The Disney executives had all the secondary animal characters, such as Meeko and Flit, lose all their dialog in order to make the film a bit more serious.
This is one of Disney animated movies inspired by a true story, the other being Mulan.
The Europeans using matchlock muskets was a nice touch. This is exactly what mariners would be using at the time, as the wheellock was too delicate and expensive and the snaphaunce (forerunner of the flintlock) was still too new and unreliable for general use (especially at sea).
"Colors of the Wind" was the first song written for the production and helped define the tone and direction of the film.
Irene Bedard (Pocahontas) and Christian Bale (Thomas) both went on to appear in Terrence Malick's live-action version of the Pocahontas story, The New World (as Pocahontas's mother and John Rolfe, respectively).
John Candy had provided a large amount of voice work into a character named "Redfeather", a turkey, and Pocahontas's sidekick. However after Candy's death in 1994, the concept was scrapped.
In their quest for authenticity, the Disney studios hired mostly Native American actors to do the voices. They also employed Native American consultants and had a session with a real shaman. Despite these efforts, prominent Native American activists issued an open letter condemning the film for its historical inaccuracies and stereotyping of the Indian people.
"Pocahontas" was put into production at the same time as The Lion King. Much of the animating talent at the studio opted to work on "Pocahontas" as they saw it as more of a prestige production than the latter film.
Pocahontas must be one of the few cartoon characters to be granted a proper "photo spread" in Harper's Bazaar. For the June 1995 edition, Gianni Versace, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Isaac Mizrahi all designed special outfits for her which were then drawn by Disney animators for the magazine.
55 animators were involved in designing the character of Pocahontas.
A song titled "If I Never Knew You" was cut after children in test audiences found it boring. At the time, it was almost fully animated, with the exception of color. The unfinished sequence was shown in ABC's 1997 airing of the film. For the 10th anniversary DVD release, the animation was completed and the song inserted back into the film, as well as a short reprise in the final scene.
The world premiere was staged at Central Park, NYC, on June 10, 1995. 70mm prints were projected on three enormous screens, and the sound was offset by twelve frames to accommodate the vast seating area.
In the very first draft of the script the character of "Grandmother Willow" was written as a male character who was the spirit of the river, the character was named "Old Man River". The song "Just Around the Riverbend" was written for this character to be sung. Gregory Peck was offered the role and as much as it pained him to do it, turned down the role because he felt the title character needed a motherly figure to turn to for advice. Soon the filmmakers agreed with him and the character was changed.
At the time, Disney cartoons traditionally featured a show-stopping musical number. Previous examples would include the "Kiss the Girl" segment from The Little Mermaid (1989), "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (1991) and "Friend Like Me" from Aladdin (1992). This proved to be problematic however with "Pocahontas" as the story didn't really lend itself to such an ornate production number. Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken penned several songs, of which the leading contender was a song called "In the Middle of the River", but it was eventually dropped when it was decided that the song simply didn't fit within the dramatic context of the story.
Many at Disney had high hopes for the movie upon initial release. Then studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg regarded it as a more prestigious project than The Lion King, and even believed that it had a chance of earning an Academy Award nomination for "Best Picture", following in the steps of Beauty and the Beast. However, the movie was less successful commercially than was hoped. Because the film dealt with more adult themes and tones, it did not appeal to younger children as much as earlier Disney hits had.
The film's premiere was a huge event in Central Park. With over 100,000 people attending, it holds the record for the largest movie premiere.
Howard Ashman was going to write lyrics for the songs of this film as soon as he finished writing lyrics for the songs in 'Aladdin', he died before he could finish the lyrics for the songs in Aladdin, so there for did not write any lyrics for any of the songs in this film.
John Pomeroy was the supervising animator for John Smith and watched a number of 'Erroll Flynn (I)' movies to get the movements of the character down pat. Once the look of Smith was finalized, 14 other animators were drafted in to make him come to life.
In the song "Savages", some lyrics where changed as they were viewed as inappropriate: (1) "What can you expect/ from filthy little heathens?/ Their whole disgusting race is like a curse!" was changed to "What can you expect/ from filthy little heathens?/ Here's what you get when the races are diverse!" (2): "Let's go kill a few, men!" was changed to "Let's go get a few men!" (3): "Dirty redskin devils, now we sound the drums of war!" was changed to "Dirty shrieking devils, now we sound the drums of war!"
Irene Bedard, who provided the voice of Pocahontas, was also the physical model for the animated character.
Animators working on the film regarded it as being one of the hardest films ever produced by the studio. The complex color schemes, angular shapes and facial expressions meant that the film was in production for 5 years. The hard work paid off, however. Pocahontas herself is now frequently cited as being one of the most beautifully and realistically animated characters in the Disney canon, her fluid movements mainly being attributed to rotoscoping.
SPOILER: In the scene where Kekata reads the smoke to find out more about the white men, he compares them to "ravaging wolves." The wolves then circle Kocoum, and Powhatan stops them with his arm. This foreshadows the end of the movie, when Thomas (a white man and "wolf") kills Kocoum, and Radcliffe attempts to kill Powhatan.