Tarzan vs. Pocahontas

Although many people think Disney animated films may be for kids, many of them are actually great examples of how to tell a story. Two older Disney animated films are “Pocahontas” and “Tarzan.” If you watch both, you’ll likely feel that “Pocahontas” is the weaker of the two films.

Superficially, both are love stories between two characters who come from vastly different backgrounds. What makes “Tarzan” superior and “Pocahontas” much weaker is the level of change in the characters. In “Tarzan,” Tarzan goes through multiple changes. First, he’s a baby who loses his parents. When he’s rescued by the gorillas, he now has to fit in with the gorillas. When he kills the leopard that killed the gorilla leader’s son, he gains respect among the gorillas so they’ll accept him as one of their own. Then when the human expedition shows up, Tarzan learns that he’s not alone and that people like him exist elsewhere.

Tarzan starts showing emotion for Jane and the villain uses that emotion to get Tarzan to reveal where the gorillas are hiding. Then Tarzan learns where he came from as a baby that his gorilla mother rescued. Notice how many emotional changes Tarzan goes through.

Now track Pocahontas’ changes. She starts off as a free spirit who talks to trees and animals. Then she meets John Smith and falls in love with him. The end.

Think the lack of emotional change in Pocahontas has a factor in making “Pocahontas” a far weaker movie?

When your hero is basically the same person in the beginning as in the end, there’s no story despite any action that takes place. Pocahontas’ big dilemma is finding her path so she chooses her own. No surprises, no confusion, no dilemma, no excitement. That all contributes to making “Pocahontas” a much weaker story despite its best intentions. “Pocahontas” is more like a documentary while “Tarzan” is more like a story.

Watch both movies back to back and you’ll see the vast difference. “Pocahontas” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a good one either. “Tarzan” is far superior because the emotional aspect between Tarzan’s realization of his life and his love for Jane is far more emotionally engaging. On the other hand, Pocahontas lacks any emotional challenge and her love for John Smith is rather dull and short.

Disney animated movies are great examples of how to tell a story right (and wrong). Best of all, they’re relatively short (1.5 hours or less) so you can watch and study them easily.

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