Legacy Content

Toon Talk: Pollyanna Vault Disney 2-Disc DVD
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
June 6, 2002
Kirby reviews the recent DVD release from the Vault Disney series Pollyanna.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

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(c) Disney

Vault Disney Collection:
Deluxe 2-Disc DVD Set
Happy Talkin'

“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting the worse,
You surely will". -- Abraham Lincoln

The LaughingPlace Store

2-Disc DVD
Standard VHS

Or was it? One of the choicest behind-the-scenes secrets revealed by director/screenwriter David Swift in this meticulously collected and beautifully presented Pollyanna set is the fact that ol’ Honest Abe never uttered that phrase. It was purely artistic license, a screenwriting creation that nevertheless had everyone, from the film’s star Hayley Mills to the Disney merchandising department (who rushed out ‘Official Pollyanna Lockets’ engraved with the phrase), believing that it was an actual Lincoln quote.

Does Swift’s bit of historical reconstruction make any difference? Hardly, as Pollyanna remains, forty-one years after its premiere, an entrancing and charming valentine to the lost age of turn-of-the-century America, a type of film that Walt Disney loved to make, but nobody today seems to. The simplistic tale of an inquisitive orphan girl who, through her unwavering optimism and beliefs in the good of everyone, unexpectedly changes the mindset of an entire small New England town. With an all-star cast featuring the likes of Academy Award-winners Jane Wyman (as stern Polly Herrington) and Karl Malden (Reverend “Death Comes Unexpectedly” Ford), film legends Adolphe Menjou (reclusive Mr. Pendegast) and Agnes Moorehead (hypochondriac Mrs. Snow) and even the Studios’ favorite mop-top Kevin Corcoran (orphan boy Jimmy Bean), it is arguably the best acted film ever produced by Disney.

It all would have been for naught though if Swift and Disney had not found their perfect Pollyanna Whittier. As recounted extensively (and, as it happens, contradictory in differing accounts) in the set’s supplemental features, Hayley Mills’ casting as the title character, after over 300 auditioners and just days before filming was to begin, was the stuff moviemaking legends are made of. It was definitely worth the wait; Mills brings subtleness and honesty to Pollyanna, a protagonist who could have so easily slipped into mawkishness that one shudders at the thought of a lesser talent tackling such a pivotal (and star-making) role. That Pollyanna was only Mills’ second feature (after the British-made Tiger Bay) only makes her accomplishment even more impressive.

But, as Mills so humbly admonishes throughout the additional programming, the one who deserves all the accolades is Swift himself. Swift, at the age of 15, started as an office boy at the Disney Studios in the 1930s, assisting renowned animator Ward Kimball as an in-betweener, beginning with the first of them all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and followed by Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, Dumbo and Peter Pan. He subsequently left Disney and became a prolific television director, most notably with the popular Mr. Peepers series (which ran on NBC for five seasons), as well as such classic shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Rifleman and Playhouse 90.

When Walt offered him the chance to work on a feature adaptation of the popular Eleanor Porter novel Pollyanna, Swift gladly returned to the studio where he began his film career many years before. But he was no mere go-fer anymore, he was to direct and write his first feature film, a film that would become one of Walt’s personal favorites. Swift and Mills would return the next year for the huge hit The Parent Trap, which he wrote and directed as well, another nostalgic favorite for Baby-Boomers everywhere.

Swift died last New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2001, of heart failure. Blessedly, he was interviewed for the documentaries and recorded, with his favorite leading lady Hayley Mills, for the audio commentaries for the DVD collections for these two film classics before his passing. As you listen and watch Swift recount fond memories of his involvement with Pollyanna (at one point he claims “I wish I could make it again tomorrow!”), one can’t help feeling a sense of loss for a consummate storyteller. But his legacy will live on, in no small part to his delightful film and this lavish DVD production that honors it, and therefore him.

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