Fifteen years ago when Walt Disney’s Pocahontas was released, it was the Princess movie everyone loved to hate: feminists were appalled by the buxom babe makeover of the title protagonist, who was in fact only a little girl when John Smith was part of the Jamestowne settlement. Conservatives saw a disturbing anti-growth environmental message with the simplistic contrast of ecologically harmonious Indian villages versus rapacious English despoilers of the North American environment. Historians were appalled that John Smith’s self-serving fictions were spun once again into a historical romance with Pocahontas.
I was in graduate school in 1995 when the movie was first released, and since I didn’t have any young children in my life, I never got around to watching it until about five years ago. I like the movie a lot, and find a lot of the criticism of the movie at the time it was released too literal-minded. I’ve even used clips of it to illustrate points I want to make in my undergraduate classes at both the introductory level and in upper-division classes. The movie’s distortions are mostly in the service of fitting the Pocahontas legend into the Disney Princess mold–for example, the romance with Smith (we have to have a handsome prince, right?), the rebellion against her father (think about the wicked Queen or stepmothers, or King Triton in The Little Mermaid), the supernatural Mother Willow (fairy godmother, anyone?) and the adorably mischievous raccoon and hummingbird companions (Snow White’s forest friends, or the mice in Cinderella). And although Pocahontas looks like she might have had breast implants, her costume is no more revealing than Ariel’s clamshell bra. Continue Reading »