Walt Disney took a big chance when he decided to bring Eleanor H. Porter's novel "Pollyanna" to the screen. Even in 1960, "Pollyanna" was a common term for a goody-two-shoes, someone whose overly optimistic outlook on life makes you want to pull the wings off a fly. In taking a risk on Pollyanna, Walt also took a gamble on two newcomers—young actress Hayley Mills and first-time director David Swift. Walt's choices paid off, and Pollyanna is now considered a Disney classic. As a title in the newly-minted "Vault Disney" Collection, Pollyanna makes an impressive DVD debut, spread out over two discs with plenty of extras to give you reason to play "The Glad Game" all day long.
Facts of the Case
The town of Harrington is sort of an anti-Mayberry—it has a quaint small-town feel, but the townspeople lack the requisite folksy charm. This can be linked directly to Polly Harrington (Jane Wyman, the former Mrs. Ronald Reagan), a cold, wealthy spinster who rules her estate, and the town she single-handedly supports, with stubborn will. When her orphaned niece Pollyanna (Hayley Mills) comes to live with Polly, things begin to change. Pollyanna's upbeat attitude and mischievous curiosity about life begin to win over the crabby townspeople, including fire and brimstone Reverend Ford (Karl Malden) and hypochondriac widow Mrs. Snow (Agnes Moorehead). When the mayor organizes an effort to rebuild the orphanage and usurp Aunt Polly's authority, Pollyanna helps, planning a successful charity bazaar. Aunt Polly simply doesn't know what to do with her impertinent niece, until she comes very close to losing her forever.
If ever there was a quintessential Disney movie, it's Pollyanna. Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it sticky sweet? Absolutely. Predictable? Of course. Did I love it? Yep.
Pollyanna gets derided, unfairly I think, for espousing this cheery philosophy: there's some goodness in everyone, you just have to look for it. Such a philosophy isn't very popular in our postmodern, cynical society, but works for this film nonetheless. When it came time to sit down and watch Pollyanna, I did so reluctantly, figuring I'd watch maybe 20 minutes, then go do sometime else and attack it again later. I was surprised to find myself glued to the chair, totally interested for a full two hours. This in itself is high praise, because I have an extremely short attention span.
Much of the success of the movie comes down to the amazing performance of Hayley Mills, who, incredibly, was making only her second appearance in a film. She has a sweet naïveté that actually sells Pollyanna's cheerfulness without seeming haughty. Mills deservedly received a Juvenile Academy Award for her work. Disney wisely filled the town of Harrington with veteran character actors, whose conversion experiences are convincing and moving. Karl Malden is hilarious and poignant as the minister who just can't get through to his congregation, until he stops spouting about Hell and starts preaching the good in his fellow man. Agnes Moorehead (better known as Endora on TV's Bewitched) also makes a touching transformation as the bed-ridden Mrs. Snow, who on the surface despises Pollyanna, but yet insists she visit frequently. Disney regular Kevin Corcoran (Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson) plays Jimmy Bean, Pollyanna's orphaned friend. Jimmy and Pollyanna are scared of the mysterious Mr. Pendergast (silent film star Adolphe Menjou in his final screen role), until they learn he's just a quirky old hermit. This is the success of the film—that everyone has a contribution to make, that no one can be defined by appearances. The same can be said of Pollyanna—it's much more than it seems.
A special note should be made about the contribution of David Swift, the writer and director of Pollyanna, who passed away recently of heart failure at the age of 82. His long career at the Disney studios included work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and other great non-Disney films like How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It is largely because of his deft directorial abilities and light writing touch that Pollyanna succeeds.
Pollyanna is presented its original aspect ratio, an anamorphically enhanced 1.75:1. For a movie that's over 40 years old, Pollyanna looks terrific. It's a very clean transfer, with little dust or blemish and no instances of edge enhancement or color saturation. A very impressive visual presentation that gives life to art director Robert Clatworthy's beautiful re-creation of small town America in the early 1900s.
The audio is presented in THX-certified, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. It's an impressive mix, though it doesn't make full use of sound capabilities. It is Pollyanna, after all. There are no instances of hiss or distortion. Also included on the disc are Spanish subtitles.
It's in the extra features department that Pollyanna really delivers an impressive value for your dollar. On the first disc, aside from the film itself, there is a Mickey cartoon, "Nifty Nineties," the short that apparently ran before Pollyanna in theaters. It's a nice attempt to recreate the theatrical experience. Also on disc one is an audio commentary by Hayley Mills and the late David Swift. Both actress and director are very affectionate about the film and each other. Swift considered Pollyanna the only film of his that he'd "look at again." Disc two contains the 30-minute "Pollyanna: Making of a Masterpiece," a terrific documentary that includes recollections by Swift, Mills, Corcoran, and Roy Disney, and explores Walt's development of Eleanor H. Porter's original novel. "Re-Creating Pollyanna's America" is a 15-minute featurette discussing how Swift and Disney re-created a nostalgia early 20th look for the film. "1912" splices footage from actual silent films and newsreels together with clips of Pollyanna to show what America looked like at the time. "Lost Treasures" is a gem for collectors—Walt Disney's 1963 television introductions to Pollyanna in full color. Walt discusses the use of the term "Pollyanna" in the popular vernacular to describe a goody-two-shoes. "Production Archives" not only contains theatrical trailers and TV spots, but several 10-minute featurettes on preserving Pollyanna, marketing tie-ins, and promotional materials. The audio archives section contains radio spots and full songs related to the film. The still galleries section features production art and biographies of the major players. Finally, the "1960 Disney Studio Album" is a five-minute highlight reel of the Disney productions that year. The amount of material on this disc is staggering, and it should more than satisfy even the most rabid Pollyanna fan. Disney has really given this release the royal treatment.
Pollyanna is an easy film to recommend for families with young children. But I urge you more cynical movie buffs to give this classic a try. You just might learn a thing or two along the way. Factor in the overwhelming amount of supplements, and Pollyanna is an incredible bargain.
Pollyanna is absolutely guilty of being too cheery. But it put me in such a good mood, I just can't bring myself to convict. Dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director David Swift and Star Hayley Mills
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