As depicted in Disney’s newest animated blockbuster, Captain John Smith and the stalwarts of the Virginia Company were certain that the new world offered gold one could simply pluck off a tree. They were misinformed. Disney, on the other hand, has located the mother lode with the score for Pocahontas.
Composer Alan Menken has a more demanding task here than in earlier works like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, which had far fewer stretches of background music. With its wide-open-spaces feel, the score at its best (“Picking Corn” and “Getting Acquainted”) is reminiscent of Aaron Copland. For the movie’s eight songs, Menken teams with Stephen Schwartz, best known for his work on and Off-Broadway (Pippin and God-spell). Their felicitous teaming nets the vigorous sea-chanteyish “The Virginia Company,” the haunting “Steady as the Beating Drum” and “Listen with Your Heart,” and, as delivered by the fine Judy Kuhn (the singing voice of Pocahontas), the soaring “Just Around the Riverbend.”
But the folks at Disney, in an annoyingly calculated attempt to turn Vanessa Williams‘s end-title rendering of “Colors of the Wind” into a “Big Breakout Ballad/Academy Award Contender,” have miscalculated. The song (performed effectively within the body of the film by Kuhn) is a distillation of wholesome Native American values, and it’s not well served by the former Miss America’s pop diva turn. Indeed, her overblown interpretation seems directly at odds with the song’s message. Stay tuned to Kuhn. (Walt Disney)