This article has been a long time coming. For years I have wondered why Pocahontas, a movie I am very fond of, gets a fair amount of hate, while Anastasia, a movie that plays with historical accuracy as much as Pocahontas, gets a lot of love. So, I have decided to dedicate an entire article to figuring out which of these movies really reigns supreme. My hope is that this article will be launch a recurring feature on the Rotoscopers called Vs. Each article will take a look at the competing movies’ animation, characters, plot, sound, and one category specific to the movies in question. So, without further ado, let’s start the Battle of the History Rewrites: Pocahontas vs. Anastasia.
Round 1: Art & Animation
Let me start off by saying that both of these movies are beautifully animated and have gorgeous art, so really my own personal proclivities will play a large part in deciding the champion in this category. Pocahontas uses a variety of animation techniques to really make the movie pop, as illustrated by the “Color of the Wind” and “Savages” sequences. Likewise, Anastasia uses CG techniques, like those used in the “Once Upon A December” musical number, to make some of its scenes the best of their time, . In my opinion, both of these movies are winners.
However, the art is a different story. While you can clearly see that both of these movies have distinct artistic vision, Pocahontas‘ seems to be more successful. Pocahontas‘ use of color and different nature imagery floors me every single time I watch the movie. The purples and greens seen throughout the movie are so deep and luscious that my inner painter wants to dive into the movie and gather the colors so that I may use them in real life. Additionally, Pocahontas has extremely precise and beautiful character designs that make its art so memorable.
Anastasia‘s art, while good, feels rougher to me. While I admit that the design of St. Petersburg’s is realistic, I don’t feel any sense of beauty while looking at it. There are some gorgeous art pieces, like the opening scene and many of the Paris settings, but the art quality isn’t as consistent as in Pocahontas. The character designs get the job done, but I don’t feel they are distinctive enough to be truly fantastic. So, because of the slightly lower quality art, Pocahontas takes the win here.
Round 2: Story
If you were thinking that Pocahontas would be winning this battle with a clean sweep, you’d be wrong. Like the rest of the movies stemming from the Disney Renaissance, Pocahontas is a romance-driven musical and, unfortunately, the romance does not feel as true as that of Belle and the Beast or Aladdin and Jasmine. There are a good few story sequences here and there, like Pocahontas’ conversations with Grandmother Willow and the initial meeting of our star crossed lovers, but the story is just not as cohesive or interesting as it could be.
While Anastasia does have a romantic plot, it is not the main focus of the story. The main focus in this film is Anastasia’s desire to find out about her past and her family, which becomes the main driving force of the movie. Anastasia’s desperate search for her memories is an emotional and provides a plot that keeps the viewer invested. The romance is a subplot and, while it isn’t as strong as the main story thread, it does feel more real and fluid than Pocahontas‘.
Round 3: Music & Sound
This section will probably be the shortest explanation. Pocahontas‘ songs and score are so pristine and classic that I can’t imagine any movie dethroning it. Anastasia‘s score is certainly sufficient and the movie does have some quality songs (“Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past” come to mind), but if you go into any crowded area and start singing those songs, I don’t know if the average person could sing along with you. However, if you started singing “Colors of the Wind” or “Just Around the Riverbend”, I think you would find some background singers in no time. Pocahontas‘ songs have permeated our society and are here to stay.
Round 4: Characters
In my opinion, both Anastasia and Pocahontas are solid lead characters. They both face their problems with strength and grace, so I don’t have an issue with either of them. While Anastasia’s cast of characters is actually remarkably solid, the same can’t be said with Pocahontas. Let’s start with the love interests: Dmitri and John Smith. While Dmitri is charming and debonair, John Smith is plain and boring. They both fight for their loved one but, like I have already said, I feel like the relationship between Dmitri and Anastasia is far more natural than that of their opponents. Team Dmitri all the way.
Now, both villains are quite foppish, but the difference between them is that Rasputin embraces his foppishness while Ratcliffe tries to be both serious and silly at the time. While neither of them will be winning any awards for character development, I enjoy Rasputin more than Ratcliffe. The same goes for the supporting cast. Flit and Meeko are cute characters, but they don’t add anything to the overall story and they suffer from the unfortunate ‘side-kick syndrome’: they aren’t funny. Bartok, on the other hand, is a riot. He is a legitimately funny character who actually has some influence on the plot! That’s a near miracle! Snaps for you, Bartok, snaps for you!
Round 5: Historical Accuracy
I don’t know if I will ever be able to crown a champion in this category. Pocahontas was released first, so let’s start with it. In short, this movie took a bloody history and scrubbed it clean so that it could be seen as ‘family-friendly’. In reality, the colonizers weren’t considered as friendly or benevolent as they are in the movie. While many of the Native American people were slaughtered by the English settlers and many of the colonizers died from attacks and disease, these details were conveniently skipped over in the movie version. Additionally, there was no evidence of a romantic relationship ever existing between Pocahontas and John Smith (which is good, because she was 11 and he was in his late 20s).
While Anastasia does properly depict the unfortunate incident that takes place at the beginning of the movie (where many people are killed), the reason behind this incident was completely different. In reality, Tzar Nicholas II and his entire family were killed by the Cheka, a Bolshevik secret police that were interested in overthrowing the government. In the movie, the Imperial Family are killed by… magic. While Rasputin was an unpopular figure in Russia, he did not have a hand in the deaths of the Romanov family. Lastly, while this movie was released at a time when people were unsure of the fate of Anastasia Nikolaevna, it is now known that the young duchess was indeed killed on that night.
So, why does Anastasia seem to get a pass while Pocahontas is continuously lambasted by the general populace? Well, I think the answer is simple. Pocahontas is an American movie that severely rewrites American history while Anastasia is an American movie that severely rewrites Russian history. Of course Americans are upset by their country’s history being tampered with and not quite as bothered with a different country’s history being changed. Of course, this is just my personal theory as to why these diverging opinions exist, but I feel like it does hold some merit.
As I am neither American nor Russian, neither of these history rewrites bother me to the point of no return. However, I can’t look past these significant flaws.
And the winner is….
Neither of these movies stand as the best of 90’s animated fare, but they are by no means horrible. Do I think people are too hard on Pocahontas and too forgiving of Anastasia? Yes, but, I think both of these movies are too enjoyable to skip!
What did you think of this article? Do you agree with the theories presented and the result? Would you be interested in seeing more Vs. features?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes