Eleanor H. Porter's story of Pollyanna, "The Glad Girl," was first filmed in 1920 by Mary Pickford. While entertaining, the Pickford version tended to reduce the supporting characters to stereotypes. Disney's 1960 remake of Pollyanna wisely offers three-dimensional characterizations, enhancing the charm and believability of the story. In her first Disney film (indeed, her first American film), Hayley Mills stars as Pollyanna, an orphan girl sent to live with her wealthy aunt Polly (Jane Wyman). A humorless sort, Aunt Polly is taken aback by Pollyanna's insistence upon seeing the happy side of everything. With her best friend and fellow orphan, Jimmy Bean (Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran), Pollyanna spreads her sunshine all over town, transforming such local curmudgeons as hypochondriac Mrs. Snow (Agnes Moorehead), hellfire-and-brimstone Reverend Ford (Karl Malden), and reclusive Mr. Pendergast (Adolphe Menjou) into positive, life-affirming sorts. This she does not by being simpering or syrupy, but by applying common sense and refusing to indulge anyone's self-pity. Only Aunt Polly refuses to warm up. As the owner of the town orphanage, Aunt Polly will not hear of having a new, more modern facility built, and when handsome Dr. Chilton (Richard Egan) stages a charity bazaar in defiance of Aunt Polly, Pollyanna is forbidden to attend. She escapes to the bazaar by climbing down the tree next to her upstairs window; but when trying to return home, Pollyanna falls and injures her legs. Facing possible permanent paralysis, the "Glad Girl" is for the first time disconsolate and pessimistic. Her spirits are uplifted by the townsfolk whom she's helped, and finally by Aunt Polly, who's realized the folly of her stubbornness. Ebulliently optimistic once more, Pollyanna leaves town for an operation, as the townsfolk cheer her up and cheer her on. Possibly because it was perceived as having only little-girl appeal (a false perception indeed), Pollyanna was not the big hit that it should have been in 1960. Its latter-day reputation as one of Disney's finest features rests primarily on its many successful television showings. The film was remade for television with an all-black cast as Polly in 1989.
by Hal Erickson synopsis