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Governor John Ratcliffe, or better known as Governor Ratcliffe, John Ratcliffe, or Ratcliffe, is the main antagonist of Disney's 33rd full-length animated feature film Pocahontas (which is based on the life and legend of the Native American woman of the same name), and its 1998 direct-to-video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.
He is very loosely based on the historical figure John Ratcliffe, though he really takes on the qualities of many of history's ambitious and morally dubious pioneers as well as the usual traits of a Disney villain (such as a love of power, arrogance, and a flair for the dramatic).
Ratcliffe leads an expedition to Virginia to find gold and other riches (which he wants to keep for himself). He fails to tell any of the other crew of his real reason of going to Virginia and recites the "Adventure of our lives" and "Freedom" speech to cover it. When they see land, Ratcliffe meets with John Smith, whom the crew admire, about his plan on dealing with the "savages" and "filthy heathens" (what he calls the Native Americans) and Smith assures his success and the meetings through. Ratcliffe arrives on the Shore of Virginia shortly after Smith and Thomas, a new recruit, then takes some land in the name of King James and calls it Jamestown.
After Smith leaves to search for the Indians, Ratcliffe orders men to build a fort and clear the ship while he has the rest of the men dig for gold everywhere. When he sees John Smith running off somewhere, he sends Thomas to follow him, hoping the "poor excuse for a soldier" will be of some use. He overhears the men talking about Smith's capture and realizes he could steal the Powhatan's gold once they are through with them (though it is noted earlier by Smith that they have no gold, Ratcliffe refuses to believe it). He wages war against the Powhatans, but to assure the men's back up he states that it is to rescue Smith. After the two sides march their way to one and other, they are stopped abruptly by the film's heroine Pocahontas who tells everyone that they were led onto the path of hatred.
Though Chief Powhatan and the Powhatans are touched by Pocahontas' speech, Ratcliffe is unmoved and orders his men to fire at the Indians. Eventually, they refused to do so, as they no longer see any reason to fight the Indians just because they have different societies, just as Smith told them before. Ratcliffe then tries to gain the upper hand by firing a shot at Chief Powhatan, but Smith takes the bullet but not fatally. Finally seeing Ratcliffe for the corrupt, greedy monster he truly was, Thomas and the other men turned on Ratcliffe, and drag him away tied up and gagged. Ratcliffe is then roughly loaded into a boat back to England to await punishment for his crimes, despite his muffled protests that he will swear vengeance against his crew. As Ratcliffe was sent on a rowboat that was heading back to the ship, his servant Wiggins weeps for him as he mentioned how Ratcliffe was highly recommended for the expedition.
Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World
Ratcliffe returns in the second movie and his personality changes from mere greed to pure menace. He allows Smith to "fall to his death" after Smith tries to escape the English soldiers (he has been framed by Ratcliffe as a traitor). Working with King James, he learns of Pocahontas' visit to court to speak with the king (he and the king were expecting the chief, but ultimately let that fact pass) and invites her to the ball to prove she is not too savage. However, knowing her savage instinct, he gets circus performers to bear bait in front of Pocahontas and the king's court in order to make Pocahontas act savage and be punished by the king to get her out of the way. He plans to lead England's Armada to attack the Powhatans.
After Pocahontas and John Rolfe discover and put forth that Smith's alive in front of the king's court, it proves to the king Ratcliffe has lied from the start. Ratcliffe's army was just getting ready to set sail when Ratcliffe orders a rush anchor release after realizing he is being targeted. After the ships have crashed (thanks to Pocahontas, Rolfe, and Smith), Ratcliffe attempts to end Pocahontas' life in revenge. When Smith gets in the way, he attempts to do away with him in execution style after their sword fight turned stalemate. Rolfe comes in from behind and "hangs" Ratcliffe on a boat post, Smith then cuts the rope holding Ratcliffe and the latter falls into the sea. Ratcliffe swam to the shore decks where the angry King and his guards are waiting for him.
Exposed, Ratcliffe attempts to lie once more to the King about the heroes sabotaging the armada, but the King, having enough of this and learned the truth, warns him to never speak any more lies again, quoting "No more lies". The King then orders his guards to arrest Ratcliffe (it is unknown if he is hanged or not, though the former choice is more likely to happen, since Ratcliffe is certain on committing high treason). With Ratcliffe defeated, King James grants Pocahontas and her people with peace, hires Rolfe as his new lord advisor (though Rolfe declines it to be with Pocahontas for the rest of her life), and Smith with a new ship for himself to travel around the world.
House of Mouse
Ratcliffe is a minor guest character in the House of Mouse, He also appears in Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse.
Like most Disney villains, Ratcliffe is very power-hungry and autocratic. He is unbelievably greedy, avaricious and materialistic, as evidenced by his insatiable craving for gold, which would make him a very wealthy and extravagant man. He is also highly xenophobic (even for the period in which he lives), ruthless, cruel, pompous, and incredibly manipulative. While he exudes great confidence and gives the impression of being rather vain, Ratcliffe actually seems to take a rather dim view of himself, admitting in a sad voice that he has never been a popular man.
In addition to the fact that his peers at court consider him a "pathetic social climber", this makes him a somewhat thoughtful and sympathetic character in spite of his villainous and hateful nature. His mission to colonize the Americas is his last chance to make a name for himself. Despite his self-confessed lack of popularity, Ratcliffe seems to be quite persuasive, charismatic, authoritative and glamorous, as he commands the respect of his troops until the end of the film.
Another thing that distances Ratcliffe from most Disney villains is that he actually believes that he is a good person and refuses to find fault in himself. He believes what he does to be in the name of the crown and even goes as far to call John Smith a liar, sees the land he found as his own, believes what Pocahontas told Smith to be lies and even calls his own men traitors at the end. He also believes himself to be truly powerful and influential, as he threatens his men that he will have them hanged or executed when they turn on him at the end of the film.
Unlike most Disney villains, Ratcliffe is calm, collected and harmonious for most of the two films. For example when John Smith tells him that there is no gold in Virgina, Ratcliffe (rather than lose his temper) insists in a stubborn voice that is a "lie" and will hang anyone who refuses to shoot an Indian. However, he does get flustered at times but is easily calmed.
Ratcliffe is also shown to be extremely snide, sarcastic and contemptuous, as he "praises" John Smith for saving Thomas, which implies that he actually did not care whether Thomas had drowned or not. In the second film, he flirts with Pocohontas at the ball and mocks John's death in a very sarcastic voice. Ratcliffe is also somewhat lazy, indolent, parsimonious, self-indulgent and acquisitive, as he simply slouches off eating rich food while the settlers do all of the manual labor digging for gold and survive on stale and unappetizing supplies.
Ratcliffe is an obese adult man with long black hair tied up into short pigtails with red ribbons, thick black eyebrows, green eyes, and notable lavender eyelids. He is most often seen in a lavender long-sleeved shirt with a long V-cut neckline underneath a magenta coat with a lavender collar and cuffs, black linings on the chest and waistline, and a magenta colonial hat with a turquoise feather on its black band, and a blue medallion resting around his neck to top his sophisticated look off. He also wears magenta keen-length pants, lavender calf-high socks, black colonial boots, and a red cape with a black satin lining. In his imagination at the King's ball, he wears a golden yellow version of his uniform with a red medallion.
- Ratcliffe is regarded as one of Disney's the least popular villains, but he is one of the only Disney animated villains to be loosely based on an actual historical person, the other being Prince John from Robin Hood. The rest of Disney's animated villains are indeed fictional.
- In real life, Ratcliffe was extremely appreciative and generous with the colony's Native Americans. They tortured him to death when he was planning to trade with them in December 20, 1609. He did not live to see Pocahontas be married to John Rolfe.
- The supervisor of Captain John Smith's ship on the journey to America in 1607 was Christopher Newport, not Ratcliffe.
- He is ranked #29 in the Top 30 Disney Villains.
- His first name "John" is never mentioned in the first or second animated film.
- However, John Smith's first name is mentioned in the first film.
- He is the second villain in the "Disney Princess" film to not die, the first being Lady Tremaine and the third being Prince Hans. Ratcliffe did not die in the sequel either, though it is possible due to him being likely sentenced to death and killed off-screen.
- He is one of the few Disney villains to return for the sequel, along with Jafar and Cruella De Vil.
- He is the second Disney villain to have two completely different songs in the same film the first one is Gaston.
- In a few frames of the film while Ratcliffe is angry, his eyes turn red.
- Of Ratcliffe's songs in the two movies, Mine, Mine, Mine is about his greed, Savages is about his racism, and Things Are Not What They Appear are about his manipulation, hence his personality change.
- Richard White, Brian Cox, Rupert Everett, Stephen Fry, and Patrick Stewart were all considered for the role of Ratcliffe. However, the producers realized that the viewers would hear his voice and think of Gaston LeGume in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the late David Ogden Stiers was cast as the voice of Ratcliffe instead.
- Ratcliffe's supervising animator is Duncan Marjoribanks.