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Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

Pocahontas (1995) movie poster Pocahontas

Theatrical Release: June 23, 1995 / Running Time: 81 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg / Writers: Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, Philip LaZebnik

Voice Cast: Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Mel Gibson (Captain 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 (Singing Voice of Pocahontas), Jim Cummings (Singing Voice of Powhatan and Kekata)

Songs: "The Virginia Company", "The Virginia Company (Reprise)", "Steady as the Beating Drum (Main Title)", "Steady as the Beating Drum (Reprise)", "Just Around the Riverbend", "Listen with Your Heart I", "Mine, Mine, Mine", "Listen with Your Heart II", "Colors of the Wind", "Savages (Part 1)", "Savages (Part 2)", "If I Never Knew You"
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998) original VHS cover art Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World

Video Premiere: August 4, 1998 / Running Time: 73 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Bradley Raymond, Tom Ellery / Writers: Allen Estrin, Cindy Marcus, Flip Kobler (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Jim Cummings (King James), Donal Gibson (John Smith), Finola Hughes (Queen Anne), Linda Hunt (Grandmother Willow), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas' Singing Voice), Russell Means (Chief Powhatan), David Odgden Stiers (Governor Ratcliffe), Jean Stapleton (Mrs. Jenkins), Billy Zane (John Rolfe), Jeff Bennett, Morgan Sheppard, Brad Garrett (Uttamatomakkin), Kath Soucie, Rob Paulsen, Russell Werkman, Gregg Rainwater, April Winchell

Songs: "Where Do I Go From Here?", "What a Day in London", "Wait 'Til He Sees You", "Things Are Not What They Appear", "Where Do I Go From Here? (Reprise)", "Between Two Worlds"

Buy Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World Blu-ray + DVD 2 Movie Collection at Amazon.com

In the early 1990s, the sky was the limit for Disney animation. The studio was putting out a string of musical films, each more commercially and critically successful than the previous. The Little Mermaid had gotten the ball rolling with a well above average reception. Then, Beauty and the Beast easily crossed the $100 million mark and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
Aladdin passed $200 million and eventually became the #1 film of its year.

While that comedic adventure was besting all the competition, Disney animators were, as usual, hard at work on the studio's next works. Many of them had high hopes for the historical drama Pocahontas, the next stop on Mermaid, Beauty, and Aladdin composer Alan Menken's Oscar domination tour. Others lent their services to an animal movie set in Africa scheduled to come first. That, of course, would become The Lion King, the cultural phenomenon whose success still stands as the apex of Disney animation.

It was a tough act to follow and though Pocahontas put up impressive numbers (which today inflation adjusts to $261 million or the equivalent of Despicable Me), it was in an entirely different league from Lion King, whose stratosphere Disney has not re-entered in the eighteen years since. Coolly received by critics and criticized by some historians, Pocahontas became an easy target to mark the end of Disney's Renaissance. The subsequent downward trend in acclaim and attendance clearly began with it and, despite a number of bright spots, the studio's feature animation department has never fully recovered.

That's one way to look at things. Another is that five months after Pocahontas opened in theaters, Disney released the first entirely computer-animated feature in Toy Story. That film and the Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky efforts that followed proved to be nothing short of game-changing, with CG animation now the widely-accepted standard and traditional hand-drawn cartoons relegated to the fringes and only when Disney feels like honoring the tradition on which it was built.

In his first sighting of Pocahontas, John Smith aims his rifle at the unknown female appearing in the mist before him.

Pocahontas opens in an English harbor in the year 1607. Burly men board a ship destined for the New World known as America. Passengers include strapping blonde adventurer Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson), the young and timid Thomas (Christian Bale), and the voyage's commander, gold-seeking Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers).

The excitement and uncertainty of the Virginia Company are contrasted with the contented lifestyle of the tribe of Native Americans residing at the place settlers will name Jamestown. Chief Powhatan (Russell Means) oversees by custom, while his free-spirited daughter Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) considers departing from tradition and the marriage to serious warrior Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) that others have seen fit for her.

Tensions between the two disparate peoples rise as Ratcliffe's men fail to spot any sign of gold and the Native Americans anticipate violent attack. This is the backdrop to a love that forms between John Smith and Pocahontas, who manage to quite quickly develop an understanding and appreciation for one another. Their values are distant: Smith represents England's appetites for progress and expansion, Pocahontas holds the Native Americans' respect for the Earth. But their love is real: the two delight in secretly running off together and learning more about each other's world. Can their relationship do anything to prevent bullets and arrows from hurling at one another?

Pocahontas and John Smith run the hidden pine trails of the forest in the expressive "Colors of the Wind" sequence. Greedy villain Governor Ratcliffe is even more imposing from the low angles at which he is often drawn.

Timing certainly factors into Pocahontas being judged harshly upon release. The film arrived exactly one year after The Lion King, which had recently become the best-selling home video in history. Pocahontas wasn't about to settle for mid-level success. It swung for the fences, displaying as much ambition and gusto as any of the films that had recently preceded it.

Fairy tales were one thing, but fact was something else and the film was historic for being the first Disney film steeped in reality. That is a quality that opens the movie to more criticism than most animated films.
Turning magical, musical Disney animation into a history lesson is a tricky feat and one that Pocahontas doesn't ever pull off to satisfaction. Exchanges like Pocahontas mistaking gold for corn are clever and witty, but also cute and on the nose. An epic film that uses history to tell a romance must tread carefully and the hokiness of such a design stands out all the more when instead of an epic you have a standard kid-friendly Disney animated film upholding all of the form's hallmarks: a short runtime, brisk pacing, infectious songs and wacky animal sidekicks.

Considering those challenges and Disney's duty to be politically correct, Pocahontas is better than it has any right to be. This film pairs Menken with theatre veteran Stephen Schwartz of Godspell, Pippin, and, more recently, Wicked fame. Their music, perhaps the most Broadway-sounding of all the era's Disney films, is excellent. Unlike The Lion King, which challenged Oscar voters to pick a winning song out of three nominees, a clear favorite emerged here in Pocahontas' magnificently-animated anthem "Colors of the Wind." But a number of the other tunes, those not covered by Vanessa Williams to Billboard-charting and Grammy-winning success, are rousing and easy to admire on repeat viewings.

One of those tunes, whose melody became the primary theme of the Oscar-winning instrumental score, was cut prior to release. "If I Never Knew You" only featured as end credits accompaniment, a duet performed by Jon Secada and a young woman named Shanice. Clearly, it was meant to be sung by John Smith and Pocahontas, but test screening reactions to the tender number were unfavorable. The song and existing animation resurfaced in certain television broadcasts and were fully completed for the film's high-profile 10th Anniversary Edition DVD in 2005. By the power of seamless branching, that DVD gave you the option to view the film with it restored (in fact it was the default option). Unfortunately, Blu-ray takes a step back in that regard, no longer letting you watch Pocahontas with this integral song incorporated into it, a most unfortunate fumble, for this was not the gimmick that adding Beauty and the Beast's "Human Again" and The Lion King's "Morning Report" were.

With or without it, though, Pocahontas still entertains with exquisite animation, powerful emotion, rich flavor, strong voice acting, and savory music.

Watch a clip from Pocahontas:


The less said about Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, the better. The 1998 direct-to-video sequel gets included alongside its predecessor in this 2 Movie Collection. Many will no doubt feel less than great about buying it and having its title on the spine right next to The Lion King in their presumably chronologically-arranged Disney Animated Classics collection.

Remarkably, Journey aims to stay somewhat true to the facts, following Pocahontas to England, where records indicate she traveled shortly before her young death. (For what it's worth, the same records place her at age 12 when saving John Smith's life.)

Pocahontas journeys to a new world of powder and royal balls in "Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World." English diplomat John Rolfe gets his first look at Jamestown in the winter snow.

The film opens with guards of King James trying to arrest John Smith (now voiced by Mel's younger brother Donal Gibson) for treason. Governor Ratcliffe is still around (still powerfully voiced by should-be Disney Legend David Ogden Stiers, though his secondary role, the effeminate manservant Wiggins, has been written out) and still rotten to the core. The King (Jim Cummings) has believed his account of the events in Jamestown, which has Smith on the run and, if we're to believe our eyes and ears, dead.

Meanwhile, after twenty minutes of regurgitating the same dilemmas from the original film, Pocahontas (still Irene Bedard) opts to join English diplomat John Rolfe (Billy Zane) as a representative of her people. They can't stand each other at first, which gives you an idea where things are headed here. They're actually headed to a big royal ball, which Ratcliffe plots to undermine Pocahontas and therefore fulfill a decree for an Armada to be sent to Jamestown to attack.

The real Pocahontas' life is not the most suitable source from which to follow Disney's Pocahontas. As a result, this sequel is not especially consistent with the original film in style and themes. It actually looks and feels more like Disney's Beauty and the Beast, if Beauty and the Beast was made for television. In other words, Journey is on the order of those two direct-to-video Beauty sequels, which were among the few to precede it. Having Pocahontas be enchanted by London and changing herself to fit in are incredibly feeble reversals from the original.

Governor Ratcliffe is still around, in power, and rotten to the core. The reports of John Smith's death have been greatly exaggerated in "Pocahontas II."

The TV-quality animation is a far cry from the artful predecessor. There is that sterile Disney DTV look mixed with characters always on the verge of being off-model. One wonders if the crude, geometric CGI elements implemented on ships add anything that simply well-done perspectival hand-drawn animation could not, other than clunky screams for attention taking you out of the world. The lack of effort and time is apparent throughout.
There are frequent long shots that give characters' faces less detail than they should; clearly, the animators were not expecting their work would be subjected to such high-resolution viewing.

The animal antics by Flit the hummingbird, Meeko the raccoon, and Ratcliffe's old lapdog Percy (who now roams free with the others) are even more forced here than they were in the original movie, where at least the nonverbal characters tended to interact with leads. Here, it's more like, "Oh, we couldn't possibly make a Pocahontas sequel without all those fun animals for the kids. Let's give them some gags every once in a while."

If Pocahontas was made ten years earlier or later, this sequel absolutely would not have been made and that would have been perfectly okay. But I'm glad that Pocahontas was made, the "when" and "how" of it factoring largely into its present appeal. I'm also glad that it isn't hard to separate the original from its lousy sequel, even when they are bundled together and sharing a disc.

Watch a clip from Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World:

Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World: 3-Disc Special Edition 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.66:1 Widescreen (DVDs Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
DVDs Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: August 21, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as 2 Movie Collection DVD ($29.99 SRP), in DVD packaging ($39.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video/ Previous DVD Releases:
Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition (May 3, 2005) and Gold Collection (June 6, 2000); Pocahontas II: Gold Collection (September 5, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The two films are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, a slight change from their 1.66:1-framed previous DVDs. Both are treated to dazzling picture quality on Blu-ray. No doubt transferred from digital sources, the films boast immaculate elements, vibrant colors, bold lines, and razor sharpness. The original Pocahontas is a lot more appealing to look at and it is easy to marvel at its breathtaking backgrounds and countless details. Pocahontas II has a lot less to see, its TV-quality animation clean but also bland, lacking character and texture.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mixes also delight, again especially on the original film, whose award-winning music and score come to life with plenty of breadth and impact. Even the sequel shows some foresight with directional effects that wouldn't have been widely appreciated back in the days of VCRs. As with the picture, there is little left to be desired from this audio. But while the feature presentations may be flawless, the rest of the set is certainly not without some problems...

A character resembling Nakoma features in the Eric Goldberg-narrated story boards from Walt Disney's unrealized 1940s Hiawatha movie. John Smith and Pocahontas' duet "If I Never Knew You" is no longer integrated into the film, but can be viewed in high definition out of context.

BONUS FEATURES

The Blu-ray's bonus features begin with the all-new featurette "Drawing Inspiration: The Lost Story of Hiawatha" (11:49, HD), which focuses on a Disney animated film project adapted from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem that was conceived and shelved in the late 1940s. Animation historian Charles Solomon (author of The Disney That Never Was) and Pocahontas co-director Eric Goldberg explain the project and how it influenced Pocahontas. Goldberg then narrates and voices the storyboards that were drawn up for the unrealized film. Much of the artwork isn't clearly photographed and it's tough to imagine Walt making this dramatic film before Cinderella, but the historical value is abundant.

Next up comes the fully-animated deleted song "If I Never Knew You" (4:51, HD), preceded by a new introduction by Goldberg explaining its deletion. The sequence can also be viewed with commentary by Goldberg, co-director Mike Gabriel, and producer James Pentecost, clearly an excerpt from the DVD's now abridged feature commentary which unmistakably expresses the makers' delight at the sequences' completion and insertion. In addition to the inexcusable lack of a chance to see this in the context of the film, the introduction isn't easily skipped. Furthermore, the brief two-line reprise of the song near the end of the 10th Anniversary cut is nowhere to be found.

Lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Alan Menken oversee a Judy Kuhn recording session in "The Music of 'Pocahontas.'" Pocahontas and John Smith frolic in nature in this deleted musical number.

One of many supplements from laserdisc and DVD, "The Music of Pocahontas" (7:05) considers the film's music
with comments from Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, and others, plus looks at their creative processes and Judy Kuhn recording her songs.

Nine deleted scenes (15:29) are presented in standard definition, letterboxed within a 4:3 frame. Jumpy, scratched, mostly uncolored story reels, temp tracks, some pencil animation, and a very few bits of finished animation give us more of all major characters, more verses to songs and even some completely discarded musical numbers.

The 1937 Silly Symphonies short Little Hiawatha (9:11) remains in standard definition. Mostly silent beyond some opening narration, the cartoon follows a Native American boy from canoe to land, where he tries (unsuccessfully) to do some hunting and winds up staring down a huge bear.

Turning up when you choose to play Pocahontas is the full 2005 audio commentary (minus the extracted "If I Never Knew You" segment) by Goldberg, Gabriel, and Pentecost. It's an enjoyable discussion, one that defends historical accuracies, responds to criticisms, and reveals how the L.A. riots inspired Goldberg to make this movie. The three filmmakers dissect the film on technical and structural levels, addressing content, tone, colors, and wanting to get a G rating. It's an enjoyable listen for anyone who respects animation as the art form that it is. Since the commentary for "If I Never Knew You" has been pulled out, a stretch of silence exists where it used to be reinserted and extends into the next scene where their briefly continued discussion of the deletion has been cut.

The remaining bonus features are relegated to Disney's Virtual Vault, which requires a BD-Live connection. Even then, you aren't certain to get it to work. First, I was told that I needed an Internet connection, which I most certainly have. On all subsequent attempts, I was told this feature was not currently available in my location. On my BD-ROM, I got the Internet connection message as well. I can't even tell you what is supposed to be offered in this section. Standard definition extras do not take up much space and at 36.6 GB used, this Blu-ray has plenty to spare. How sad...

The disc closes out with the insignificant "Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go", "Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon & Pumbaa", and oh so predictable "Info."

For a fair fight, Little Hiawatha arms a bunny rabbit with a bow and arrow. Pocahontas II's DVD storybook resurfaces as a DVD-exclusive extra.

As has become the norm with this week's many Disney catalog releases, the DVDs included here are something of a bad joke. The smart move would have been for Disney to simply supply Disc 1 of Pocahontas' 10th Anniversary Edition DVD. Or maybe use the disc to include at least some of the many standard definition extras reduced to hypothetical Virtual Vault status on the Blu-ray. Instead, the movie's newly authored, well under capacity DVD here is a severely stripped-down version of the Blu-ray, featuring only "The Music of Pocahontas" in the way of bonus features. I guess the logic is that DVD is a format Disney consider worthless... hence, the worthless DVD. Never mind that it still makes up the vast majority of home video sales, especially if you don't count combo packs exclusively as Blu-rays.

The Pocahontas II DVD actually does more right in this regard, including one of its old extras in a DVD storybook. Retelling the film in thirty pages, that storybook is offered only in the "Have it Read to You" version (not the "Read It Yourself" one of the past DVD), which takes 6 minutes and 10 seconds of your time, counting animated page turns and all. Little Hiawatha ought to have been included here as well, for it joined Pocahontas II on DVD, but alas it's a Blu-ray exclusive as far as this combo pack is concerned.

All three discs open with ads for Disney Studio All Access, Cinderella: Diamond Edition, and Finding Nemo 3D. "Sneak Peeks" replays those and then runs promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Secret of the Wings, The Aristocats, The Rescuers & The Rescuers Down Under 2 Movie Collection, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3, and Planes. That's right, we get a Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3 trailer and neither of Pocahontas' previews.

Walt Disney Collectibles and Gifts, Disney Figurines

WHAT'S MISSING?

If, like me, you are unable to access Disney's Virtual Vault, you are missing out on a great number of extras from Pocahontas' 10th Anniversary Edition DVD, including Vanessa Williams' "Colors of the Wind" music video, sing-alongs for "Just Around the Riverbend" and "Colors of the Wind", the set-top game "Follow Your Heart", "Disney's Art Project" videos on making a drum and dream catcher, an unmissed Tarzan II sneak peek, 28-minute documentary "The Making of Pocahontas", a multi-language reel, a storyboard-to-film comparison, a production progression demonstration, two trailers, a piece on the film's Central Park premiere, a short on the completion of "If I Never Knew You", the music video for Jon Secada and Shanice's end credits version of the song, character test animation, and galleries of character designs and publicity art. Dropped from Pocahontas' original non-anamorphic Gold Collection DVD and not resurfacing are a trivia game and DVD storybook (that disc also supplied the Vanessa Williams music video).

From the one and only Gold Collection DVD of Pocahontas II, a trivia game and the read-yourself version of the DVD Storybook are dropped, while Little Hiawatha becomes a Blu-ray-only feature.

Pocahontas appears on her new DVD's main menu. John Rolfe and Pocahontas practice a dance while their CGI ship crawls by on the new Pocahontas II DVD's main menu.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray menu tastefully plays clips from the original film while instrumental score plays. Flit flits around on the Pocahontas DVD's surprisingly animated Bonus Features menu. Pocahontas II's DVD menu plays clips in the sky above the slowly moving CGI boat. The Blu-ray fails to resume playback, place bookmarks, or recall the progress of your last incomplete movie viewing. Why is Disney unable or unwilling to get the hang of such touches, without which, the Blu-ray viewing experience noticeably suffers?

The Blu-ray case stacks the gray DVDs across from the blue Blu-ray, also holding a Disney Movie Rewards code booklet. It's topped by an embossed cardboard slipcover boasting extensive holographic touches on all four sides.

John Smith teaches the handshake to Pocahontas and her raccoon friend Meeko.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Far from the blight on Disney animation which some originally considered it to be, Pocahontas has aged into quite an enjoyable and moving film. It doesn't reach the heights of The Lion King, but it's not too short of the excellence of the era's other musicals. Its sequel may be somewhat more historically accurate but it is also crudely made, forgettable, hollow and insipid.

While those only wanting the theatrical cut of the original film looking and sounding its very best will be quite pleased, this is far from the definitive Pocahontas release. The inability to watch the film with "If I Never Knew You" back in it is most unfortunate, the Virtual Vault is a cruel nightmare, and some undoubtedly would have preferred to get existing bonus features over Pocahontas II. In short, you'll definitely want to hang on to your 10th Anniversary DVD. This is still worth picking up for the sterling feature presentation and the fact that Disney will not correct these shortcomings with a better Blu-ray anytime soon.

Support this site when you buy Pocahontas & Pocahontas II now from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray + DVD New 2-Movie DVD / Pocahontas 10th Anniversary DVD Pocahontas II DVD

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The Lion King Beauty and the Beast Aladdin The Little Mermaid The Fox and the Hound (2-Movie Collection)
Tangled Newsies Enchanted The Princess and the Frog Home on the Range Hercules The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The 1990s: Toy Story James and the Giant Peach Clueless A Bug's Life Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
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Related Interview: Irene Bedard (speaking voice of Pocahontas)

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Reviewed August 22, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1995 Walt Disney Pictures, 1998 Walt Disney Home Video, and 2012 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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