When Sarah Polley was cast to play Sara Stanley, it was the perfect choice.  Not only was Sarah a talented and experienced young actress, she possessed many of the same headstrong and determined qualities as her satin slipper wearing protagonist, Sara Stanley.

As the series progressed however, Sarah became disillusioned with Road to Avonlea.  In future interviews she would refer to the series as a "sweet horrible kids show."

In a 2003 article for the Guardian, Polley explains how she became discontented with the series:

Because it was so popular, Polley saw Road To Avonlea as an opportunity to deal with what she considered to be real issues, such as the history of immigration in Canada and the treatment of native people.

That was, until a certain multinational began financing the show. "In the first couple of seasons we did things like an episode on a strike," she says. "Then as soon as the Disney Channel got really involved, all that went away and it became, literally, a show about family values."

Even at 12, it wasn't hard to see how much the tone of the series had shifted. Polley wasn't particularly politicised then, but the Disneyfication marked the beginning of her awareness.(1)

As previously reported, Polley was told to avoid politics with Avonlea fans and refused to remove a peace symbol when confronted by Disney officials.

Sara's desire for Road to Avonlea to address serious issues can be traced back to the 1992 interview by the Ottawa Citizen while Polley and Zachary Bennett were students at the Claude Watson School for the Performing Arts.

(Bennett) gets reflective when Polley talks about a time an eight-year-old girl with a terminal illness asked to visit the Avonlea set just north of Toronto to meet Sarah and Zach.

"You realize how much we mean to these kids," said Bennett, his voice expressing real wonder. ''We hear it, and we believe it in a way, but we don't in another way. You have to see it to believe it. Sarah and I were just talking to this girls and having a good time, but it gave you this feeling of how kids look up to you.''

It's a responsibility, he says, "but a neat responsibility."

Polley takes that responsibility seriously. Her latest letter to her fans asks them to write back with suggestions about how they could help improve the environment(2).

According to Polley, Road to Avonlea missed a major opportunity to address serious issues and this ultimately led to Polley's outright distaste for the series.    

Do you think Sarah has a valid point?  Did the Disney influences pigeon hole the series as a "saccharine" little kids show?  Let me know in the comments.


(1) Paradoxes of a beautiful life. The Guardian. Fri 24 October 2003

(2) Young Avonlea stars take acting seriously -- for now at least; [Final Edition]
Tony Atherton. The Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa, Ont.: Feb 11, 1992. pg. E.8

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  • Felicity

    At the time Disney was whole some family television programing. You had to pay extra to get Disney Channel. Unlike it is now all about money.At the time Disney only showed shows with family values. I do believe Avonlea was teaching lessons and family values and touched on serious issues of the time period the show was set in 1903-1911. Such as women being able to vote, adoption Marilla took in Davey and Dora then Rachel Lynd took care of them after Marillas death, Felicity ran the foundling home, Women finding careers besides a teacher. Cecily getting TB and learning the town wasnt discriminating against her when she recovered, or the right to the watering hole episode the series ended at the break out of WWI. So was it a saccharine" little kids show? I say no did Disney influences pigeon hole the series again I would say no they did there best to cover issues of true to the time period. Would it make sence to do an episode about the environment or pollution? No because in the 1900's they did not have the same things to ruin our environment as we have in 2000's!

  • Hey Felicity, I remember that when you had to pay more for Disney and Avonlea was the #1 prime time show on the channel. That was amazing. You are so right about these serious issues addressed by the series like Cecily's TB. I didn't realize how much the cast and producers were fighting Disney creative control behind the scenes. They were trying to stop things like smoking and Jasper's stutter. The thing that made Avonlea somewhat unique was that it was shown in Canada under a different title and mostly unedited. I tend to think the darker themes of season six was a revolt against Disney's hyper sensitive standards and practices.

    Comment last edited on about 4 years ago by Timothy
  • Ruth

    I can honestly say that my boys and I loved the tales of avonlea. We believed it was wholesome and had much merit. There were many instances of family values, morals and love. Maybe if more shows spent time on providing good values and truth even with heartbreak and comedy we would have a better world. I know there is suffering and unfairness and lies etc. but maybe if we concentrated on positive reinforcement and not going in the gutter to make a point. So no I do not think it was saccharinely childish.

  • Meg

    I kind of understand where Sarah is coming from. But, I don’t think the series is childish. I guess she would’ve preferred something like Netflix’s Anne with an E, which I like but it became unrealistic in updating the book for modern audiences. Emily of New Moon also comes to mind. It dealt with a lot more ‘adult’ issues than Road to Avonlea, but became depressing to watch tbh. Overall, I prefer RtA. It’s not perfect, of course. However, it was able to strike a hopeful, wholesome tone while dealing with some issues.