Pocahontas Hurt By Beauty & the Beast's "Best Picture" Nomination?
In an April 2001 article for the Laughing Place, columnist Jim Hill explains how Jeffrey Katzenberg, excited by the 1991 Academy Award nomination of Beauty and the Beast, "had seen the promised land and was now determined to do whatever he had to see to it that another Disney animated film win that award. Since both Aladdin and The Lion King were too far along in production to get a win-a-Best-Picture-Oscar makeover," Katzenberg decided instead to turn Pocahontas into a "big and serious, sweeping romantic epic," the perfect profile of an Oscar winner. The movie, which until then "was happily chugging along the development track at Disney, was shaping up to be a small but fun film for the studio. Its production team had already decided that the legendary Indian princess should be portrayed as a 12 year-old girl who falls in love with John Smith, a 15 year-old English settler. [Alas,] here was a story that Jeffrey would have plenty of time to shape and mold 'til it was serious enough and important enough that the Academy would *HAVE TO* take notice, guaranteeing Pocahontas a best picture nomination in 1996."
"The first thing Katzenberg changed was Pocahontas and John Smith's ages," continues Jim Hill at the Laughing Place. "Now 18 years old, Jeffrey ordered order her animator--animation master Glen Keane--to make Pocahontas 'the most beautiful creature that had ever walked the earth.' John Smith's age was also moved up, too. No longer a gawky adolescent, Smith was a robust, manly adventurer of 25 years of age. Now that the film's protagonists were adults Katzenberg insisted that Pocahontas and John Smith have an adult romance. This meant passionate kisses in front of large sweeping vistas and meaningful glances against richly detailed backgrounds.Of course, to make room for all this adult stuff (ie: Oscar bait), Jeffrey had to cut back on Pocahontas' cute little forest friends. The first to go was a talking turkey that was supposed to be the Indian princess's confidant. This character, then known as Redfeather, was voiced by John Candy and animated by Nick Ranieri. Redfeather was originally supposed to have provided much of the comic relief for Pocahontas. Candy came into his recording sessions for the film and, in addition to delivering his scripted lines like a pro, improvised a lot of new, funny material for his character right on the spot. Had Redfeather actually survived to make it into the finished film, Pocahontas probably would have been a lot more fun to watch. But a talking turkey didn't fit into Jeffrey's vision of an Academy Award-winning animated film. No talking animals did. Under Katzenberg's radical revision of the film, Redfeather became Deadfeather - disappearing completely from the film. In his place came Meeko, the non-talking raccoon and Flit, the mostly-silent hummingbird. The irony here is that by trying to create a movie that was sure to win a 'Best Picture' nomination, Jeffrey profoundly weakened the finished product. He ended up with an animated film that was too serious for kids yet too lightweight for adults. In the end Pocahontas was an artistic failure--a cartoon that meant well, rather than entertained. The real tragedy here is that not too long after John Candy's character got cut from the film John passed away. The heavyset comedian died in his sleep in March 1994 while on location shooting a comic western in Mexico. Some of Candy's last work--perhaps his best work--is preserved on those Redfeather recording sessions for Pocahontas."
To help create a unique look for Pocahontas, directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg
enlisted Michael Giaimo, a renowned artist and former Disney animator, to oversee the
design and color elements. "We feel that we've pushed a lot of boundaries in this film
with regard to design and color," says Giaimo. "For one thing, we set out to make the
characters the brightest, punchiest, warmest element on the screen by sublimating the
backgrounds. With deeper and darker backgrounds, the character's performance becomes
the main objective and it was my job to showcase that performance in terms of lighting,
color and design. This was pretty common with the Disney films of the late 1940's and
through the 1950's but hadn't been done much in recent times."
Several visual elements for the film were suggested by the artistic team's field trips
to Virginia. The tall forests of pine trees suggested a vertical theme that Giaimo
incorporated into the character design. The background artists also used color; depth
and tone in such a way as to add to the emotion of each scene. Lighting was another
important design element that was used to elicit the desired emotional response from
the audience. In this film, lighting is both highly controlled and boldly stylized.
One final visual element used to best advantage in Pocahontas is effects animation.
Waterfalls, a sea storm, swirls of multi-colored leaves, misty environments and blazing
fires were all rendered by the effects animation team to add excitement and credibility
to the story.
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