Even if learning about the Italian or French Renaissance bored you to tears in high school, the Disney Renaissance is an era worth remembering. Ranging from 1989-1995, this is the time that the objectively best Disney Princess classics (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Pocahontas) were made. Before the days of CGI animation, each film required thousands of painstaking hours of hand-drawn animation and production. This labor lost was by no means in vain, for the result is timeless Disney masterpieces.
Besides being aesthetically pleasing and having phenomenal soundtracks, these Disney classics all contain wonderful life lessons for any young girl [or boy!] Though boys may be partial to Aladdin or The Lion King, there is no role model like a Disney princess. Pocahontas and Belle are arguably the strongest female pre-CGI Disney Princesses, characterized by their independent spirits, steadfast determination, and courage in the face of the unknown.
Before complaining with a feminist spiel about how Disney romanticized the true, tragic story of Pocahontas, relax. All of the Grimm fairy tales are extremely morbid, and Disney has thankfully transformed the blood-ridden horror stories into child-friendly versions. That’s one of the beauties of Disney movies- the ugly or dark becomes beautiful and sweet- just like the Beast’s transformation into a Prince (spoiler alert). If that means occasionally warping realities into fiction, so mote it be.
Below are several lessons from this beloved Disney classic.
1. Shun materialism. Pocahontas wisely sings to John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson): “You think you own whatever land you land on/The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim/But I know every rock and tree and creature/Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.” Even if you do not believe in animism, at least take to heart that the Earth is not just something to be claimed. John Smith and his fellow Brits come to the New World seeking gold, but instead, they find corn! The colonists were so interested in mining for gold (which they never found) that they did not even bother to learn how to grow their own food. The early settlers would have starved during the cold winter if the generous Natives had not shared the reaping from their harvest. Golden corn is much more valuable than a “precious” metal in this case! Pocahontas reminds us to shun vapid Western materialist pursuits and to instead take note and appreciate the simpler things in life, like nature. In nature, she sees the “riches all around us” and advises us to “for once, never wonder what they’re worth.”
2. Be bold. Pocahontas stands up for what she believes in by throwing herself between John Smith and the tomahawk that was heading for his skull. She saves his life because she knows he is a good man, despite belonging to the clan of the “white enemy.” Sometimes doing the right thing may ostracize you from the crowd, but if hold true to your convictions, you will reap the benefits. Standing up for what you believe in takes courage, but wouldn’t you rather raise your voice and find your true love than allow him to be mercilessly bludgeoned to death?
3. Follow the beat of your own drum. Like Robert Frost, Pocahontas chooses the road less traveled. Her fate is already decided by her father — she should marry Kocoum and lead a stable life. In a chaotic world, stability may seem safe and comfortable, but it is oft synonymous with boredom. Kocoum is so terse and serious- clearly not “the One” for the one whose name means “playful”! Could you ever see the stoic Kocoum saying something as romantic as John Smith’s, “I’d rather die tomorrow than live 100 years without knowing you?” Although Pocahontas wants to please her father, she knows that ultimately, her life is her own. She must make her own decisions and choose her path!
4. “Listen with your heart, you will understand,” Grandmother Willow tells the confused Pocahontas. When facing important decisions, be they about love or life in general, our heart and mind may find themselves in conflict. Being “logical” is not always the right path. Though we are not as fortunate as Pocahontas to have a compass literally pointing us in the right direction, we can all spare a few minutes to meditate and listen to our hearts. Usually, what we want in life is pretty simple and painstakingly obvious to everyone around us, except ourselves. Put aside the façade of rationality and logic and listen to your intuition –your heart. What your heart wants may not always be the most convenient path, but stay on it and it will be worth it.
5. Embrace change. Chief Powhatan tells his daughter that she should be steady, like the river. She profoundly reflects, “He wants me to be steady like the river, but it’s not steady at all.” Like the ever-flowing water in a river, life is all about changes. Change is the one constant in life, and to accept that is to live freely without trying to hold on to “moments.” Those resistant to change will never survive (e.g. evolution). After all, from birth until death we are ever-changing, entering and leaving different stages of life. As the years go by, experience shapes our personalities and characters. If you refuse to change, you will never grow and will have a very hard time adapting to new environments.
6. Be open to other cultures. Though John Smith is the feared “white man” and Pocahontas is one of the “savages,” the two allow themselves to fall in love. Language barriers, color, race, and age are frivolous in matters of the heart. One of the first things that Pocahontas tells John Smith is, “You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” Immersing yourself in a different culture can add countless dimensions to your existence and will make you a more empathetic and knowledgeable citizen of the world.
7. Listen to your elders. Though sometimes the elderly tend to be a bit more conservative and cynical that the modern teenager, they are often treasure troves of wise advice. Old people have been around for a while and really just want to impart their knowledge to youngsters so that we are not doomed to make their same mistakes. Experience is undoubtedly life’s greatest teacher, so lend an open ear to the elderly.