Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998) - Moving on from John Smith

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World - A New Land and a New Love

Pocahantas 2 Disney dvd
"Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World" (1998).
In Walt Disney Feature Animation's original "Pocahontas," Captain John Smith befriended the young Native-American Pocahontas, a chief's daughter, and they fell in love. Loosely based on real-life events, Walt Disney Pictures' direct-to-video "Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World" (1998) continues the story of "Pocahontas" right up to the end of the real story - but more on that later.

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Almost all of the voice actors return from "Pocahontas," with the critical exception of Mel Gibson as John Smith, who now is voiced by Mel's brother Donal Gibson. Smith is not the central male figure in this continuation anyway, as Pocahontas engages on adventures of her own.

DVD cover Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The storybook.
Both "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II" take tremendous liberties with the facts, which is upsetting to some people who expect a more respectful stance. Disney animated feature films, of course, never have been likened to documentaries, but it strays especially far in "Pocahontas II."

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However, before we dig deeper into the actual story of Pocahontas, rest assured that watching the two movies is a fairly seamless experience. It should excite interest in the real story among younger viewers. Just be aware that there is a staggering quality difference between the two films, with the first being classic and the second, well, not so much.

Pocahontas John Smith in a canoe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas, Meeko and John Smith.
Picking right up where we left off in "Pocahontas," Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) obtains a warrant for the arrest of John Smith from Ratcliffe's friend King James by underhanded means. John Smith is arrested, and everyone is told that he is dead. Wishing to avoid issues with the Powhatan Nation, the King sends diplomat John Rolfe (Billy Zane) to Virginia to smooth things over with Pocahontas' father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means).

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The King wants Rolfe to bring the chief back to England for discussions. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is sad about Smith's death, but she comes to terms with his passing. Rolfe arrives and tries to take charge of matters, which irks Pocahontas, who is a free spirit and feels everything is under control already.

John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
John Rolfe.
Rolfe doesn't know the name of Chief Powhatan and mistakenly comes to believe that his name is "Pocahontas." At a dance that night, Rolfe brings a gift of a horse for "The Mighty Pocahontas." When he sees who Pocahontas is, Rolfe is embarrassed. He finds the real chief and asks him to come to England, but the chief refuses. Pocahontas, wishing to avoid a war, volunteers to go in her father's place.

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After some timely advice from spiritual tree Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt), Pocahontas sets off with Rolfe for England. Pocahontas' animal friends raccoon Meeko (John Kassir), hummingbird Flit (Frank Welker) and pet dog Percy (Danny Mann) stow away. The ship's captain, unclear as to what is happening, tries to arrest Pocahontas as a stowaway herself, but Rolfe protects her, softening her feelings towards him somewhat.

Pocahontas with Flit and Meeko Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas with her animal friends.
Upon arriving in England, Rolfe learns that Ratcliffe has convinced his buddy the King to send an invasion force to Virginia if things do not go smoothly. Rolfe then takes Pocahontas to his estate outside of London, where his housekeeper Mrs. Jenkings (Jean Stapleton) treats Pocahontas with kindness. The King invites Pocahontas and Rolfe to The Hunt Ball, where it is understood that if Pocahontas acts improperly, the invasion force will sail for Virginia.

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Pocahontas gladly accepts the challenge and dresses up in the English style, a hoop dress, and high heels. Taking the event seriously, Pocahontas learns English manners from Rolfe, and he teaches Pocahontas how to dance. Pocahontas even replaces her mother's necklace with an English one.

London England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Medieval London, England.
At the ball, Pocahontas flatters the King and gets along well with the Queen (Finola Hughes). Ratcliffe, though, is determined to have her make a poor impression so that he can invade Virginia, so he arranges a bear-baiting. Pocahontas gets upset and berates the King and others for laughing at the bear's mistreatment.

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The King, in turn, gets upset at Pocahontas and, at Ratcliffe's suggestion, arrests her and her bodyguard Uttamatomakkin (Brad Garrett) with the intention of executing them. Rolfe, desperate, encounters a hooded stranger who succeeds in breaking Pocahontas and her bodyguard out of prison. When safe in the woods, the hooded stranger reveals himself as none other than John Smith. It turns out that both Smith and Rolfe have feelings for Pocahontas.

King James of England Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
King James.
Pocahontas returns to her normal look and visits the Queen, explaining what happened. John Smith then appears and convinces the King that Ratcliffe lied about gold being in Virginia, the reason for an invasion fleet thus being negated. Smith, Rolfe, and Uttamatomakkin then rush to stop the invasion fleet, captained by Ratcliffe, from sailing. Arriving at the last moment, the three manage to throw the sailors overboard and then crash the ships together. Ratcliffe fights a duel against Smith and loses, but then draws a pistol. Rolfe and Pocahontas capture Ratcliffe, who then is arrested by King James onshore.

Pocahontas II Blu ray
The Blu-ray disc.
With her mission at an end, Pocahontas decides to leave for home. Rolfe and Pocahontas come close to admitting they like each other, but Smith butts in and claims that he wants to be with Pocahontas instead. Rolfe leaves, and Pocahontas breaks up with Smith. Then Smith leaves, and the ship sails, with Rolfe nowhere to be seen. As the ship sails off, Rolfe appears on deck as a stowaway, and he and Pocahontas kiss as the ship sails into the sunset.

Pocahontas dressed up Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas in her ballroom attire.
The plot of "Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World" is so far from real events that anyone familiar with the real events may have difficulty watching it. Ratcliffe was not involved with Pocahontas at all, and, in fact, was long dead by the time that Pocahontas ever sailed for England. There was no invasion fleet, no motivation of invading to find gold, and Rolfe's entire relationship with Pocahontas (they were married) occurred prior to and during the stay in England. That Pocahontas died suddenly and mysteriously right at the point that "Pocahontas II" ends is perhaps the oddest relationship between film and real life of all.

Pocahontas dancing with John Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Pocahontas and Ratcliffe dancing.
The almost universal reaction to "Pocahontas II" is one of disappointment. The animation is inferior to the original, with faces that are far less expressive. In fact, if Rolfe and Smith did not have different-colored hair, it would be difficult to tell them apart. The (fictional) story is weak and melodramatic, and the songs by Marty Panzer and Larry Grossman would have been better off left out (though "Things are Not what they Appear" is fairly tuneful).

Ratcliffe in chains Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
Governor... former Governor Ratcliffe.
All that is minor, though, compared to the travesty of the storyline. If Disney wished to completely fabricate events in a real person's life, why not at least complete the set-up from the original "Pocahontas" and have her wind up with Smith? Of course, she married Rolfe in real life, but only because Smith left and (yes, the film is correct on this) everyone thought him dead. One may argue that there was nothing between Smith and Pocahontas in the first place, but if you spend an entire film establishing a deep and abiding life, carelessly brushing that off in the final five minutes of a sequel makes absolutely no sense. This is the rare Disney movie with a supposedly happy ending that, in fact, is quite unhappy for many viewers. One can make the argument that "Pocahontas II" ruins all the good feelings engendered in "Pocahontas," which, for all its faults, lay a lot closer to historical truth than "Pocahontas II."

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"Pocahontas II" was a tragic mistake on Disney's part. It is no wonder that Disney stopped making direct-to-video sequels to its feature animated films a few years later. Having directors Tom Ellery and Bradley Raymond end the sequel with Pocahontas breaking up with her big lover from "Pocahontas" just leaves you gasping at the screen in frustration, especially since Rolfe is so unimpressive. Even little kids who see "Pocahontas" likely will be disappointed.

Pocahontas Rolfe Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
A fantasy moment.
Underlying the other problems is that there is very little chemistry between Pocahontas and Rolfe. In an odd way, Rolfe is almost made to appear unlikeable throughout "Pocahontas II." It is as if the screenwriters Allen Estrin, Cindy Marcus, and Flip Kobler were unclear until the end themselves how they wished to end "Pocahontas II," then flipped a coin and decided to have Pocahontas wind up with her real-life husband rather than her "boyfriend" from the first film. There also was little humor, as the sidekicks Meeko, Percy, and Flit seem "just along for the ride" in more ways than one. Pocahontas turns from being a sweet lover of the forest into an insistent peace activist who never seems happy, which never was the case in real life and robs her in "Pocahontas II" of having any meaningful relationship with anyone. In essence, Pocahontas II takes the American Princess out of her element and makes her appear awkward.

Shakespeare Pocahontas 2
The Immortal Bard has a cameo appearance in "Pocahontas II."
It is amusing how Disney could change the ending of "The Little Mermaid" in an uplifting fashion to make it satisfying, but with "Pocahontas II," Disney changes everything about the ending of the real story except for the one thing that makes the ending unsatisfying - namely, who Pocahontas ends up with. On the positive side, there is more action in "Pocahontas II" and Ratcliffe is more central to the story as a creepy villain. It also is fun seeing Pocahontas doing different things, as long as you don't dwell too long on what those things are because what she does simply isn't that interesting. "Pocahontas II" may be useful for showing kids that life doesn't always turn out the way that you expect or want, but that's kind of a downbeat lesson for an animated film.

Blu ray package Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World 1998
The Blu-ray package has nice extra features.
The two-disc, two-movie Blu-ray set does have an interesting documentary on the Disney project "Hiawatha" and how that directly influenced the genesis of "Pocahontas" and "Pocahontas II." "Pocahontas II" really isn't any worse than your average animated television series show, but it is only recommended for die-hard fans of the first film who just want to see more of the real American princess and aren't too demanding about things like plot and character development.

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