Pocahontas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though Pocahontas wasn’t one of Disney’s top transfers, it mostly satisfied.
Sharpness seemed solid most of the time. Usually the movie remained crisp and well defined. Some shots looked a little soft, though, especially in wider angles. Jagged edges and moiré effects appeared absent, but I noticed mild signs of edge enhancement. These created most of the distractions, as they occasionally gave the movie its minor lack of definition. In regard to print flaws, I noticed none, as the movie looked clean and fresh from start to finish.
The setting of Pocahontas meant that it boasted a wonderfully vivid and varied palette, and the DVD presented those hues well. The tones consistently looked terrific. The hues always came across as lively, and the movie handled lots of colored lighting with aplomb. Black levels looked solid, and low-light images were concisely displayed and tight, with no excessive opacity. Pocahontas presented a consistently good transfer that fell below “A” level solely due to the issues related to sharpness. Since those were fairly minor, it still earned a positive “B+”.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of Pocahontas, it was good but not terrific. The soundfield displayed inconsistent breadth. At times it could provide a pretty nicely encompassing experience, such as during the first scene in which Smith's boat set sail; the surrounds kicked in strongly when the storm hits, and the track became quite involving.
After that, however, the mixers must have napped, for the soundtrack largely remained dormant. The forward soundstage often provided some decent stereo imaging, but it still appeared pretty tame. The surrounds received even less consideration and did little more than offer general ambience from the "tweeting birds" school of sound design. The track picked up a bit from time to time, but not substantially, and it never approached the pretty active level displayed at the start.
The audio quality also declined after that early segment. Dialogue seemed fine, with clear and natural speech that was easily intelligible. Effects were usually pretty accurate and clean, with no signs of distortion, and music seemed crisp and smooth. Bass response occasionally lagged, with some songs and effects that lacked the expected dimensionality. Low-end sporadically created a more dynamic impression, but often those elements seemed a bit lackluster. This mix suited the material to a sufficient degree but not much better than that.
So how did the picture and audio of this DVD compare with those on the original 2000 release? I thought both DVDs presented similar soundtracks, but the new one improved considerably over the old disc’s unimpressive visuals. That one’s biggest issue connected to graininess, as it looked really messy most of the time. It also demonstrated a bit more softness than this one. The 10th anniversary release cleans up matters dramatically and looks much smoother and clearer. It’s a vast improvement.
While the old DVD included only a smattering of minor extras, this “10th Anniversary Edition” of Pocahontas broadens matters considerably. This package includes two versions of the film: the original theatrical cut and the 10th Anniversary Edition. The latter adds three minutes to the 1995 release’s 81-minute running time, all due to the inclusion of a cut song called “If I Never Knew You”. This track shows up about two-thirds of the way through the flick when Pocahontas goes to visit the imprisoned John Smith. It’s a sappy tune and the scene slows down the dramatic progress; the movie works better without it. (The longer cut also includes a brief reprise of the number when Pocahontas and Smith part ways at the end.)
DVD One’s supplements open with an audio commentary from directors Eric Goldberg and Mike Gabriel and producer James Pentecost. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They cover the expected subjects, as they get into story topics and history, characters and actors, specifics connected to the animation, the music, cut sequences, and various challenges. The track occasionally drags, but it usually moves along well. It goes over all the requisite information in an appealing and enjoyable manner to give us a good examination of the film.
Note that the commentary solely accompanies the extended “10th Anniversary” cut of the film. That makes sense, since the participants recorded it for that edition. However, there’s an old commentary created for the laserdisc of Pocahontas, and it’s too bad the DVD’s producers didn’t include it to go along with the theatrical cut. Granted, it probably would have been somewhat redundant, but additional options are never a bad thing. It goes missed here.
Next we find two “set-top games”. Disney’s Art Project teaches kids how to make “fun and magical toys” from household items. These include a dream catcher and a drum. Artsy-crafty kids might enjoy this feature. Hosted by Grandmother Willow, Follow Your Heart asks a series of very easy questions about the flick. Perfect performance brings no reward, so skip this dull contest.
After this we locate two Sing-Along Songs. We find karaoke takes on “Colors of the Wind” and “Just Around the Riverbend”. These simply offer the appropriate scenes from the movie with added text at the bottom of the screen.
A repeat from the old DVD, we get a music video for “Colors of the Wind” by Vanessa Williams. It adheres to the usual movie clips and lip-synch format typical for Disney music videos. Don’t expect anything more than a dull piece for this dreadfully overproduced rendition of the tune.
As DVD One starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Cinderella, Chicken Little, Tarzan II and Kim Possible: So the Drama. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, The Cat Returns, Porco Rosso, Nausicaa, and the Disney Princess line.
DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
With that we move over to DVD Two and its features. First comes a documentary called The Making of Pocahontas. Hosted by actor Irene Bedard, this 28-minute show from 1995 includes a mix of movie snippets, behind the scenes shots, and comments from Gabriel, Goldberg, Pentecost, Walt Disney Company vice chairman of the board Roy E. Disney, supervising animators Glen Keane, Duncan Marjoribanks, Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, Dave Pruiksma and John Pomeroy, art director Mike Giaimo, Disney Feature Aniamtion president Peter Schneider, head of story Tom Sito, composer Alan Menken, lyricist Stephen Schwartz, singer Jon Secada, and actors Russell Means, Mel Gibson, Judy Kuhn, and David Ogden Stiers. The piece covers the story and its historical background, research, accuracy, the movie’s look, the cast, character development and depiction, and music.
With a reasonably long running time, you’d expect a little depth from “Making”. And that’s what you’ll get – just a little depth. Clearly created to promote the movie, “Making” offers a very glossy look at the production. Bedard’s tour around Jamestown is good, and the animators provide some decent insight, but this piece remains long on fluff and short on useful information.
For a glimpse at initial work on Pocahontas, we find the Early Presentation Reel. This three-minute and 45-second clip starts with an introduction from Pentecost as he explains what we’ll see. Then we watch production art accompanied by a demo of “Colors of the Wind”. We can view this with or without commentary from lyricist Schwartz. He tells us about the origins of the lyrics and the impact the song had on some Indian leaders. It’s an interesting presentation either way, but the commentary offers the best way to watch it.
An introduction from Goldberg opens the 94-second Storyboard-to-Film Comparison. We look at the usual splitscreen comparison for the scene in which Smith first meets Pocahontas. It provides a good look at Glen Keane’s distinctive charcoal boards, and it also can be viewed with or without commentary. Here the directors discuss Keane’s creative processes.
Goldberg appears again in his 50-second introduction to the Production Progression Reel. We then can watch any of four options via the “angle” button. These include “story reel”, “rough animation”, “clean-up animation” and “final color”, and they let us see the scene in which Pocahontas rushes to greet her father. Each lasts 40 seconds, and they offer a fun way to see the various steps of artwork.
Under the “Design” banner, we get a wide mix of pieces. These mostly break down into areas connected to characters, and some of them include featurettes called “Creating (Character Name)”. These appear for Pocahontas (four minutes, 22 seconds), John Smith (2:16), Governor Ratcliffe (0:51), Grandmother Willow (2:09), Meeko (1:43), Flit (0:57), and Percy (0:55). We also get “Creating Art Design, Layouts and Backgrounds” (2:12). These contain comments from folks such as Keane, Pomeroy, Marjoribanks, Ranieri, Pruiksma, Giaimo, supervising animator Chris Buck, and CGI supervisor Steve Goldberg.
For Pocahontas, Keane compares her look to that of Ariel, another character he drew. Pomeroy tells us about influences for Smith and his development, and the rest go over what they attempted to do with the various characters. We also learn about the CG elements of Grandmother Willow, an abandoned turkey character, and some talking animals who lost their voices. These are informative and enjoyable discussions, even though some repeat notes we hear elsewhere.
Some characters include Test Animation snippets. We get these for Ratcliffe (20 seconds), Grandmother Willow (0:22), Meeko (0:29), Flit (0:16), Thomas (0:24), Kekata (0:17) and a deleted turkey character called Redfeather (0:30). These offer a nice glimpse of early animation, and the “Redfeather” segment proves especially valuable since he doesn’t appear in the final film. It also gives us a look at talking Percy.
Lastly, each character comes with Still Images. We find them for Pocahontas (150 frames), John Smith (78), Ratcliffe (81), Powhatan (42), Grandmother Willow (35), Meeko (24), Flit (16), Percy (21), Thomas (27), Kocoum (30), Kekata (18), and Redfeather (17). We also see a collection for “Art Design, Layouts and Backgrounds” (241). All of these add up to a rich and detailed view of the different artistic elements.
With that we head to the “Music” domain and a featurette called The Music of Pocahontas. It runs seven minutes, five seconds, and presents comments from Pentecost, Menken, Schwartz, We learn about the Menken/Schwartz partnership, the composition of some songs, and the work of the vocalists. The program gets a little fluffy at times, but it includes nice insight into the collaborative process, and the shots in the studio are solid as well.
Another retread from the original DVD, we find a music video for “If I Never Knew You”. This features Jon Secada and Shanice. My comments for the “Colors of the Wind” video hold true here: overproduced tune, weak video.
A featurette called The Making of “If I Never Knew You” goes for four minutes, 34 seconds. We hear from Menken, Roy E. Disney, Pomeroy, Goldberg and Gabriel. They talk about the song’s composition, its deletion, and its reinsertion in the movie. Really, we don’t learn anything here that’s not already covered in the commentary.
Nine Deleted Scenes run between 37 seconds and four minutes for a total of 15 minutes, 11 seconds of material. Most of these appear as storyreels, though “Miscellaneous Scenes” mixes rough and finished animation. Nothing fascinating appears here, though it’s fun to have a look at some abandoned concepts.
Two scenes come with optional audio commentary: “Dancing to the Wedding Drum” and “In the Middle of the River”. The former would have been our introduction to Pocahontas as the tribe gathers for her wedding, while the latter offers an unused song. The commentary talks about the clips and tells us why they got the boot.
Over in “The Release”, we get two trailers plus a three-minute and 45-second look at The Premiere in Central Park. It talks about how big, big big! this massive screening was. The usual Multi-Language Reel gives us snippets of the film in Norwegian, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Korean, French Canadian, Turkish, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin, Japanese, Castilian, Slovak, Icelandic, Polish, and French. In a nice touch, we also learn the names of the various international vocalists.
Finally, a Publicity Gallery includes a mix of stills. It presents 18 frames. In addition to the usual ads, we get oddities like Pocahontas in modern fashion designs featured in Harper’s Bazarr!
Does this two-disc Pocahontas lose anything from the original? Yes, but not much. It drops a "Read-Along Storybook" a trivia game with 16 questions.
I enjoy Pocahontas and think it's a rather underrated Disney feature, though still not one of their best pictures. This DVD vastly improves over its predecessor, as it offers mostly solid picture with positive audio and a quality roster of extras. This is a fine DVD that should make fans happy.