Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pocahontas / Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World Two-Movie Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Walt Disney Pictures’ action-packed animated musical adventures Pocahontas andPocahontas II: Journey To A New World have been released for the first time ever in vivid High Definition.  Combined also for the first time in a Two-Movie Collection, the exciting release allows families and fans of all ages to own these timeless stories of hope, courage and friendship together in an exciting Disney ‘Combo Pack’ Including Blu-ray and DVD, and also available on HD digital download.  The Two-Movie Collection, Blu-ray debut features exciting all-new bonus material including “Drawing Inspiration: The Lost Story of Hiawatha,” a fascinating behind-the-scenes featurette showcasing how Walt Disney and his team were once developing a full-length animated feature called “Hiawatha,” that ultimately directly influenced the development of Pocahontas.  Pocahontaswon Academy Awards for both “Best Original Score” and “Best Song – “Colors of the Wind” 1995.  The film also earned a Grammy Award for “Best Song” (“Colors of the Wind,” 1996).  

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

Pocahontas (3 out of 5 stars)       Pocahontas II (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

In this oft told tale, mismatched lovers find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter fight between the British settlers that have come to the New World in search of gold, and the native Indians who view the settlers as invaders.  In this case the two involved are Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson), leader of the British militia, and Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), who happens to be the daughter of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means) who is the leader of the local Indian tribe.  While the film is beautifully animated, it’s rather bland most likely due to Disney’s overdeveloped fear of possibly offending Native American Indians.  Disney also chose to dramatize history instead of following the actual historical events, and added some unneeded mystical hoodoo to the film.
It’s 1607, and a ship full of British settles that have been sent by the Virginia Company are sailing to the New World in search of the gold that Governor Ratcliff (David Ogden Stiers) has promised is there.  Ratcliffe is determined to search and steal the gold that he believes is being hidden by the local Indians.  Captain Smith is aboard to lead the men against any Indians who may resist Ratcliffe’s planned theft.  At the same time, a young Indian woman named Pocahontas is being groomed to marry a stern Indian warrior known as Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) whom she doesn’t love.  Her father wants her to marry him and gives Pocahontas her mother’s necklace as a gift even though she confides that she believes Kocoum is far too serious for her.  Pocahontas is a free spirit that loves running wild in nature and playing with her animal friends, especially the raccoon Meeko and the hummingbird Flit who accompany her during her visits to a magic tree called Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt) who offers wisdom to Pocahontas.
The British settlers waste no time once they land, as they quickly build a wooden fort (which they call Jamestown) and Ratcliffe orders his men to start searching for the gold that really isn't there.  While scouting the area around their perimeter, Smith encounters Pocahontas and almost shoots her until he sees what a babe she is.  The two hit it off pretty quickly but their love is complicated by the fact that both of their worlds hate each other.  When Smith’s friend Thomas (Christian Bale) follows him to meeting with Pocahontas and witnesses Smith kiss her along with Kocoum (who had followed Pocahontas), it all begins to unravel quickly.  Kocoum, in a jealous rage tries to kill Smith but is killed by Thomas instead which enrages Chief Powhatan enough that he declares war on the settlers and orders that Smith be killed at dawn.
When Thomas returns to Jamestown and informs them that Smith is about to be executed, Ratcliffe takes advantage of the situation to further his own goals by stirring up the bloodlust in his men.  He knows that if the Indians are exterminated it would be a lot easier to find the gold he was convinced was in the area.  Pocohontas visits Grandmother Willow who tells her to follow her destiny which luckily enough is determined by Smith’s compass which points to him.  Convinced that Smith is her destiny, Pocohontas races to save Smith from his execution, determined to show a different path for both her people and the settlers before the two sides go to full scale war.
In Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, it takes place a little while after the events from the first film which makes it a little tricky to review without spoiling what happened at end of the first film.  Suffice it to say that with Mel Gibson not returning to play Smith (and due to the filmmakers actually following some historical fact), the character of Smith is largely absent from this film and Gibson’s brother Donal assumed the role.  The villain from the first film, Ratcliffe is back and is even more determined to find the gold that he still believes is there.  As a personal friend of the King of England, Ratcliffe gets his way and another expedition is sent to the New World along with a young diplomat named John Rolfe (Billy Zane basically playing the same character as he did in Titanic).  Rolfe has been sent to meet and negotiate with Chief Powhatan and the Indians for their supposed gold.
Meanwhile, Pocahontas has been grieving since she was told that Smith had died, but is slowly returning back to normal.  Of course, Rolfe and Pocahontas meet, but this time there’s no love at first sight like before.  She believes he’s too bossy and he thinks she lacks the proper manners and breeding expected of a young woman.  When Rolfe tries to negotiate with the Chief, he is rebuffed in his desire for the Chief to come back to England with him to meet the King of England.  Instead, Pocahontas volunteers to go in his place, partly to represent her people, but also to see the country where her beloved Smith was born and believed to have died at. Grandmother Willow tells her to go for it, and Pocahontas and her animals travel to England where there’s quite a bit of culture shock on both sides. Soon enough, Ratcliffe attempts some more evil acts, but this time, Pocahontas has a hidden ally and the honorable John Rolfe at her side.
Although I usually love most Disney films, I couldn't really get into these two movies.  The first one is without a doubt the better of the two, but it feels too sanitized  and bland for my tastes.  I also didn't like the mystical aspects of the film which I believe detracted and undermined the overall seriousness of the movie.  The cast however, are phenomenal in their roles, especially Mel Gibson, Irene Bedard, and David Ogden Stiers.  Gibson even does his own singing in the movie which adds an interesting twist to it.  These are beautiful films to look at with some absolutely gorgeous animation too.  The second film isn’t bad for a direct to video release, but it can’t compare to the first one. It doesn't help that Billy Zane was chosen to play the male lead and he turns in another cheesy performance much like the one he did for Titanic.  Donal Gibson does a nice enough job as the replacement Smith in his limited screen time.  Despite my misgivings about these films, the first film was a monster hit for Disney as it earned over $346 million for Disney.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Pocahontas (5 out of 5 stars)     Pocahontas II (4 out of 5 stars) 

Both films share one BD-50 disc but it doesn't seem to have hurt either film’s presentation.  These 1080p (1.78:1) transfers look exceptionally good, especially the first film’s.  Pocohontas’ transfer offers the best animation, the best CG, and it looks amazing as most Disney releases do.  Journey to a New World also looks really good, but it doesn't share the first film’s vibrant colors that pop off the screen.  Instead, it’s limited palette and lower budget force it to look inferior to the first film.  That’s to say that it looks bad because it doesn't  but you can see its limitations compared to the first film.  Black levels are solid and inky and I didn't really notice any digital defects or blemishes to ruin the picture quality.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Pocahontas (5 out of 5 stars)     Pocahontas II (4 out of 5 stars) 

Just like the video quality, the same can be said for the audio quality between the two films.  Both offer a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and once again the first film comes out on top compared to its lower budgeted sequel. Pocohontas’ lossless mix sounds fantastic and it offers a much more immersive experience than Journey to a New World.  The rear channels are constantly active with music, songs, and action.  The directionality of the sound effects is very accurate and adds a lot of immersion to the film.  The second film’s mix also sounds pretty good, but it just doesn’t have the sonic power of the first one.  It sounds like a direct to video movie although a really good one.  Fans of these movies should be pleased overall with both of these mixes.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars) 

This set has a decent amount of extras and it should be enough to please fans of these movies although I wish there was more included.  I really wish that Disney would give digital copies for their animated films like they do for their live action ones.
  • Pocahontas Audio Commentary – We hear from directors Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel along with producer James Pentecost who talk about the challenges of making the film and balancing the drama with what actually happened.
  • Drawing Inspiration: The Lost Story of Hiawatha - This was an unexpected treat since we learn that Walt Disney had toyed with telling the same story as a animated feature himself which was to be called Hiawatha.  Disney later abandoned the film but Eric Goldberg and animation historian Charles Solomon talk about what it would have looked like through storyboards and narration from Goldberg.  Even though it never came to be, the ideas did later influence Pocahontas.
  • Deleted Song, “If I Never Knew You” - A deleted song that you can listen to or you can choose to listen to the commentary that talks about why it was cut.
  • The Music of Pocahontas – A seven minute look into the music and songs from the movie.
  • Deleted Scenes – There are a total of nine storyboarded  deleted scenes from the first film.
  • Cartoon Short, “Little Hiawatha” – Even if Walt Disney was never able to make a feature film out of Hiawatha, he did manage to produce a Silly Symphony short about it in 1937.
  • Disney’s Virtual Vault - I couldn’t access this at the time but if it follows the previous Disney pattern, it will contain featurettes from the previous DVD  release through BD-Live.

Summary (4 out of 5 stars) 

I like that Disney lately has been packaging two movies into one value added set.  First it was The Rescuers and now this one.  Of course, just like with The Rescuers, the first movie is a lot better than the second one that probably wouldn't sell on it’s own so it makes sense.  This Blu-ray offers some excellent audio and visual quality and the extras are pretty good too so fans of the movie shouldn't hesitate to pick this up!
Order your copy today!

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