Jim On Film
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As with most people, my first exposure to Pocahontas was the preview released with the holiday re-release of The Lion King in 1994. It was, of course, the song Colors of the Wind, and to me, this preview made the whole movie look like a shish kebab of politically correct garbage and extremist environmental brainwash.
These low expectations stuck with me, even as I watched the media buzz around the film grow (in response to the mega-success of The Lion King). On the first day of release, I attended the first showing at a local theater, heading out of the smothering Minnesota summer day and into the comfortable and cool theater.
All the perceptions I had about what the film would be flittered away once I heard the drumming in The Virginia Company and saw the drawing of England blend into the living animated image. After giving it a chance, Pocahontas became, before the films became too numerous (and too loved) to discern among, my favorite of the post-Eisner animated films.
Unfortunately, I have always seemed to be somewhat lonely in this strong affection for the film. Even those who love The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules often find nothing endearing in the film, which is too bad. Pocahontas is an amazing film on several different levels.
Visually, the film is astounding. The animation is Disney animation, which is enough said. The backgrounds are eye-popping and the styling of the film is breathtaking, reminiscent of Eyvind Earles work for Sleeping Beauty. The computer animation is seamless, and the character design is consistent throughout. Technically, Pocahontas is equal to any other in the Disney canon.
As for its music, Pocahontas would be the first collaboration between Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz (who would also collaborate on The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The first song to come from their collaboration was the soaring ballad Colors of the Wind.
Colors of the Wind, as showpiece song of the film, won the Academy Award for best new song of the year. But even this high acclaim hardly begins to touch on the beauty of this song.
Lyrically, the vivid use of poetic devices makes the words come alive in the hands of actress Judy Kuhn. For example, the assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds) in the line, "Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon" brings out the sounds of a wolf howling at the moon. Alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) in "sun-sweet berries" emphasizes the sweetness of the berries by highlighting the syrupy sound of the s. Similarly, in a most ingenious line, the repetition of the r and a sounds in "Come roll in all the riches all around you" creates a aural illusion of rolling. Reading the lyrics for other uses of these devices shows how Stephen Schwartz practically wrote the accompanying music himself just through his ingenious use of words.
In addition to this, the content of the song itself rises above these techniques. As a function of the plot, it allows Pocahontas to challenge John Smiths thinking concerning the New World, which is key to him being able to re-evaluate his thoughts concerning it and Pocahontas. Furthermore, in the time spent together during the span of the song, the two get to know each other and fall in love, a love which takes their relationship beyond the love at first sight level.