To celebrate Thanksgiving, this Masterpiece Monday I’m featuring a piece of concept art from Pocahontas. This piece features an earlier, younger version of Pocahontas, but more interestingly also shows her petting her long-lost turkey sidekick, Redfeather. In the spirit of Thanksgiving it is Redfeather that I’m going to focus on today, and the story of how Disney almost created a lovable talking turkey character.
The original plan for Pocahontas was for her to have three animal sidekicks, a raccoon, a hummingbird, and a turkey. All three animal sidekicks and Percy, the dog belonging to Governor Ratcliffe, were initially going to be able to talk. Redfeather the turkey was going to be Pocahontas’s bumbling and rather stupid sidekick who was always getting himself into trouble and even ocasionally falling into hunter’s traps (if you’ve seen Moana imagine Heihei with a voice). At some point during the production it was decided that three sidekicks were too much and took the attention away from Pocahontas, so they got rid of Meeko and minimized Flit’s role to a non-speaking part. Redfeather became Pocahontas’s main companion and the go-to character for comic relief.
Many people don’t actually realize just how close Redfeather came to getting into the final film. Well, he got far enough to have final model sheets made up in 1993. The studio even had a voice actor cast for the role, John Candy, who had recorded a good portion of his lines before the character was cut. There was even some test animation done of Redfeather, in which he talks to Percy who, with the exception of his voice, looks exactly as he does in the final film ( you can watch it here). We were actually very close to having Pocahontas spend the film talking to a turkey.
What happened to Redfeather? Well, after a while the directors felt a talking turkey was too comedic for the rather serious love story the film was turning into. So he was cut from the film and replaced by a more subdued and speechless raccoon named Meeko. All of the instances of animals talking in the film were taken out, to prevent them from interfering with the serious drama going on with the human characters. With that, Redfeather lost his starring role in Pocahontas and became a part of history, and maybe a part of an animator’s Thanksgiving dinner.