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Pocahontas, Re-Revisited

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After voicing the role of the plucky, brave Native American heroine in “Pocahontas,” the 1995 Disney animated hit, Indian actress Irene Bedard received numerous letters from children expressing their love for her character.

“I think kids in general just understand the basic meaning of things,” says the Alaskan-born Bedard. "[The children] said, ‘She stopped this war. How cool. What a hero she is. I want to be like her.’

“It’s really beautiful that this movie inspired kids to learn about Native Americans, as well as what Pocahontas went through in Jamestown and what occurred afterward.”

Bedard is back as the speaking voice of Pocahontas--Judy Kuhn supplies her singing voice--in Disney’s made-for-video sequel “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” ($27), which arrives Tuesday in video stores.

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The story picks up where the original left off--Pocahontas travels to England to meet the king and queen hoping to convince them to keep peace between the Old World and the new. She’s escorted by a dashing British diplomat, John Rolfe (Billy Zane), and her comedic animal buddies Meeko, Percy and Flit.

Also returning for this voyage is the evil Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers. Mel Gibson, though, isn’t back as the heroic John Smith--his voice is now supplied by his younger brother, Donal. Jean Stapleton is also on hand as Rolfe’s nearsighted housekeeper Mrs. Jenkins.

Larry Grossman and Marty Panzer wrote the five new songs, and Lennie Niehaus provided the musical underscore.

“Pocahontas II,’ says Bradley Raymond, who directed the film with Tom Ellery, is more of a continuation than a sequel. “The feature really told the first half of her life with John Smith and when John Smith left America. In this one, she goes to London. It’s a continuation of her life, and it’s also the classic fish-out-of-water story.”

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Raymond says it was very important to keep Pocahontas’ character consistent with the feature. “She was the person who was keeping the two worlds at peace. It was her who was balancing the two worlds.”

“Pocahontas II” was two years in the making at animation studios in Japan, Toronto and the United States. Trying to re-create the magic of a hit film, says Ellery, was more of a challenge than “a daunting task. We had great animation studios working for us, and we got really lucky with our art director and production designer and the character designers.”

Although he sounds like--and is a a dead ringer for--his brother, Donal Gibson had to audition for the role of Smith.

“After I did the audition, I thought to myself, ‘What if I don’t get it?,’ ” says Gibson, who appeared as a warrior in his brother’s Oscar-winning “Braveheart.” “I figured I was the right choice. I think Mel was way too tired after ‘Braveheart’ [to do the voice].”

Gibson found bringing Smith to life “kind of relaxing because you don’t have to worry about what you look like. You don’t have to pluck your eyebrows. As long as you are getting the right emotional range, it’s fine.”

Bedard says she feels like a kid again when she does a project like “Pocahontas II.” “I really enjoy getting into a room and just playing and imagining. That brings me back to my childhood in many ways.”

Children, says Bedard, always ask her what happened to Pocahontas. “This sort of answers some of that,” she says. “The fact was she was touted as being extremely beautiful and being a presence when she met the king and queen. There is a historical rumor that she might have met Shakespeare. It’s just a wonderful story for kids.”


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