If you’ve ever had a conversation with anyone about Disney, the topic will more than likely be drawn to animation or Marvel. Seeing as Disney has always excelled at animation, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Marvel is such a hot property that every Marvel film breaks opening weekend box office norms with each release. Now Disney’s live-action film presence has taken center-stage which has recently blossomed with the release of The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.
Live-action films of the Disney variety haven’t always been remakes of their famous animations. Starting with the highly controversial Song of the South, Disney’s live-action presence burgeoned. It fully solidified with their breakout star Hayley Mills in 1960s film Pollyanna. Mills went on to star in five Disney films spread over the sixties. Some of them became hits. Others weren’t so well received.
One thing was for sure, Pollyanna left a lasting impression on audiences. The film spawned multiple tie-in merchandises like dolls, books, and a locket that featured a famous line from the 1913 novel by Eleanor Porter. (It was mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln.)
Pollyanna tells the story of a little girl who’s been orphaned by the death of her parents, who were missionaries in the British West Indies. She’s sent to the fictional town of Harrington, a grumpy, unloving town ran less by the mayor and more by Pollyanna’s aunt Polly Harrington (Jane Wyman). Polly has her fingers in the church, the orphanage, and other things. This includes the vice grip control she has on the workers in her home. Pollyanna defies all these strict rules and spreads joy and gladness throughout the town, changing thoughts and turning Harrington into a “glad town” by the end of the movie.
Jerry Griswold wrote in the New York Times that “an attempt was made to resuscitate Pollyanna in 1960 when Walt Disney released a movie based on the book. Time, Newsweek and other major reviewers agreed that such an enterprise promised to be a disaster – a tearjerker of a story presented by the master of schmaltz; what surprised the critics (their opinions were unanimous) was that it was his best live-action film ever.” While that might not be the case now, classic films are often less well received than recent films, there’s no doubt that Pollyanna deserves a second look, especially considered that it is often over-looked for other older fares like the Herbie films and films like Pete’s Dragon.”
Pollyanna is on the longer side of Disney films but that doesn’t mean it is boring. It’s most definitely a geared toward young girls, but if you’re ever in need of a classic, melodrama with heart and the reminder that all you need is happiness, this is the absolute best film to go to. It’ll make you tear up. It makes me tear up every time I see it. Despite that, it really is a happy film. Mills infuses it with an effervescence that makes the film bubbly and hard to turn away from. Mills won the last Juvenile Academy Award for her performance and was nominated for a BAFTA. It’s surprising that she never received another BAFTA nod.
In a film full of great performances, two others that stood out next to Mills’ was from Wyman as Polly Harrington and Karl Malden as Reverend Ford. Malden, especially, was a fantastic character actor. As Reverend Ford, he brought a fierce levity to the film until Pollyanna teaches him that “no one should own a church”. The emotional nuance that Malden brings to the role is something I’ve not seen very easily replicated before and I might not see it again. Wyman’s Harrington is captivating and intense. For the longest time, it was the only role I’d ever seen from her. She delivers her all and really inhabits Polly’s cold yet emotional demeanor.
Pollyanna deserves another look. If you’ve seen the film before, then go ahead and break it back out. Times like these, you need to bring some gladness into your life. If you’ve never seen the film before, it’s worth the watch. Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, many won’t like it because of that. If you’re a classic movie lover, then you owe it to yourself to check the film out.
Shelby started writing at the age of 13 and has been hooked ever since. She's currently going to school at ATU for Creative Writing and English with a minor in Film Studies. She hopes to one day be a professor of film, a film critic, and a screenwriter. (Can you tell she likes the movies?)
She hopes to walk the red carpet one day. She contributes a long list of friends, co-workers, professors, and writers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.
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