POCAHONTAS (1995)

Scene Analysis
THE FIRST CONTACT BETWEEN POCAHONTAS AND JOHN SMITH
by
Lynn Dukette and Dani Frisbie

(see film clip)

Introduction

[1]    The children’s movie Pocahontas is an attempt by Disney to promote racial tolerance, equality, and understanding.  Most of this movie is not historically accurate, yet an important message can still be learned using the characters from long ago.  The first contact scene between Pocahontas and John Smith (0:28.34) demonstrates the importance of racial tolerance by showing strengths and weaknesses in both characters.  By making neither character the sole initiator in this scene, there is no favoritism towards one culture or the other.  Disney also uses symbolism in the surrounding environment and music to help support this point.

The Exchange of Roles

[2]    Pocahontas and John Smith exchange the task of being the initiator in the first contact scene.  After viewing this portion many times, it is clear that Disney wanted to create a first contact that demonstrates equality among the two cultures.  Pocahontas and John Smith both show weaknesses and strengths, which deems neither character to be the superior race.  Also, by exchanging the roles, each character is given a chance to show understanding and the desire to create a peaceful contact situation.  An important message to children is that understanding is an essential element in creating a peaceful and communicative relationship between cultures and within cultures.

[3]    The scene begins with Pocahontas in the forest looking down at Smith drinking water at the waterfall.  She shows interest in the different looking man and wants a better view.  She begins a tiger-like creep towards a new lookout spot at which he catches her reflection in the water.  Smith quickly hides and loads his gun so that he can be ready when the Native appears.  This situation demonstrates curiosity in both characters as they seemingly “hunt” each other out.  She is portrayed as an animal-like figure, trying to blend in with the surroundings.  Disney is trying to show the strong relationship between Native Americans and the environment.  Pocahontas’s creep also deems her as being the initial predator and Smith the prey.

[4]    The next exchanging of roles occurs when Smith jumps out from behind the waterfall to protect himself from any threatening forces.  He is perceived as being very aggressive until he sees Pocahontas through the parting fog.  Her beauty and strong character stuns and encourages him to initiate a peaceful contact.  However, at this point an exchange of roles occurs again when Pocahontas towers over a submissive Smith who has lowered himself into the water.  As he wades towards a confident Pocahontas, fear overcomes her, and she escapes from an unsure situation.  This portion of the scene demonstrates the need to work through difficult exchanges in order to have a successful contact.

[5]    The last exchange between Smith and Pocahontas occurs beneath the tree at the river’s edge.  Pocahontas remains unsure of the situation and needs reassurance.  As Smith catches up to her, she is perceived as being a child-like and flirtatious figure as she flicks her hair behind her ear with a demure expression.  Her role at this point is unclear due to the sexual relationship that Disney feels the need to incorporate.  She has proven to be a strong figure in this scene, yet some weakness is present because she is still unsure of herself.  Likewise, Smith shows weakness by his instantaneous attraction to her at the waterfall and by chasing her through the forest.  Once again, by each character having strengths and weaknesses, Disney is able to show equality between the two roles and cultures.

Symbolism in the Scenery

[6]    Throughout the first contact scene, various symbols including colors, the environment, and musical episodes work to create feelings of equality and racial tolerance.  In general, symbolism refers to occasions when an object, person, or event represents a larger, more significant idea.  Disney incorporated these attributes in order to allow the audience to experience the movie in order to engage all their senses.  Through the scenery present in this portion of the movie, a particular mood is created to enhance the experience and emotions surrounding a first contact.

[7]    The initial contact between Smith and Pocahontas occurs in a blue-dominated picture.  The use of this color, according to the University of Michigan’s Symbolism Dictionary, represents feminine, cool, and reflective qualities.  Blue may also encompass truth, transparency, and is linked to loyalty, constancy, and stability.  The color floods the entire waterfall scene with the sky, water, and overall tinted blue background.  Blue is used to signify a calm and peaceful first contact situation.  It also foreshadows the breakthrough between Smith and Pocahontas and their respective races.  Disney incorporates Pocahontas’s femininity into the scene with the use of blues.

[8]    The surrounding scenery, such as the fog and the water, further captivates the audience and illustrates important issues.  The fog represents obscurity, indistinction, and precedes great revelations.  Fog is the “gray” zone between reality and unreality, and represents uncertainty about the future beyond.  When Smith first sees Pocahontas, she is hidden behind the fog; however, the air slowly clears, and she appears almost out of nowhere.  The situation presents a very uncertain outcome due to Smith’s aggressive stature.  Yet, once the fog dissipates and he can clearly see her, Smith puts down his weapon and wants to initiate a peaceful contact. The obscurity disappears, and the situation seems to be more in control and tolerable. Furthermore, water is also used to create a specific feeling or mood in this scene.  Water is depicted as life and fluidity, whereas flowing water represents change and the passage of time. Both Smith and Pocahontas entered this scene with preconceptions about the other culture.  However, it is evident that time will change the relationship between them and they will need to overlook their cultural barriers.

[9]    The music that changes throughout this scene tends to outline the actions of the characters and changes in emotion.  At the beginning, as Pocahontas creeps like a tiger, soft orchestral music depicts curiosity and a nature-like sound.  When the characters meet, romantic and moving orchestral music plays until she runs away.  Finally, one of the theme songs of the movie, “Listen to Your Heart,” is played as Pocahontas runs from Smith and influences her to communicate.  This song is a very important part of our scene because it teaches the audience that one should listen to his or her heart when faced with difficult situations.  The heart and love is a main theme of all Disney movies, because they seem to have the ability to save the day.  Once Pocahontas decides to listen to her heart, she finds the ability to communicate and create a successful first contact.  Thus, music is used to enhance the emotions and ability of these two characters to tolerate and exist together.  (For further information involving symbolism in Pocahontas, refer to Jen Lackner’s scene analysis.)

Conclusion

[10]    Even though Pocahontas has received a lot of criticism from the public and many organizations, it has preserved Disney’s ability to teach children valuable lessons. This scene was able to depict the uncertainty and problems surrounding a first contact situation on a basic level.  The movie is not historically accurate; however, we must all remember that this is a children’s movie.  Children will no doubt realize the falsities in the Pocahontas story through their future education.  The movie, however, does teach them the lessons of equality, understanding, and tolerance.

Works Cited

“Bruckwicki, J. “Symbolism."  University of Michigan’s Symbolism Dictionary.  http://english.tyler.cc.tx.us/jbru/1302-internet/symbol.htm.  1995.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2001 by Lynn Dukette and Dani Frisbie, Undergraduates at Lehigh University.

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