Colors of the Wind" was the first song to be written and the first step in the Pocahontas movie process.
- John Candy had provided a voice for "Redfeather" a turkey who assisted Pocahontas, but when Candy died this idea was taken out.
- In the first draft of the film, Grandmother Willow was written as a male character who was the spirit of the river, but then when realizing Pocahontas lacked a motherly figure, Grandmother Willow was created.
- 55 animators created Pocahontas.
- Richard White was originally going to voice Governor Ratcliffe , but his voice was too distinct as Gaston to have him voice again.
- Disney animators felt that they needed a well-known actor to voice John Smith.
- The film released on June 23, 1995 was the four hundredth anniversary of the real Pocahontas' birth.
- In the scene where Kekata reads the smoke to find out more about the white men, he compares the white men to "ravaging wolves." The wolves then circle Kocoum and then Powhatan stops them with his arm. This is a foreshadow of Kocoum's death and Ratcliffe attempts to kill Powhatan.
- Pocahontas is one of the few animated Disney features that does not have any of its characters in the Kingdom Hearts series, though it is possible that the characters will be featured at some point in the game in the future.
- Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz later worked on the music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- The message of Pocahontas is that the color of someone's skin doesn't matter. It's what's on the inside that counts not the outside.
- Even though "If I Never Knew You" was cut from the movie the music from that song can be heard near the end of "Pocahontas" before the end credits roll.
- Mel Gibson and Linda Hunt had both won Academy Awards, and they both played roles in the live-action film The Year of Living Dangerously. Hunt won for her role in that movie.
- This is the last Walt Disney Animation Studios movie, until Lilo & Stitch, to use full opening and closing credits.