Like so many desperate men throughout history, Governor Ratcliffe has been completely consumed by the dream of gold. His obsession with riches and the power they bring has made him utterly selfish, vulgar, and violent. His monomania fits well with his xenophobia (go find a dictionary).
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, see Xenophobia) 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 claims the land in the name of King James and calls it Jamestown.
After Smith leaves to search for the Indians, Ratcliffe orders the men to build a fort and clear the ship while he has the rest of the men dig for gold. 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's noted several times that they have no gold or any real use for it, Ratcliffe refuses to believe it). He wages war against the Powhatans, but to assure the men's loyalty he states it's to rescue Smith. After the two sides march their way to one and other, they are stopped abruptly by Pocahontas who tells everyone that they were led onto the path of hatred. Ratcliffe is not moved and tries to gain the upper hand, ordering his men to fire on the Indians. However, his men refuse, having watched Pocahontas and John together and realizing the Indians don't actually want to fight. Ratcliffe furiously tries to start the war by firing a shot at Chief Powhatan, but Smith takes the bullet causing Thomas and the other men to turn on Ratcliffe. They bind and gag Ratcliffe and load him into a boat back to England, finally seeing that John was right about the Powhatans being good all along.
Ratcliffe returns in Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World and 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's court 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 a savage. But Ratcliffe, knowing her instincts to care for animals, gets a circus performer to perform a Bear Baiting in front of Pocahontas and the king's court to make Pocahontas intervene and 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, partly for personal revenge and partly because he is still convinced the Powhatans are rich in gold.
After Pocahontas and John Rolfe discover and present that fact that Smith is alive in front of the king's court, it proves to the king that Ratcliffe has lied to him 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's life. 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 the ships swinging yardarm by his cape, Smith then cuts the rope holding Ratcliffe who falls into the sea. Ratcliffe swam to shore and attempts to lie once more to the king, but the king finally knows the truth, shouts "No more lies!" and orders him arrested. (it is unknown if he is hanged or not).
Like all Disney villains, Ratcliffe is incredibly power hungry. He is unbelievably greedy, as evidenced by his insatiable craving for gold. He is also highly xenophobic even for the period in which he lives, ruthless and incredibly manipulative. While he exudes great confidence and gives the impression of being rather vain, Ratcliffe in fact seems to take a rather dim view of himself, admitting in a rather sad tone of voice that he has never been a popular man. This, in addition to the fact that his fellow members of the court consider him a "pathetic social climber" make him quite a sympathetic character. His mission to colonize the Native-Americans is his last chance to make a name for himself and gain the position at court he has always longed for. Ratcliffe's lack of self-esteem stands in contrast to the egomania of most Disney villains, making him somewhat unique. Despite his self confessed lack of popularity, Ratcliffe seems quite charismatic and commands the respect of his troops, albeit with the use of lies and deceit.
His Henchmen was originally Ratcliffe's Henchmen. He appears spoiled and seems to have an irritable personality, especially in the first film. spend most of the first film fighting, usually over food with Indian Man always coming out on top, only to apparently become friends by the film's end. His Henchmen leaves Ratcliffe at this point and remains with Pocahontas and her people. Ratcliffe never reacts to the His Henchmen isn't with him anymore in Pocahontas II. His Henchmen, on the other hand, seems to have had a change of heart and does not want to go back to Ratcliffe, at one point cowering underneath a carriage in Ratcliffe's presence.
Wiggins, also voiced by David Ogden Stiers, is Ratcliffe's manservant. In sharp contrast to his villainous master, Wiggins is light-hearted, timid and very playful (in one scene, he is seen cutting topiary from Virginian shrubs). Although he could in no way be considered an "evil" character, he nonetheless appears to be very loyal to his master and Ratcliffe, though constantly annoyed by his shenanigans, seems to trust him implicitly. At the first film's end, he expresses regret at seeing Ratcliffe for the greedy monster he truly is, and even sobs. He only appears in Pocahontas.
Ratcliffe took part in a couple of Pocahontas songs during the two films.
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
- He is animated by Duncan Majorbanks.
- Ratcliffe and Captain Hook both are greedy for money and hate Native Americans.
- As Ratcliffe first appears, he is seen boarding the Virginia Company in a dignified yet snobbish manner. In the foreground, a rat can be seen boarding the ship in the exact same manner (thereby pronouncing the 'rat' in 'Ratcliffe').
- He is the third 'John' in the Pocahontas series. Due to this fact, his first name was never mentioned.
- Ratcliffe and Pocahontas don't interact with each other until the end of the first film.
- In the final scenes of both films, Ratcliffe is wearing his black armor.
- The Governor Ratcliffe action figure doesn't come with the hat or cape.
- He appears in Disneyworld as a meetable character.
- In Pocahontas, Ratcliffe was voiced by David Ogden Stiers. He reprised the role in Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. Ratcliffe's manservant, Wiggins, did not appear in the sequel.
- Ratcliffe wasn't among the antagonists in "Mickey's House of Villains"
- He symbolizes the deadly sin of Greed due to his obvious and insatiable craving for gold.
- In the DVD commentary Eric Goldberg says that he has a huge barrel chest belly to make him quite formidable then a comic character.
- Unlike most of the other Disney animated villains, Ratcliffe is based on an actual historical figure, with the other being Prince John. The real Ratcliffe was generous with the Native Americans in Virginia. They tortured him to death when he was planning to trade with them in 1609. He did not live to see Pocahontas be married to John Rolfe.
- Ironically he shares his voice with Wiggins and coincidentally both character say the line: "And he came so highly recommended."