It seems no one wants to be called a “Pollyanna.” But I have to wonder why. It isn’t always easy to find something to be glad about, but Pollyanna Whittier (Hayley Mills) has a gift for it despite the fact her life hasn’t been easy. If you watch the film closely, Pollyanna isn’t a naïve optimist who refuses to see anything bad. She sees it. She just chooses to find something positive to focus on.
After losing her parents, the orphaned girl moves in with her rich aunt (Jane Wyman) who hasn’t got a clue how to give love—to anyone. Rather than opening her heart, Polly Harrington rules over a town named for her family with a stern hand. Even the preacher comes to Polly (rather than a higher power) to get direction for his Sunday sermons. As a result, the Sabbath services are inclined to give people "sour stomachs" rather than spiritual enlightenment.
Yet despite her aunt’s austere nature, Pollyanna still manages to find things to appreciate about her new home. Sent on charitable errands by her aunt (which she considers an obligation because of her wealth), the young girl worms her way into the hearts of the townsfolk including the housemaid Nancy (Nancy Olson), a grumbling hermit, Mr. Pendergast (Adolphe Menjou), a cantankerous hypochondriac, Mrs. Snow (Agnus Moorehead) and a fellow orphan Jimmy Bean (Kevin Corcoran).
After the town’s orphanage falls into disrepair, the mayor (Donald Crisp) calls on the local citizens to construct a new facility. Polly, however, isn’t about to let them tear down the outdated building known as Harrington House. With grim resolve, she determines to do her civic duty and make repairs. However, Mayor Warren wants more than mere fix-ups and marshals the citizens into organizing a fundraising bazaar.
When Aunt Polly forbids Pollyanna to go, the girl’s young friend Jimmy begs her to climb out her bedroom window and down a tree. But getting back inside at the end of the evening results in a serious fall and injury for the girl. With a bleak future before her, can even the normally positive Pollyanna find something to be happy about?
With very little content for family viewers to worry about, Pollyanna proves to be a delightfully charming tale of the power of being positive.