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Remembering Pocahontas

On September 27, 2008, the strains of Colors of the Wind were heard for the last time in Camp Minnie-Mickey. "Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends," an original Animal Kingdom attraction, had been cancelled after a ten-year run at Grandmother Willow's Grove. In this column we take a look back at the show.

The show, for those who never saw it, featured Pocahontas and Grandmother Willow from the Disney movie Pocahontas, and introduced a new character, a cutesy sapling named Sprig. The show opened with Pocahontas singing her signature song and discussing her love of the forest with the audience. As she talks about the sounds of the forest, she is interrupted by the sounds of logging, sending her scurrying to Grandmother Willow for advice. Sprig awakes and makes brave talk. The wizened old tree reminds Pocahontas of the Prophecy of the Forest, that there is one animal that can be protector of the forest. Of course, they need to figure it out for themselves.

With this loose backstory behind, the script continues with a series of animal appearances. The show was essentially a four-legged Flights of Wonder (and sometimes no-legged, as Pocahontas brought a snake out towards the end of the show). Each animal has a gift and a lesson, but none are the true protector of the forest. Finally, Pocahontas and Sprig realize that the protector of the forest is the same creature that is destroying the forest (who would have guessed?), and ask the audience to help their forest friends by being active in conservation efforts. The finale included a Colors of the Wind reprise, and Pocahontas releasing an armful of colored cloth leaves into a fan, showering the kids' benches in the front with the colors of the wind.

Once a day, the show would be replaced by a purely educational demonstration of how the animals were trained to perform. Pocahontas was still around, but the animal trainers took center stage to describe how incremental adjustments were used to get rodents to scurry along an eight-foot log without stopping to eat a trail of snacks.

We'll be honest: this was a tough show for grown-ups to enjoy. The benches in the theater were hard with no backrests, and the negligible shade meant that you were likely going to be sunburned and sweaty by the time it was over. The message of environmental responsibility was a bit heavy handed at times, and the inclusion of Sprig was too formulaic to reflect well on show's writers.

However, if there is one thing we've learned from Walt Disney World, it's that parents can enjoy their children's enjoyment even if the attraction itself doesn't thrill them. Our kids loved the show less and less as they got older, but we still went to see it at least every other trip. The animal training session was very informative and, in some ways, better that the show itself, since it didn't get preachy in any way. And as for Pocahontas, she clearly outworked all the other Princesses by doing this show - she had to sing and run around, all the while carrying most of the dialogue of the 15-minute show.

In the end, perhaps it is nostalgia, but we will miss Pocahontas, and hope that Disney will replace her with another show that helps a new generation understand the Animal Kingdom's message of conservation.

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