Pocahontas 10th Anniversary DVDby Kevin Krock, staff writer
I am sure most of you are at least a little familiar with Disney's version of Pocahontas. In a story inspired by real historical figures, this movie strays from history and follows a young Native American girl (voiced by Irene Bedard) who longs for the next adventure. Accompanied by her comedic animal friends Meeko the raccoon and Flit the hummingbird, Pocahontas goes against the guidance of her tribe and meets with Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson), an English settler who lands on the shores of her village to establish a colony. The two hit it off, but their friendship complicates the volatile relationship between the natives and the settlers. While trying to bring the two groups together, Pocahontas is torn between her love for Smith and her strong ties to her tribe. The bulk of the movie has a rather dark and heavy overriding tone with occasional comic interludes, and unlike most Disney movies, Pocahontas even has a less than happily ever after end.
Pocahontas has never been one of my favorite Disney movies, and while I appreciate the artwork, music, and craftsmanship, there are a lot of little things that just do not catch my fancy. Even with the addition of the newly integrated song, If I Never Knew You performed by Mel Gibson, into the 10th Anniversary Edition of the movie, I find that watching it once a decade is enough for me. The song, which adds a bit of additional emotion to the relationship between Pocahontas and Smith, was partially animated before being cut from the original theatrical version of the method because it slowed the movie down too much for young audiences. For the DVD, though, the animation was completed and seamlessly blended into the movie. Also, for those of you not interested in the new scene, the disc does include the original theatrical version sans Gibson's singing.
Even though I find Pocahontas a so-so movie, I always find that a good set of bonus material makes watching and appreciating a movie a bit more enjoyable. This is certainly the case with this two disc DVD set. The first disc contains the two versions of the movie (with and without the newly integrated song) in addition to set top games, Sing-Along songs, and a music video. Disc Two contains the bulk of the bonus material, including a Making of documentary, several galleries, and a variety of other cool goodies. Here are a few of the highlights:
Audio Commentary The full-length audio commentary features Producer James Pentecost and Directors Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel. I usually find commentaries an interesting place to start with movies that are on my mediocre list, because they provide the background on what the producers, directors, and animators were trying to achieve during the production. Usually there are insights as to why particular scenes ended up the way they did, and hearing some of the background provides a better appreciation for the movie. In addition to the informational piece, there are usually several humorous anecdotes, and this trio does a pretty good job of keeping this commentary entertaining.
The Making of Pocahontas This 28-minute documentary hosted by Irene Bedard, the speaking voice of Pocahontas, nicely compliments the commentary on the first disc. While it feels a bit dated, it still covers a wide variety of interesting aspects of the production, including the historical background of Jamestown and Pocahontas, character and background designs, and others. Even if you do not typically enjoy bonus material, this
Abandoned Concept & Deleted Animation This section of material contains about 10 different clips of abandoned storyboard concepts and deleted animation. Some of the clips are rather interesting to watch, and others rather clearly demonstrate why they were dropped. One of the more interesting things to look for is how some of the clips contain everything from storyboards to completed animation, usually meaning that the scene was cut late in production. Fans of the movie will not want to miss some of these.
Early Presentaiton Reel and Production Progression These goodies provide an interesting look at where the original concepts for Pocahontas started, and the production progression takes you through the process through which concepts are brought to fruition in the final film. I always find early production artwork fascinating to look at, as it is usually fairly rough but still gets the basic emotion across, and it is interesting to see which early concepts were successfully carried through to the final movie. For animation fans, this type of material is always a must see, and it provides an appreciation for the development process for more casual animation viewers.
The Music of Pocahontas As with many of Disney's animated movies, Pocahontas is filled with memorable and moving music. In these brief segments, musicians Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz discuss their roles and inspirations for the music of Pocahontas. In addition to talking about the music that made it into the movie, they also discuss the reasons why If I Never Knew You was dropped from the original film and why it was put back for the DVD.
The Premiere in the Park Have you ever wondered what a movie premiere for 100,000 people looks like? This featurette takes you back to 1995 and the Pocahontas premiere party that Disney threw in New York Citys Central Park. With a massive live-performance stage and four monstrous movie screens, tens of thousands of people converged on the park to witness this unique spectacle, and now you can see how the whole thing was put together. Even though it looks like a dated promotional clip, this featurette is still pretty amazing to watch.
Galleries Still galleries are always interesting to browse through, especially given the scope of the artwork and number of characters in this movie. The character gallery alone is jammed with concept art for about a dozen characters, including the deleted character, Redfeather, and the art design, layout, and background gallery similarly contains a wealth of impressive artwork. Additionally, these galleries are nicely arranged so access to specific categories is convenient.
I am pretty certain that much of this material came directly from the laserdisc special edition from a number of years ago, so if you still have your laserdiscs, there may not be too much new stuff here. But for the rest of us, this DVD collection of goodies is solid and adds a lot to the appreciation of the work that went into this movie.
The Audio, Video, and Interface
Overall, I was pretty impressed with the digitally restored video and audio transfers. The video is very clean, and the colors are solid, saturated, and beautiful. The grain observed in the bonus feature film clips is virtually absent, and on my TV, I did not notice any significant digital artifacts. However, I did notice that the menus exhibit some rather jaggy images of the characters in the animated menus.
Likewise, I have no complaints about the audio transfer. The soundtrack is solid and enveloping, and it is perfectly acceptable for any home theater system.
As for the interface, it is less impressive than other collector's editions, but it does the job. As I mentioned earlier, some of the animation on the menus leaves a bit to be desired in terms of quality, and the menus do not draw you into the story's environment as much as many other titles. However, they are easy to navigate and read.
The Final Evaluation
For fans of the movie, this set will more than satisfy you. The video and audio are right on target for just about any family home theater, and the bonus material is extensive enough to keep you busy for a while after the movie is over. Even if you are not a huge fan of Pocahontas but have some interest in filling out your Disney DVD collection, this set is worth considering if you get it at a good price, but I would put it on my Nice to Have list rather than the Must Have.