Digital History>eXplorations>Pocahontas and Squanto>Evaluating the Disney "Pocahontas"

Exploration 2: Evaluating the Disney film Pocahontas (1995)

Based on one of the most famous legends in American history, this Disney animated film examines the interactions among the Powhatan Indians and the English colonists in Jamestown during the early 17th century. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is the daughter of Algonquin chief Powhatan (Russell Means), who has promises her in marriage to Kocoum, whom she doesn't love.

When the English colonists arrive, she becomes enamored with John Smith (Mel Gibson). Conflict arises as the settlers, led by Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) seek the gold that they're sure the Indians are concealing.

Examine the studio still photos from this movie:


Redesigning Pocahontas: Disney, the "White Man's Indian," and the Marketing of Dreams
The Pocohontas Myth by Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan Nation.

For a comparison of the Disney movie, Pocahontas, and the "real" Pocahontas, see tables with side-by-side data comparisons by David Morenus on his Pocahontas website:

Activity 1: Pocahontas

What did Pocahontas look like? Find four contrasting images of Pocahontas and describe the differences in the way she has been depicted.

Start by looking in our Pocahontas gallery.

Activity 2: Captain John Smith

Describe the real-life Capt. John Smith:

  • How old was he?
  • What did he look like?
  • What were his experiences prior to arriving in Virginia?




Activity 3: Rescue of Captain Smith by Pocahontas

Examine the following pieces of historical evidence about Capt. John Smith's rescue by Pocahontas.

In your opinion, did the incident happen?

Evaluate the accuracy, similarities, and differences in the accounts.

What do scholars say?

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