Here is a bit of Disney Archaeology that takes us into the life of Walt Disney himself.
Some of you will remember the old phrase – “don’t be such a Pollyanna”
Now the term Pollyanna is used to describe someone who is a person who is optimistic and tries to find the good in everything. People use the phrase mentioned above in a derogatory insulting way describing someone who is naïve and childishly optimistic.
Real Disney fans recognize the word – Pollyanna as the title character of a movie which features the same name made in 1960. What it is easy to miss is the way that this film is a snapshot of Walt Disney’s own optimism.
Haley Mills played the lead character in her first Disney film role. He character, Pollyanna is anything but naïve and childish. Instead she is a well-grounded, secure, and mature young lady who has battled against and faced tremendous adversity and setbacks. In spite of her difficulties and the death of her parents, her tenacious faith in God’s goodness and love does not falter. Her life affirming optimism and enthusiasm changes and transforms the lives of everyone she comes in contact with. Including her own Aunty Polly who is very unhappy.
In some ways, the character embodies Walt Disney’s own life journey in symbolic ways. Walt moved beyond setbacks and painful childhood memories to emerge as an optimist on the other side. Walt shared and recalled some of the painful childhood memories of his harsh boyhood in Kansas City. He recalled his father’s quick temper, stern disposition, lack of support and understanding as Walt tried to chart his own course. But instead of holding onto the tough patches and rough memories, instead we recall how Walt allowed his life to be shaped by adventure on the farm in Marceline, the love of trains and of watching circus parades, and the thrill of seeing his first silent film.
Walt made a choice to allow those events to shape him and not define him. By choosing not to let those events shape him into a bitter and angry adult, instead they shaped him into an optimist where he learned to search for, explore, and discover the good in things. The childhood memories that helped define him were the adventure on the farm, working on trains, watching the circus and performing for others.
Holding onto these moments allowed Walt to share his optimism to the world through his cartoons, his live action features, this television shows, and through the creation of theme parks.
Ray Bradbury once wrote about Walt – “Walt Disney was more important than all the politicians we’ve ever had. They pretended optimism. He was optimism. He had done more to change the world for the good than almost any politician who ever lived.”
So Walt took the term Pollyanna, so often used to be critical and made it the shining example of how the life of a person can change the world.
Our lives are influenced and shaped by the things that happen to us to be sure. But how they define us – well, that is up to each of us. Walt Disney was not perfect and battled throughout his life against the obstacles he faced. But each battle was won because his choice not to quit, find the good, and keep working until it was better, was fueled by the optimism that bubbled below the surface of the dreamer and visionary.
We will all face tough times. Face them with the belief and attitude that there is a solution, there is an answer, and that things will get better. Then roll up your sleeves and go to work to make it happen. As you do, you will inspire the lives of others and discover your life is different as well. Because you are looking to the future – with optimism and hope.
And we all need a little of that these days, don’t we?