18 October 2008
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew
Tucked away, behind the staggering loss of Pleasure Island’s nightclubs, were several other closures within Walt Disney World including Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends. This show was found in Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Camp Minnie-Mickey and included appearances by Pocahontas, Grandmother Willow, and Sprig, a spirited tree sapling. The show opened and closed with Pocahontas belting out “Colors of the Wind” and spotlighted animals such as raccoons, snakes, opossums, and porcupines and their clever skills that help them to survive. The theater itself is small, but, like some of the smallest people I know, it size gave it an advantage by allowing guests, especially children, to be up close and personal to the show.
But this is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which means that while you are getting all warm and fuzzy with the animals you are also being presented with a message, as Joe Rohde said “…one of the major themes of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is this intrinsic value of nature, this idea that nature itself has a value, which is a greater value than anything else you can put on the other side of the ballast.” This theme was infused throughout the Pocahontas show, starting just as the show opens and we learned that the forest is being destroyed. Here is where are animal friends made their grand appearances, as one of the creatures that inhabits the forest has the skills needed to save the forest. And so, our quest began, with discussions of the merits of each creature as they made their way on to, and off of, the stage. Each forest friend has a remarkable talent or skill, but none of these were enough, on their own, to save the forest. As the story came to a clean and neat finish we learn that we, as people, are the creature that could save the forest from, well, other people.
This message of conservation and protection has occasionally been described as ‘thinly veiled,’ but I think that is a misrepresentation of the theme. Pocahontas’ message was not thinly veiled; it came right out and hit you, repeatedly, in your heart. Why? Because when you are trying to really make a point, as a majority of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is, you must overcome short attention spans, short memories, and the idea that it is someone else’s responsibility. How do you do that? You give a guest a close encounter with what you are trying to protect to allow them the opportunity to feel a connection. You repeat yourself over and over again. You leave a lasting impression. All of which, in a very brief show, Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends did remarkably well.
During its ten year run I don’t believe Pocahontas and her Forest Friends had a profound impact on the adults who invested the time to see the show. After all, as adults, our attention spans and short term memories are pretty well set. No, I think the target audience of this show, the ones who could really be affected by its message and make a difference, were the children who were able to get up close and personal with Pocahontas. The Grandmother Willow Theater was designed so that children, or future environmentalists, could sit right at the front of the stage; the show was designed to engage these smaller guests by the presence of real live animals; and those two elements together make a powerful combination.
Now, I don’t believe every child walked away from this show thinking that they needed to go out and save the raccoons, save the world. But, what if only one child a year became so inclined, or took an inclination they already had and transformed it into a firm belief, because of Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends? Then the environment has gained ten new allies and fighters over the past decade, and it only takes one person to make a difference. My sister grew up with a love of animals that I did not understand at the time (as children technology and the future were my loves, and I didn’t see how they could intertwine, despite the over-powering messages from The Land), and I can only imagine what she would have become if she had seen this show when she was impressionable.
The fact of the matter is, protecting wild lands and wild creatures is important, as demonstrated all throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends was only one example of this message in the park, but it was one of the most powerful and home-hitting experiences the park had. The show was often overlooked by guests, even during its finally week the show I saw was nowhere near full, but it was a unique experience worthy of the cause. I only hope the show or attraction that comes to fill Grandmother Willow’s place brings with it the same message and the same intensity of heart.
One last aside, I have seen a lot of face characters in my time, but both my wife and I believe that the show’s Pocahontas was not only the best Pocahontas we have ever seen, but the most fantastic face character we have ever seen.