Disney Songwriters Can’t Agree If ‘Pocahontas’ Is Relevant or Offensive

Pocahontas was a hit movie in 1995, however, the world was very different in the 1990s. One of the legends behind many Disney songs from the 1990s feels the movie is more relevant than ever for a very specific reason. On the other hand, another Disney songwriter feels a remake of the film would offend people.

A Disney castle with fireworks
Cinderella’s Castle | Todd Anderson/Disney Parks via Getty Images

One of the songwriters behind Disney’s ‘Pocahontas’ gave us Broadway classics

Firstly, a little background. Pocahontas is a heavily fictionalized story about the settling of Jamestown. More people are sensitive towards issues of colonialism and Native American history than they were in 1995.

Stephen Schwartz is a composer known for creating Broadway musicals like Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked, as well as composing music for animated films like The Prince of Egypt and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. He co-wrote Pocahontas’ music, including its signature number, “Colors of the Wind.”

A trailer for Pocahontas

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Why Stephen Schwartz thinks ‘Pocahontas’ still matters

When Schwartz had the opportunity to work on Pocahontas, he realized the film revolved around sensitive topics. “But the worst that could happen is they’d see what I came up with and I’ll get fired,” he told Grammys.com. He drew inspiration from the words of Native American historical figure Chief Seattle while writing “Colors of the Wind.” The song became a hit, with Vanessa Williams’ cover reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Schwartz feels the film has aged well in regard to its environmental message, most famously expressed in the film’s power ballad “Colors of the Wind.” “I feel strongly that we would all be a lot better off if we were more conscious of how we are treating our earth and that we have a responsibility to the humans that follow us to leave them a habitable planet,” Schwartz said. “Climate change was not something that was as in the forefront in 1992, when we first wrote ‘Colors of the Wind,’ and 1995 when the film was released. But today, as we see the dire consequence of our failing to take care of our planet, the messages of the film have become more urgent and more necessary.”

“Colors of the Wind”

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Another Disney songwriter weighs in on how the movie aged

So is Pocahontas relevant today? Alan Menken has a different take on the matter. Menken perhaps contributed more to Disney music than anyone else. He worked on the music of 1980s and 1990s Disney films like AladdinThe Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, HerculesThe Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and Pocahontas as well as more recent Disney films like Enchanted and Tangled.

With the trend of Disney live-action remakes going strong, a Pocahontas remake could prove lucrative. However, one of the minds behind the film thinks remaking Pocahontas could be tricky. Discussing remakes with Digital Spy, he said “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do Pocahontas. I think that story is going to be difficult. With modern sensibilities, it’d be hard – you’re going to offend somebody – so I don’t know.”