Movie Review: PollyannaQuick Plot Summary: An orphaned girl is taken in by her wealthy aunt and changes all those around her with her positivity.
Rating: Possibly Worthwhile
Suggested Ages: 8+ (but see last paragraph below)
This is an old-school classic live-action Disney movie from 1960 that is slow-paced but enjoyably fun and endearing. It portrays small town Americana from the early 1900's with a vibe that only old-school Disney could pull off.
The story centers around an orphaned girl named Pollyanna who goes to live with her wealthy aunt. In simplicity (and largely due to lessons she learned from her minister father), she chooses to see the positive side of life and focus on the good in others, rather than being gloomy and negative. Through her optimistic outlook, she changes the lives of many around her.
Behind the simple "sweet" enjoyable story, there's a bunch of messages communicated in this movie. Arguably the biggest has to do with religion, and specifically how Christianity should or should not be communicated. There is a very lengthy (and arguably scary) scene in this film where the pastor of the church preaches an intense old-fashioned "fire and brimstone" sermon, which it is clearly implied he basically does every week. The congregants are shown to hate going to church because of this and basically aren't really that interested in really having relationship with God because they are constantly attempted to be motivated by fear. Pollyanna has an encounter with the pastor where she encourages the pastor to see the good in people and tells the pastor that her minister father said there were a whole lot of "glad texts" in the Bible. The pastor ends up studying his Bible and changing his approach to a much more joyful church service focussing on the love of God and rejoicing in Him.
Now, to a degree I love this messaging but I do believe it goes too far. While I agree that love and joy should be trademarks of Christians and it's clear from the portrayal of the church and pastor in this movie that the church/pastor is initially way off-base, the corrective messaging this movie gives however brings with it a message that people "are basically good" and that if you look for the good in people, you will find it. In other words, in its effort to communicate an answer to the overzealous/fear-driven/sin-conscious Christianity, it swings too far the other way and brings a message that downplays sin. The truth is there's lots of "glad texts" in the Bible but there's many "not-so-glad texts" too, and sin is a reality and there can be a place for blunt talk about the realities of sin and of heaven and hell (Jesus Himself did so...). But this movie kind of throws the baby out with the bathwater with its messaging in this area. However, with that said, I still do like the contrast of "dead religion" Christianity that's so sin-conscious and fear-based with one that seeks rather to draw people in with the love of God. There is a worthwhile message there (even if the movie does take it a bit too far). Just as a sidenote that may or may not be of interest to you, one of the passages that the pastor shares as a "glad text" comes from the Apocrypha.
The movie also showcases the power of our words and actions in bringing either life or death to others (a la Proverbs 18:21) and the importance of focussing on hope and on living instead of giving in to depression and despair and focussing on death. It also shows the healing power of love to soften people that have become hardened due to things they've gone through in life and how that love transforms situations and relationships. While the love Pollyanna shares is not explicitly declared to be because of Jesus in her life, it is at least a little implied. There's other messages in this film too such as that money doesn't buy happiness.
One of the most interesting things to me about this movie comes at the end, where Pollyanna has a "faith crisis" of sorts herself (they don't call it this) and starts giving in to despair because of a tragedy that has occurred to her, but the townspeople that she affected rally around HER (as a switch) and lift her up, just as she had done for them. Embedded in that, the messaging conveyed (particularly for us as the Body of Christ) is that we all can have moments where we really need support and encouragement from others and also that we can be that vessel for others in moments they need that too.
In the final analysis this really is not a "Christian" movie per-se, but is primarily just a sweet and enjoyable movie that will leave you feeling good and hopeful. While it has some Christian underpinnings and can be thought-provoking for believers as to how we are portraying ourselves and the Gospel to others, that same messaging could also easily be taken by others (nonbelievers) to reinforce for them the "stupidity" of Christianity that talks about sin or the reality of hell...So the worthwhile nature of this movie can be variable depending on who is watching it and where they are at in their relationship with God. If watched with children (this can be a fun family-friendly movie), there's definitely room for having a bit of follow-up discussion after the movie to ensure kids are internalizing the Christianity messages in the right way and I'd definitely encourage that.
Reviewed by Christopher Long,