Disney is on a roll with its Legacy Collection titles, which started off with a roar with The Lion King last summer and continues with Pocahontas. The Legacy Collection: Pocahontas demonstrates how capable Walt Disney Records is in producing a standout release that befits the film in which it was based. The Disney animated film, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, may not be among the most popular of its contemporaries, but its music is just as stellar.
For those unacquainted, Pocahontas marked the studio’s 33rd animated feature film at a time when Disney animation was unstoppable. Though it failed to live up to the knockout smash of The Lion King, its predecessor, for what Pocahontas embodies, it teaches life lessons with grace, amusement, and awe. Alan Menken collaborated with Stephen Schwartz to produce the music, which, during its first week of release, topped the Billboard 200 charts. An incredible feat that has only been replicated by a handful of films since, including Frozen, not surprisingly. The songs’ tones vary as much as that of the picture, swinging from sea shanty to pop quite seamlessly.
The original 1995 soundtrack had around an hour’s worth of content. Here we receive more than 40 minutes more. Not bad at all. Let’s start with analyzing the songs, from the ones found in the film, to the additional demos not previously featured.
“The Virginia Company” should be any standard on any old-time vessel, as its work song style feels apropos for that method of transportation. Putting aside a few of the blatantly racist lyrics – which reflect the nature of the America-bound adventurers – it’s a catchy piece with some striking orchestration in the middle. “Steady as the Beating Drum” features a constant pulsating rhythm with some beautiful lyrics that discuss how the Native Americans tended to their land. “Just Around The Riverbend” now includes about 15 seconds of melodic orchestration prior to Judy Kuhn releasing that angelic voice. “Listen With Your Heart,” as sung by Linda Hunt and Bobbi Page, is a little piece of joy that preaches following what feels right. It has never sounded better. “Mine, Mine, Mine” also contains orchestration not earlier released, and it adds to the bravado. This is one of my favorite villain songs with a repetitive and pompous beat, complete with the incredible depth of David Ogden Stiers‘ vocals and even some solid work by Mel Gibson.
But the showstopper that everyone knows and generally loves is the Academy Award-winning “Colors of the Wind,” which still stands 20 years later as one of Disney’s best songs of the decade. Songwriters Menken and Schwartz are incredible in their craft, and the tree-hugging melody demonstrates how nobody could approach them in their quality when they operate at their best. The combination of motivating lyrics and lush orchestration is an unstoppable force, especially with Kuhn’s winning style. The song sounds great with this release, concluding with some additional instrumentation. Of course, the ’90s pop single version by Vanessa Williams is also included. It could have only been improved if there was separate instrumental track. “If I Never Knew You,” the love song later added to the DVD release, possesses sappiness, sure, but adds much flavor to the overall musical landscape of the soundtrack. The version by Gibson and Kuhn was not on the 1995 soundtrack, but both that one and the Jon Secada/Shanice track are found with this Legacy Collection release. Both pop takes on the songs feel somewhat stuck in the era in which they first debuted, but “If I Never Know You” holds up well.
Certainly the film’s most controversial song is “Savages,” which pushes out fear and war even more than the “Kill The Beast” song from Beauty and the Beast and Scar’s motivating “Be Prepared” from The Lion King. It’s one of Disney’s darkest, sitting next to The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s “Hellfire” in the category of “How did this ever get approved?” With lyrics like “let’s go kill a few men” and “barely even human,” you wonder if a song like this could be made today for a so-called “children’s film.” No matter, the tune is well-done in every way. The crisp sound effects and bass come out richly here.
The pieces concluding the second disc are nice to hear, too. “Epiphany/Savages (Part 2) [Alternate Version]” add strong instrumentation with its relentless motion. Alan Menken’s demo of “Just Around The Riverbend,” which has not been included in any previous release, has the same sound of “Steady As The Beating Drum” and an interesting spin where she reaches even closer to marrying Kocoum. Not until the latter half of the piece, more than five minutes long, does it resemble the “I want” song we all recognize. It’s weird to hear the “If I Never Knew You” demo without Gibson’s vocals, but his “stand-in,” so to speak, does just fine in taking the actor’s place. “Different Drummer,” another demo, extends the Native American sound and also Pocahontas’s contemplative personality. The demo of “First to Dance” is one I would have liked to see included in the finished product, as it contains Grandmother Willow’s nurturing nature in a longer and much more fulfilling format with tribal sounds reminiscent of The Lion King and, oddly enough, “Fixer Upper” from Frozen. “In the Middle of the River” stands out as another favorite. I previously heard this during Alan Menken’s concert at D23 Expo 2013. It’s just as wonderful, if not more so, here in its Broadway-based style.
Transitioning to the score, even more of it is found here. Whereas the original soundtrack offered just over 20 minutes (exclusive of the songs), this Legacy Collection release has about twice as much content. Among the noteworthy new inclusions are the stirring “They Meet At The River’s Edge” and “Sneaking Out,” which has just a sense of whimsy in the midst of its intensity. Needless to say, the rest of the score is one of Menken’s finest – right up there with Hunchback in my list. After all, he won his eighth Oscar for composing this score. Interestingly enough, Hunchback did not garner the same praise as Pocahontas in this regard. See Menken and Schwartz win the Academy Award in this video below from The Oscars YouTube channel.
Faithful Legacy Collection fans can expect another great set of liner notes. Surprisingly, Alan Menken does not contribute his thoughts for this one. But Dave Bossert, a well-recognized producer and creative director for Walt Disney Animation Studios, contributes a compelling narrative that spans from the film’s early development in 1990 to its eventual 1995 release. He chronicles research trips to Jamestown and how various vocal talents entered the project. Along with the liner notes and the lyrics for all of the film’s featured songs is artwork. Glen Keane’s work for the Native American legend draws interest, accompanied by the splendid production backgrounds, quite magnificent and on par with Bambi as one of Disney’s most iconic and scenic settings.
Just around Amazon, iTunes, or any other major music retailer is this knockout release from Walt Disney Records. The Legacy Collection: Pocahontas brings listeners closer to the film’s music than ever before with this majorly satisfying mix of songs, score, and demos – the liner notes and artwork are just a bonus, albeit standard with this series of titles. Show your support for The Legacy Collection by purchasing Pocahontas and hope Walt Disney Records continues this line so that we can hear “complete versions” of even more classics.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.