Other Versions

Pocahontas, being somewhat of a celebrity of American history, has been the subject of more than just Disney's stylised movie. Here I list out the few that I know of. This page contains SPOILERS, so you have been warned.

Pocahontas: The Legend (1995)

Sandrine Holt (who is, by the way, half-Chinese half-French) played Pocahontas in this live-action Canadian movie. I'd seen this movie on TV not too long after the Disney movie premiered. The movie's IMDB page lists its release date as 1999 which is weird, because it definitely premiered in 1995, so maybe that's the US release date? Regardless, it came out in the same year as the Disney film. Coincidence? I have no idea.

Anyway, this movie focuses on Pocahontas' young life in Virginia, and the arrival of the English settlers. John Smith (Miles O'Keeffe) is among them, and he befriends Pocahontas quite early on. The love story is central to this version as well, with a love triangle arising between Smith and Kocoum who both want Pocahontas. The language barrier is not an issue here, for when the settlers arrive, Pocahontas can already speak English.

The finale of this film also echoes the Disney version, for through a series of circumstances, Pocahontas saves Smith from being executed but he is exiled from Virginia, thus separating the lovers. The very end of the movie features Pocahontas watching with tears in her eyes as Smith sails back to England.

Of note, actor Gordon Tootoosis who plays Chief Powhatan in this movie, also voiced Kekata in the Disney movie.

After Disney's Pocahontas came out and was a success, various smaller animation studios produced their own versions of the story. Whether this was bandwagon mentality or not is an argument for another time.

Pocahontas (1999)

This version, which seems to be either the release of Madacy Entertainment or Delta Visual Entertainment (argh, multiple releases confuse me), is a straightforward and almost clinical retelling of Pocahontas' life story.

The movie starts with Rebecca Rolfe's arrival in England with her husband John Rolfe and child Thomas Rolfe. She is there to be presented to the royal court, and is apprehensive but determined. When some ladies ask this strange princess about her past, so begin the flashbacks to the time when she was a girl named Pocahontas of the Powhatan tribe.

Within this flashback we see the time when the English settlers arrive at Virginia, and the way the Natives react to them. Pocahontas is curious, and quickly befriends an elderly gentleman named John Smith, who teaches her English and the way of his people.

Times passes in its usual fashion, and when Smith leaves, news arrives that he died at sea. At this time Pocahontas has been taken in by the English settlers, where she is converted to Christianity and renamed Rebecca. She also eventually marries an English settler named John Rolfe. The story then returns to the present, where Rebecca is presented to the royal court.

This version is romanticised very little, with Pocahontas' relationship with Smith depicted as nothing more than a kind friendship. At times it feels like a documentary for children, which perhaps is what it was meant to be.

Pocahontas (2002)

This is the Golden Films version of Pocahontas' story, and unlike the above version, it has a couple of songs.

NOTE: I do not like this version, so if you do, perhaps you should stop reading.

I can't stand this version, because it's the type of animated media that I loathe. It's cute for the sake of being cute, has long sequences dedicated to talking animal sidekicks, has heavy-handed humour, and it drives me nuts that one particular character keeps calling the protagonist "Pokey-hon-tas". There's also a walking and talking canoe, but I'm not going to go into that.

Anyway, this movie covers practically the entire life of Pocahontas in small disjointed chunks, shown through the eyes of two talking birds. An early portion is dedicated to establishing Pocahontas' personality, how she's special and curious. When the English settlers arrive, Pocahontas is fascinated and drawn to their unusual ways. In particular she's fascinated with a handsome young man named John Smith.

When Smith wanders out from the English camp, he is captured by the Powhatan tribe. Before he is executed, Pocahontas throws herself on him and claims his life as belonging to her, effectively making him her slave. Through their time together they start to fall in love, but when Pocahontas declares her feelings, Smith rejects her with the claim that he is in love with someone else. (But he isn't. It's all supposed to be heartbreaking, etc). Pocahontas releases Smith from his slavery bond, but when he returned to the camp he is blown up by an English villain. (Really.)

Pocahontas spends a lot of time moping, and continues to mope even when she is captured and held hostage by the English during a cold winter. She is "rescued" by an English diplomat named John Rolfe, and the two are married. The pair are invited to the English court, and they go to England. Pocahontas is overwhelmed by English culture but wows everyone there. Then she learns that Smith is alive. She falls ill at this revelation, and when Rolfe leaves for sea without her, his ship sinks and he dies. By amazing chance, the widowed Pocahontas is reunited with Smith, and together they return to Virginia to live happily ever after. Yeah.

The New World (2005)

This live-action version is a Terrence Malick epic, featuring Q'Orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, Colin Farrell as John Smith and Christian Bale as John Rolfe. It's a massive film, filmed with gorgeous and elaborate settings. One of the interestings it does is that it does not use Pocahontas' name at all. She is always referred to as "The Princess" and later "Rebecca".

The movie is essentially an album filled with snapshots of Pocahontas' life. Starting from her innocent youth in Virginia, it follows the English's arrival and her crossing paths with John Smith. When Smith is captured by the Powhatan tribe, Pocahontas throws herself on him to prevent his execution, and claims him as her property. He spends time with her in the tribe, learning about her language and culture, just as she learns about his language and culture. The pair fall in love, much to the distaste of Pocahontas' father.

Smith is eventually freed, and leaves the New World in the hopes that his departure will help Pocahontas move on with her life. But Pocahontas, who has fallen out of favour with her tribe, is traded to the English who want to use her as leverage for supply trades with others. Pocahontas is at first happy to enter the English camp, but she dismayed to learn that Smith has "died" and she is alone.

Pocahontas, no longer able to go home, becomes one of the English and is baptised as Rebecca. She meets John Rolfe (Christian Bale), who falls in love with her and eventually asks her to marry him. They have a happy if simple life together until they receive an invitation from the English court. They can't refuse, so off they go, and not only is Rebecca presented at court, she also receives the startling news that Smith is alive. Rolfe, with a heavy heart, arranges for Rebecca to meet Smith, so that she may make her choice. Rebecca's reunion with Smith is painful, but in the end Rebecca realises that she has grown up, and returns to her husband. But the happiness is cut short when Rebecca falls ill and dies before she can return to Virginia.

On the whole, this is probably the most accurate and mature fictionalized representation of Pocahontas' life to date, though it keeps with the very strong romantic themes between Pocahontas and Smith (which weirded me out due to the age difference, to tell you the truth). Q'Orianka Kilcher is amazing as Pocahontas, all the more so because she was fifteen when the movie was filmed. Although I don't fancy the way this movie was edited (it left me drained by the end), it's very beautiful and the relationship between Rolfe and Rebecca was very well done. In particular Rebecca's subtle return to Rolfe's side at the end, with her slipping her hand quietly into his and Rolfe being startled; that was lovely.

This movie has a couple of actor links to the Disney version. Irene Bedard, who voiced Pocahontas in the Disney movie, plays Pocahontas' mother in The New World, seen briefly in flashbacks. Also, Christian Bale was the red-headed Thomas in the Disney version.

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