Pocahontas is one of those Disney films that fans are split on, but whether you love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny that the music is phenomenal. I personally land in the middle, enjoying it for what it is while admitting it has its flaws. For the 20th anniversary, Walt Disney Records has included it in their Legacy Collection soundtrack series.
For the first time ever, the entire score from Pocahontas is available in this two-disc set. In fact, it’s so long that it takes up most of both discs with 28 tracks on disc one and 8 tracks on disc two. For the film’s 10th anniversary, Disney restored “If I Never Knew You,” the famous deleted song, and put it back into the film. However, they never re-released the soundtrack with the song as sung by the characters. This release rights that wrong, presenting the full score from the extended version, not the theatrical cut. The song, sung by Judy Kuhn and Mel Gibson, is featured at the beginning of disc two and again as a reprise embedded in the track “Farewell.”
This is the most complete version of the Pocahontas soundtrack, which will please most fans. I’m sure there will be some who will be upset that the original theatrical version of the score isn’t replicated here, but I for one applaud their choice for choosing the expanded version (which was sadly not reproduced on the Blu-Ray release). The work of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz is given the red carpet treatment with this release and I couldn’t be happier.
Disc two doesn’t feature a Lost Chords section, but does have 6 bonus tracks. The first is “Epiphany/Savages (Part 2),” an expanded version of the song from the film with an unused intro sung by Judy Kuhn. It’s chilling and makes me wonder why it was cut. The next five tracks are demos, two of which will be familiar to you (“Just Around the River Bend” and “If I Never Knew You”). Both of these feature different lyrics than the final versions. “Just Around the River Bend,” for example, is mostly sung by the people around Pocahontas and even features Kocoum singing. Both of these demos also feature Judy Kuhn, the singing voice of Pocahontas in the film. While “If I Never Knew You” has a more digital, temporary score, the male counterpart has a better singing voice than Mel Gibson and I almost prefer this track to the film version.
The other three demos are “Lost Chords” without getting the newly recorded versions. “Different Drummer” mixes the Native American chant that starts “Just Around the River Bend” with a cut song that finds Pocahontas expressing how she doesn’t fit in. “First to Dance” appears to have been a precursor to “Listen With Your Heart,” reusing most of the melody with completely different lyrics sung by Grandmother Willow, John Smith and Pocahontas. “In the Middle of the River” is a fully abandoned concept, taking a Native American symbol for peace and applying it to the forbidden love of John Smith and Pocahontas. All of these demos use professional singers playing the parts rather than the songwriters, so the lack of newly recorded versions is excusable.
This release is housed in the standard Legacy Collection digibook with artwork by Lorelay Bove. The spine is a pale lilac while the discs are a solid bright blue, diverging from the typical navy of this collection. The book features an article by Dave Bossert detailing how Pocahontas came to be an animated feature, the process that Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz used to approach the music, and the meanings behind each song. It talks a little bit about why “If I Never Knew You” was cut and also mentions another deleted song, “In the Middle of the River.” This section is followed by lyrics and orchestra credits. The second half of the book features concept art from the film with explanations by Dave Bossert.
If it sounds like something is missing from this book compared to other Legacy Collection releases, its because only one writer makes their mark on it. For The Little Mermaid, Alan Menken wrote a section about the film and you got a sense of his passion for the project. For whatever reason, Menken and Schwartz didn’t take this opportunity to talk about Pocahontas. The book also mentions the magnificent demo for “Colors of the Wind,” which is not on either disc, but doesn’t give any context to other demos such as “Different Drummer” or “First to Dance.” We are left to guess why these songs weren’t used or changed into something else, which is definitely a disappointment.
Lack of information aside, Pocahontas stands out as one of the highlights of The Legacy Collection, a premium collection that has been fairly hit-or-miss. The effort put into presenting the full, extended soundtrack must be applauded and while the “Colors of the Wind” demo should have been included as well, this release doesn’t suffer from content omitted. If you’re an Alan Menken fan, this is a must own.