Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Spirit of Pocahontas

Today I have more photos from Irene and her brother Bruce, featuring a nice bit of Disneyland history - a live theatrical/musical presentation called "The Spirit of Pocahontas". This production debuted in the Fantasyland Theatre on June 23, 1995 - the same day that "Pocahontas" debuted in movie theaters. 

In this first shot, a banner over Main Street makes sure that everyone knows about this new show!

I'm not sure exactly where this tableau was; possibly near the queue entrance. A stylized waterfall is surrounded by ferns, flowers, vines, and a sculpt of one of Pocahontas' friends, "Flit" the hummingbird. I remember feeling that "Pocahontas", while beautifully made, seemed to not be the greatest fit for an animated feature - it "wanted" to be live action. Scene after scene of people talking and singing to each other. The addition of the cute sidekicks such a Flit, Percy, and Meeko, and a few fantasy elements, felt a little shoehorned in to give the movie a reason to be animated. Please post angry disagreements below!

Oh jeez, we're almost there! I hope that guy with the shades doesn't zap me with his neuralyzer. (Possible "Twin Alert" for Melissa - the two kids with pink hats to the left! Or maybe they just liked the same souvenir hat).

Since I never saw "The Spirit of Pocahontas", I had to rely on the wisdom of the Internet - specifically Werner Weiss' awesome "Yesterland" website, which you all presumably know about already - if you don't, you should. In fact, I would recommend clicking on the link in the previous sentence and reading his excellent article. Then go read all of his other articles.

Below... dancing and singing! The stage design resembles some of the background designs in the film, evoking an ancient forest in hues of blue and teal. Notice the "Grandmother Willow" tree to our right, which (at the proper time) formed a talking face to give Pocahontas wise council.

There's the lovely Pocahontas herself; it looks like Disney made a real effort to cast genuine Native Americans in this production - no guys from Sicily in makeup. Colorful pink and teal leaves appear to be falling, perhaps Pocahontas is singing "Colors of The Wind".

Obviously I didn't know the proper order in which to post these photos, but this is clearly the moment where John Smith first sees Pocahontas. Don't shoot! After reading the "Yesterland" article, I am pretty sure that the man crouching by the rocks is the storyteller Werowance - we see the tale through his point of view.

I was wondering why the Indians appeared to be wearing masks. "Yesterland" helpfully tells us that "To represent the English settlers, members of the tribe don silver ceremonial masks".

Take a bow, everybody! "The Spirit of Pocahontas" ran for over two years, a fairly long run for a theme park show devoted to an animated feature. Because I only watch things with computer generated robots and exploding spaceships, I tend to avoid the stage shows at Disneyland, but this one looks like it was pretty good.

Many thanks (as always) to Irene and Bruce!


Graffer said...

Disney always adds cute sidekicks for plushie sales.

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, you are right...that Waterfall with Flit was located near the entrance to the Fantasyland Theater. I do remember the show being pretty good....better than the movie, actually. I was just disappointed that Pocahontas' singing voice wasn't dubbed by Vanessa Williams, and that Pocahontas didn't sing "Save The Best For Last" for an encore at the end of the show.

TokyoMagic! said...

Looking at these photos again, I've noticed several things. The "40 Years of Adventures" signs (from the park's 40th anniversary) are hanging on the lampposts in that first pic. Also, if you look beyond the trees in that third pic, you can see a remnant of the old Videopolis's been painted yellow and has some cut-outs of leaves stuck on it. And looking at that last pic again, I just realized that I know the actor who is playing John Smith!

TokyoMagic! said...

And one more thing......a sign in that third pic is pointing the way to "Meeko's." That was the Videopolis snack bar, formerly known as "Yumz"!

Thank you again Irene, for sharing Bruce's pics with us!

Chuck said...

Drat! I still can't find my wife or I in any of the photos I can see (a quirk of this network sometimes prevents individual photos from coming through, so I'll have to check again when I get home). There's always a chance we were actually there that afternoon and evening - my boss would call a "fire drill" at 1500 every other Friday, then tell us "see you Monday" after we'd assemble in the parking lot. As APHs with no kids, it wasn't too difficult to figure out where we'd be headed on fire drill days in 1995.

We really enjoyed "The Spirit of Pocahontas," and I know we saw it at least three times and possibly more. The Grandmother Willow effect was well done, and I found the masks used to represent the settlers to be a really nice artistic device. I'm kicking myself that I never picked up and kept any of the leaves that occasionally floated into the audience.

Thanks again, Irene, for sharing Bruce's photos.

Patrick Devlin said...

I was perplexed at first why I had no memory of this show at all. Then I remembered: I was out-of-state until Summer of 1997.

Thanks for the update, Major, Irene and Bruce. And now another gap has been filled in.

K. Martinez said...

Always loved watching the stage shows at the Videopolis/Fantasyland Theater. "The Spirit of Pocahontas" was a good one even though I thought the animated feature was just okay. Thanks to Irene and her brother Bruce.

Major Pepperidge said...

Graffer, you aren’t kidding. Werner Weiss conjectured that the “Spirit of Pocahontas” show ran for a full two years so that they could unload all of the unsold plush toys that weren’t moving off of the shelves.

TokyoMagic!, I feel like I am missing something (as usual!); why the reference to Vanessa Williams? Was she in “The Happiest Millionaire”? Or “I Love Lucy”??

TokyoMagic! II, yes, I should have pointed out the “40 Years” signs. We’ll see more of those later. Thanks for pointing out the former Videopolis, of which I have zero memories. And I recognize the actor playing John Smith too - none other than a young Maury Amsterdam. What a talent!

TokyoMagic! III, why do I feel such a knee-jerk dislike of the name “Yumz”? Am I clinically insane?

Chuck, I actually thought of you while cleaning and adjusting some other photos from Irene and Bruce, because Bruce was there on the day of the big 40th Anniversary festivities, same as you! I’ll post those one of these days. Who knows, maybe you and your wife made it into one of his snapshots, although there aren’t a lot of crowd shots. Meanwhile, it sounds like you had a cool boss, letting you go at 3 o’clock on every other Friday. You should have picked up some of those leaves!

Patrick Devlin, I have just looked at your dossier, and find no record of you being out-of-state for two years. Please report to headquarters immediately! How do I know that you are really you?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Irene and Bruce for sharing the photos.

I vaguely recall this show, the kids weren't big on the film, but the show made a good opportunity to have a rest. The willow effect does ring a faint and far-off bell.

As a younger man, I was like the Major and avoided the stage shows for the most part. But as a parent, the shows became a good place to sit in the shade with a cold drink and zone out. The aluminum plank benches in this theater had backs too.

Now on my visits alone, any bench becomes a stage show, preferably with a mint julep. On my next trip, I'm sneaking in some bourbon to spike mine.


David Zacher said...

I DO have some of those leaves, picked up by my then 5 year old daughter! I liked the show but the seating was uncomfortable. Thanks Irene and Bruce. And the Major.


Chuck said...

[turns green with envy]

Irene said...

I did not have an AP at this time and only made it to the Park if I was lucky about once a year. Usually I was helping my daughter sell World's Finest Chocolates for her school so that we could earn a couple of free tickets! Bruce on the other hand did have a Pass for years. I think I saw this show once. I really wasn't all that keen on the movie and have very little memory of the show. I'm surprised Bruce didn't get a photo of the tree when it changed. He was all over the movie and obviously this show - loved it to pieces .... until the next movie came out and then he was all into that :)

Melissa said...

Major, Vanessa Williams recorded the radio single version of "Colors of the Wind." That song got me through a long, rough summer!

Thanks for pointing out the Pinkhat Kids! I think I'd classify them as Mostly Matching Siblings. White character tees, but with different characters; matching shoes but not matching socks. Little Rebels!

This reviewer gives Pocahontas's chorus boys two of whatever they want.

As for the movie: in retrospect, I think of it as a visual and aural feast, but not the most gripping piece of storytelling.

I'm sure I've shared my story of what an idiot I made of myself over meeting Meeko at WDW. Shoehorned in or not, I'm a sucker for the little guy. I guess I lived in the woods too long.

Progressland said...

I still have a bag of confetti from the show's final performance!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, Melissa answered the question about my odd comment. Vanessa Williams' version of "Colors of the Wind" went to #4 on the Billboard Charts. I also saw this show multiple times. There was a pictorial program for it that was sold in the Emporium. I need to get that scanned and posted. I'm not sure if Grandmother Willow's face was animatronic or a puppet, but as Chuck mentioned, it was done very well. I was also at the park on July 17th, 1995. Maybe I will spot myself in some of those pics when you post them. And while I didn't get any leaf-shaped confetti from the Pocahontas show, I did pick up some confetti that was blown out of cannons on the rooftops of Main St., during the start of the 30th birthday celebration on July 17, 1985. I wonder what that would go for on ebay....$1.25, maybe?

Chuck said...

TM!, I'll keep an eye out for you in these photos, too. Unfortunately, I have no idea what you look like unless you dressed up as a Christmas tree.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I'll have a big white "oval" over my face!

Major Pepperidge said...

K. Martinez, the only thing about my Pocahontas experience is that I got to see a preview at a theater in Burbank, and the film wasn’t completely finished. Some scenes were just story drawings. Eisner was in the audience (I sat right behind Leonard Maltin). There was a small earthquake just before the movie started, and the crowd just laughed and stayed put.

JG, maybe those stage shows are aimed at people with annual passes. Even in the more laid-back days of the mid-1990’s I wanted to fit as much into the day as possible, and a show that was 30 to 45 minutes long (just a guess) was more than I was willing to devote.

David Zacher, I probably would have considered it much to uncool to bend down and pick up the leaves, even though I would have wanted them.

Chuck, you’re like me. YOU HAVE TO LOOK COOL!

Irene, yeah, at that point I generally went once a year. Twice a year felt like a crazy luxury. In fact, one year I went for a third time, and in the back of my mind I thought, “OK, three times is pushing it”. Little did I know that someday there would be people who go every week, or perhaps even more!

Melissa, I should have known. Was Peabo Bryson otherwise engaged? My new gang will be called the Pink Hat Kids. Everyone will fear us! Hey, don’t objectify those actors. Their eyes are *up there*. As for meeting Meeko, well, at least it wasn’t Percy.

Progressland, I am trying to picture this bag. Sandwich-sized Ziploc? Or pillow case?

TokyoMagic!, I’m surprised I have never seen one of those programs, but on the other hand, maybe I have and I just didn’t pay attention. Grandmother Willow’s effect was created using the “Pepper’s other ghost” method, which involved trained ants. I hope you and Chuck both find yourselves in those additional photos!

Chuck, based on TokyoMagic’s photos, his face is a white oval. Should be easy to see!

Major Pepperidge said...

TokyoMagic!, so much for my hilarious joke - I was writing my responses, and meanwhile you posted the same joke!!

Nanook said...


I was at that same screening of Pocahontas - unless there was more than one earthquake...

TokyoMagic! said...

By the way, are not clinically insane. "Yumz" is a stupid name. Maybe it was an "eighties" thing, but I thought it was a stupid name even back then. It was probably thought up by the same people who said, "Let's tear out Captain Hook's Galley & Skull Rock" and also, "Let's build Splash Mountain just inches away from the Haunted Mansion." Geniuses! For me, the eighties is when things first started to go downhill in the park. And with Morey Amsterdam as John Smith, they really missed out on the opportunity to cast Heather O' Rourke as Pocahontas.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, maybe there were earthquakes at every test screening of Pocahontas! Somebody was trying to tell us something. Amazing to think that we were in the same room, 20+ years ago!

TokyoMagic!, maybe I was intimidated by the edgy use of a "z" instead of an "s"? So radical! I don't know where else they could have put Splash Mountain, but it really is too close to the Haunted Mansion. Oh yeah, MOREY Amsterdam. I'm confusing the spelling with Maury Povich, the world's greatest journalist. Heather O'Rourke would have been a genius move, and I would have paid admission just to see her as Pocahontas.

Irene said...

I was reading the rest of the comments and realized that Bruce went to the Park every year (just about) for its Birthday because that was his Birthday! He was born July 18th and because Disneyland opened to the public on the 18th, and it was our first visit to Disneyland in 1955 (because it was a Birthday present to Bruce), he always considered July 18th to be the BIG date! But he would cave in and celebrate on the 17th just like everyone else. Sometimes he would get a room at one of the motels across the street and make it a two day affair. So it is not surprising to me that these can be dated to July 17, 1995. I sure do wish he had written the dates on the pictures before putting them in that album!

Melissa said...

"I want to smile and sing and dance and be Pocahontas in Gary's vision."

Progressland said...

Major, large 1990s Disneyland merchandise bag.