A young widow from Boston named Margaret Carey and her three children, Nancy, Gilly, and Peter, soon realize that their financial status is quickly dropping and they are forced to move. The dramatic, yet kind-hearted, Nancy inquires the small town of Beulah, Maine about their large, yellow house, a house the family had admired on their trips there. Upon the sale of their family's treasured piano ("Flitterin"), Nancy reveals that the house is vacant and they quickly decide to relocate to the country ("Beautiful Beulah").
When the Careys arrive in Beulah it becomes clear that they are slightly out-of-place, but the town welcomes them. They find that moving there was the best decision for them and they are very happy in their new home ("Summer Magic"). However, it quickly becomes clear after meeting its caretaker, Osh Popham, that it is in a pure state of neglect. He, much against his wife's wishes, offers cheap labor to make the house livable as well as offering free products from his hardware store.
Peter is feeling neglected with his expensive city clothes and out-of-place haircut. Osh steers him in the right direction, trading him a pair of overalls and money for a haircut for his "bustered brown suit", as well as giving his lessons in carpentry.
Not everything is perfect for the Careys, though. Their snotty, orphaned cousin, Julia, comes to move in with them, as her adoptive parents ran into their own financial problems and Gilly and Nancy entertain Peter with jokes about Julia's personality and appearance ("Pink of Perfection")
As Julia arrives, she is as much of a pill as the children could have imagined. She herself feels personally attacked when jumped on by Peter's dog, Sam, in the middle of the night, and she struggles to adapt to the primitive ways of Beulah, even making Osh's daughter, Lally Joy, help her bathe in the kitchen, not wanting to lug the kettles of hot water up the stairs.
Osh has taken Peter on as his protege when working on the house and entertains him with stories of the bugs, something Peter never saw much of in the city ("The Ugly Bug Ball"). Margaret informs Osh of their still falling finances and Osh makes up a request from the house's owner, Tom Hamilton, in exchange for no rent, in hopes to keep them in town. The Careys must have a ceremony for Tom's late mother on Halloween and find a suitable place for her picture. The Careys accept and Osh chooses a fake picture for the ceremony.
Osh's wife, Maria, who has been onto his lies since the beginning, comes to the yellow house to tell the Careys that Tom has no idea that they are living on his property. Before she can spill the news, Osh fakes a fall on the second story and makes Mariah take him home, claiming an injured leg.
After church on Sunday, Nancy and Julia spot a handsome man named Charles Bryant, who has moved to Beulah to be the new schoolteacher. They invite him to a lawn party at the yellow house and both girls try to win his affections, Nancy trying to win him with her smarts and Julia with her looks. Julia wins and Nancy is completely jealous of her after the party ("On the Front Porch"). Later in their bedroom, Nancy, in a fit of anger, reveals to Julia that her adoptive parents "dumped" Julia with the Careys because they'd gambled away their money. Julia, completely upset runs to Margaret for assurance that her parents truly loved her. Margaret reveals that Julia's parents are ready to take her back as their affairs are looking brighter. Nancy, who has grown to love Julia, despite her many flaws, begs her to stay, and she accepts, moving in permanently with the Careys.
As Halloween approaches, everyone gets ready for the big party. Lally Joy, who harbors a big crush on Gilly, displays her ugly dress to Nancy and Julia, fretting embarrassment at the party. Nancy and Julia promise to redesign the dress as they give her pointers on how to act around boys ("Femininity").
On the day of the party, a handsome young man appears at the yellow house and meets Nancy. She informs him that they'd been living in the house and about the party for Tom's mother. He leaves quickly for Osh's hardware store, where he is revealed to be him in the flesh. Osh comes clean about renting the house out to the Careys, inspired to do kindness from Nancy. Tom leaves the store, not at all pleased of never being informed.
As the party approaches Gilly is reluctant to escort Lally Joy, but as she makes her appearance in her beautiful redesigned dress, he gratefully accompanies her to the ball. As Charles picks up Julia, Nancy becomes aware that she is the only one without a partner. After talking about it with her mother, she decides to confidently attend on her own. As she descends the stairs she runs into Tom, whose identity is still a mystery to her. He accompanies her to the party and Nancy presents Mrs. Hamilton's picture: a very ugly and frightening looking woman. Tom, angry with Osh, puts the insult in the back of his mind as he reveals his true identity to Nancy, who is thoroughly embarrassed. Tom, however, took a fancy to her and dances with her, as Osh exclaims that things always work out in the end.
- Hayley Mills - Nancy Carey
- Burl Ives - Osh Popham
- Dorothy McGuire - Margaret Carey
- Deborah Walley - Julia Carey
- Eddie Hodges - Gilly Carey
- Jimmy Mathers - Peter Carey
- Michael J. Pollard - Digby Popham
- Wendy Turner - Lally Joy Popham
- Una Merkel - Maria Popham
- Peter Brown - Tom Hamilton
- Jim Stacy - Charles Bryant
- O.Z. Whitehead - Mr. Perkins
- Eddie Quillan - Mailman
- Norman Leavitt - Barber
- Paul E. Burns - Driver
- Harry Holcombe - Henry Lord
- Jan Stine - Mr. Perkins' Son
- Hilda Plowright - Mary
- Marcy McGuire - Ellen
- Director - James Neilson
- Screenplay - Sally Benson
- Source Material (from novel) - Kate Douglas Wiggin
- Producer - Walt Disney
- Assistant Director - Austen Jewell
- Director of Photography - William E. Snyder
- Editor - Robert Stafford
- Music - Buddy Baker
- Songs - Richard Sherman
- Songs - Robert B. Sherman
- "Beautiful Beulah"
- "Summer Magic"
- "Pink of Perfection"
- "The Ugly Bug Ball"
- "On the Front Porch"
At first, Walt Disney did not care for the "The Ugly Bug Ball". Songwriter Robert B. Sherman explained to him that to bugs, others were not ugly, even if they looked ugly to us, beauty being in the eye of the beholder. He liked the idea, and it went on to become one of the popular songs of the year. It was sung by Burl Ives.
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