UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Live Action (1980-Present) Films Page | September 2004 Catalogue Releases

Squanto: A Warrior's Tale DVD Review

Squanto: A Warrior's Tale

Theatrical Release: October 28, 1994 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Xavier Koller

Cast: Adam Beach (Squanto), Eric Schweig (Epenow), Michael Gambon (Sir George), Nathaniel Parker (Thomas Dermer), Alex Norton (Harding), Sheldon Peters Wolfchild (Mooshawset), Stuart Pankin (Brother Timothy), Donal Donnelly (Brother Paul), Mandy Patinkin (Brother Daniel), Irene Bedard (Nakooma), Leroy Peltier (Pequod), Mark Margolis (Captain Hunt)


Shortly after getting married, Squanto (Adam Beach) learns that the world is bigger and badder than he had realized. This discovery does not come from his new wife Nakooma (Irene Bedard, voice of Pocahontas), but from the European fur traders who arrive shortly after the wedding. The title protagonist of Squanto: A Warrior's Tale boards their ship voluntarily, but soon finds his place is as a prisoner in the bottom-most level of the vessel.

This 1994 drama is set in less enlightened times: the early 17th century. Americans who are familiar with the Euro-centric history of forefathers establishing civilization hundreds of years ago may find the opening sequences of the film interesting, because they are from the perspective of the Native Americans. We see the tribes surprised by visitors who may well be from another planet, but appear to mean no harm.

Separated from his wife, Squanto unwillingly travels back to Europe, along with Epenow (Eric Schweig, Tom and Huck's Injun Joe), a Native American from a different tribe who soon becomes a friend.

Travellers from England meet with the inhabitants of the New World. Adam Beach plays Squanto, a young Native American man.

In Europe, viewers get their first look at the true savages of the film. These are the well-dressed men of England, headed by Sir George (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), the repugnant nobleman who owns the ship and pursues in a ridicule and persecution of the two "creatures" brought back. As a welcome, Squanto gets thrown in a ring with a giant bear. Their battle becomes a spectacle for the English.

Using his superior athleticism, Squanto is able to escape, and he rows off on a boat. When he's discovered, he's lying unconscious on a rocky shore, and his finders are a trio of monks who had been fishing.

Squanto is taken into their monastery, in spite of the reluctancy of head Brother Paul (Donal Donnelly). The monk who offers the most open arms, Brother Daniel (Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride), becomes a mentor and friend to Squanto. From Brother Daniel, Squanto learns English, and at the same time, Squanto imparts some knowledge about his world to his new housemates, introducing them to mocassins and popcorn. Brother Paul remains skeptical of 'the pagan' and in any possibility of a "New World."

Meanwhile, Sir George firmly believes that Squanto belongs to the Plymouth printing company, and he has men on the hunt. In another cinematic sequence, Squanto pulls off an improbable escape to accompany Epenow and the crew setting sail back to America.

Michael Gambon plays the vile Sir George. Look at that mole! This bear is Squanto's opponent in a spectacle that Sir George arranges.

What Squanto returns to devastates him. His tribe has been entirely killed off by illness that the Europeans brought. Epenow wishes to turn violent against the English who mistreated them. But with Englishmen and Indians ready to do battle, can Squanto find a way to settle things peacefully? If you know about the real Squanto, or if you suspect a happy ending, then the answer is yes. The last scenes of the film portray the first Thanksgiving celebration.

Squanto takes its fair share of liberties with its "true story." Though a Native American named Squanto did really exist, did learn English, and did play a role significant enough to land him in history books, the hero portrayed in the film is even closer to folklore than historical fiction. Knowing that, however, does not change the fact that the film proves engaging and compelling, particularly in examining the culture clash of Squanto and the monks who take him in.

The Disney drama film has a distinct flavor. While the straight face tone is polar opposite to the wacky comedies that have been a studio staple dating back to The Shaggy Dog, the dramas try not to turn off young audiences and are decidely free of genuinely offensive material. As such, they call to mind the stately dramas of yesteryear, before objectionable material became an inseparable part of the modern cinema's fabric.

Brother Daniel (Mandy Patinkin, right) insists that Brother Paul allow Squanto to stay with the monks. Eric Schweig turns in a strong supporting performance as Epenow, Squanto's ally and fellow captive.

Disney dramas work best when they don't try to paint villains and heroes in the broad strokes that work so well for their animated fare. Squanto adds more depth to its favorable characters than other films, but the bad characters are noticeably lacking any redeeming values. Adam Beach makes Squanto a particularly likable hero, one is who well-grounded.

Dramas also are posed with an additional challenge in that they cannot wrap up as neatly as either the wacky comedies, with their climactic moral. Squanto happens to fare decently in this area too.

While the lessons that the film imparts may be familiar, they remain effective. Compared to other live action dramas that Disney released within months before or after it, Squanto is neither as a bold or flat-footed as Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, and nowhere near as offensive or thin as the insipid White Fang 2. It is a bit better rounded, even if it juggles Indiana Jones-like adventure, history, and character study without the most sturdiness.

Squanto isn't likely to stand out as anyone's favorite Disney film, but it is a drama that is pulled off rather well. It's not the true story, but it is a story that seems worth being told, and one which is told with a fair amount of success.

Buy Squanto: A Warrior's Tale from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Surround (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 7, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Squanto is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, 1.85:1, and has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This is a beautiful transfer of a nicely-shot film, exhibiting a pleasing sharpness and a great range of color and detail. The print remains overwhelmingly clean, and in both light and dark scenes, the film holds up very well. Once again, it's nice to see that Disney is releasing its catalogue of films in their original aspect ratio and Squanto shows that that a little care goes a long way. Of course, for a film that is only ten years old, there aren't as many obstacles to overcome in remastering for home video. Still, this is one of the nicest looking catalogue titles that I've seen from Disney this year.

There's little fault to find in the DVD's Dolby Surround track. Joel McNeely's cinematic and serviceable score is nicely presented, and all dialogue feels natural and well defined. There's a good deal of bass in the track, particularly when the music calls to mind Native American tribal drum beats.

EXTRAS

The disc opens with the widely-seen 90-second promo for the studio's recent live action comedies and drama on home video. There's nothing else on the DVD, except for the movie.

The menus are plain 16x9 stills, accompanied by selections of the film's score by Joel McNeely.

Brother Daniel tells Squanto about the six-fingered man. Squanto, in the midst of another daring escape.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The DVD debut of Squanto: A Warrior's Tale, as has become a norm for recent Disney catalogue releases, features fine video and audio presentation of the film and absolutely nothing in the way of extras. As such, known fans of the film will be glad to buy a disc they've been waiting years for. For the rest, a rental of this benign drama may be sufficient.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews
New to Disney DVD
One Little Indian (1973) | The Last Flight of Noah's Ark (1980) | Never Cry Wolf (1983)

'90s Disney Dramas:
Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994) | Iron Will (1994)
A Far Off Place (1993) | White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf (1994)

Reviewed September 5, 2004.

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Live Action (1980-Present) Films Page | September 2004 Catalogue Releases

UltimateDisney.com: The Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD Discussion Forum
Upcoming Releases Out-of-Print List Upcoming DVD Art DVD+ Product Search
Listings: Animated Classics Other Animation Live Action (1980-Present) Live Action (Pre-1980) Direct-to-Video TV Movies
Previews: Aladdin Upcoming Special Editions 2004 Catalogue Titles Summer 2004: TV on DVD Fall 2004: TV on DVD Past Previews
Guides: Coming to Theaters International Exclusives FAQs Pan & Scan to Avoid / Widescreen Abroad Different Release Types Top 100 DVDs
Countdowns: Top Animated Classics Top Live Action Disney Films Top 100 Disney Songs
DVD Reviews Walt Disney Treasures News Archives Site Search Chat Mailing List Contests Most Purchased DVDs
Support the Site: Our Affiliate Links Link to Us Make a Contribution