Pocahontas never has a bad hair day. Her sleek raven mane, a character unto itself, cascades down her back like a bolt of gleaming silk, whips in the wind and always looks fabulous. And as good as her hair is, the movie is even better.

Disney's 33rd full-length animated film, Pocahontas, demonstrates again just how well the folks at the House that Walt Built can combine engaging stories, top-notch animation and Broadway-worthy songs into a terrifically pleasing package.

This latest entry, based more on the legend than the facts of Pocahontas's life, has the spunky, independent-minded daughter of an Indian chief befriending English settler John Smith (which she did) and saving his life (a suspect story) and the two of them falling in love (suspect again: Pocahontas was about 14 when the 29-year-old Smith left Jamestown, and there is no historical evidence of a romance between the two). The film's messages, delivered none too subtly, are that we should all get along (it's a small world, after all); the white man could learn much by adopting the Native American's respect for the land; and, as the wise talking willow tree counsels Pocahontas, "Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one."

In Pocahontas, one is particularly impressed by the nuanced facial expressiveness of Pocahontas and Smith. Their animators have provided them with more looks than seen in many human actors (Steven Seagal, are you paying attention?). Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's seven songs are another big plus; one wishes there were more. As always, there is plenty of humor, even for adults, much of it supplied by the antics of Meeko, Pocahontas's pet raccoon, and Percy, a spoiled pug belonging to Governor Ratcliffe, the avaricious English expedition leader who is desperate to find gold. Judy Kuhn supplies Pocahontas's lovely singing voice, and Irene Bedard provides her spirited speaking voice, while Mel Gibson brings an ingratiating bravado to Smith and warbles manfully through two songs.

So, er, who wants to be the one to tell the kids that the real Pocahontas married a white settler other than Smith and died of smallpox at 21 in England? (G)

Parker Posey

Posey, a young doyenne of Manhattan's downtown scene, lands in jail when the cops turn up at her rent party and arrest her for running a club without a permit. To prove her responsibility to her librarian godmother, who pays her bail, she goes to work as a library clerk, a job she describes, in her typically enervated drawl, as "Cell Block H meets the 4-H club." But gradually she grows to love the Dewey Decimal system, to savor the inner hum of contentment borne of gazing upon a shelf of correctly ordered books.

The idea here is appealing. If first-time feature director Daisy von Scherler Mayer's budget had allowed for a more authentic take on New York City nightlife—the club scenes are dingy, cramped and seriously underpopulated—Party Girl might have been & Desperately Seeking Susan for the Nineties. It feels more like That Girl. The movie is of interest mainly as a vehicle for the sullen, self-absorbed Posey (Dazed and Confused). The 26-year-old actress looks strikingly like a very young Katharine Hepburn, but with a backbone as soft as linguine. (R)

Michael Boatman, Lori Petty

His brain brimming with comic book-inspired visions of crusading cops and the ink on his police academy diploma barely dry, a middle-class black man (Boatman) proudly joins the Los Angeles County sheriffs department. His career choice puzzles his family and community, who, routinely harassed and abused by the police, can't understand why he wants to wear a badge. Meanwhile, down at the station house, his fellow officers, all of whom are white, show him little trust, respect or camaraderie.

The Glass Shield is a character study as police thriller. The movie lacks the originality of director-screenwriter Charles Burnett's riveting family drama To Sleep with Anger (1990), but its central story, that of a man who after discovering a conspiracy must decide between being true to himself or true to his fellow cops, is compelling. Although there are stretches when Shield resembles an excessively earnest TV movie and the corrupt, white cops lay on the evil a trifle thick, the film gains power as it goes along.

Boatman, a China Beach veteran who has the guileless look of a choirboy, ably conveys his character's inner turmoil, and a nearly crew-cut Petty, playing the sole woman officer at the station and his only friend on the force, looks bizarre but lends able support. And here's a refreshing change: there aren't any obscenities in the script. (PG-13)

Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Forest Whitaker

Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) got the idea for this shaggy-doggish tale after he read a Christmas article that novelist Paul Auster wrote for The New York Times in 1990. Auster's newspaper piece, a sentimental yet poker-faced anecdote about how a Brooklyn cigar-store worker inadvertently brings holiday cheer to an old blind woman, has been revised and refashioned by Auster (as screenwriter) into a monologue for Keitel, who plays the smoke-shop manager.

Keitel's long speech, which concludes Smoke, may or may not explain everything that precedes it. Beats me. He floats in and out of the movie's verrrrrrry loosely constructed narrative, which includes Channing as his ex-girlfriend, Hurt as a novelist and Whitaker as a struggling garage owner. The characters link up and interact like a Manhattan Project for lost souls, but the movie just drifts and drifts and drifts.

One gets depressed having to watch such an impressive cast milling around, unable to connect with the limp material. Whitaker, with his inchoate rage, is probably the best of the lot. Channing, her hair peroxided and an eye patch over her left eye, at least seems game. The question is for what.

When shooting on Smoke was completed last spring, Wang and Keitel improvised a second movie, something called Blue in the Face (due out in the fall). Shot in a mere five days, it features appearances by Lily Tomlin, Madonna and Michael J. Fox. Can't wait, (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto.