Since I’ve been doing these countdowns to supplement my time away from cinema, Disney and the Oscars seem to have been two things that I’ve been constantly going back to. And, well, I didn’t have to really give my opinion on the Oscars in 2021, but once again Disney had a major presence. It’s no surprise that they are the studio that has won more Oscars that any other, whether through their own studios or affiliate studios. As such, I wanted to look back on all the wins that they achieved over the many, many decades.
So, I looked at every single Oscar winner who got the Oscar by making its film for Disney studios or one of their affiliates. The rules of this list are very simple: If Disney had a hand in it, you can be on this list. Surprisingly, this worked out way more for the ‘Best Of’ list than it did for the ‘Worst Of’ list; this is because Disney is very good at making aggressive For Your Consideration campaigns and tend to pump a lot more money into it than many of the other five big studios. One of those studios obviously now is even a part of Disney so they have less competition.
And it’s probably no surprise that Disney and Disney affiliate studios walked away this year with five Oscars: Best Animated Feature and Score for Soul and Best Picture Director and Actress for Nomadland. (By the way, I haven’t seen Nomadland or Soul so those Oscar wins were not considered for this list.) I was judging these on the basis of what the win meant for the individuals involved and their contribution to film; what the competition was like for the films they ran against—I especially went into detail when I looked up rather egregious Oscar wins—; if the Oscar went to a plainly bad film in the case of the worst; and, most particularly, how the Oscar win looks in hindsight.
So let’s start with the worst, and this was surprisingly easier to find than I thought. Looking at it, they made some pretty bad decisions when it came to some of these films. Now, I want to point out that some of them in this case are actually good films—mainly numbers five and four which are films I like—but I still object to their Oscar wins. There were some other considerations I had, for example, Dick Tracy winning a lot of Oscars in 1991 was a particularly egregious decision considering that that film has really not held up. I also considered Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest winning Best Visual Effects considering that its visual effects are not that great in hindsight, though there are less obvious computer effects being used compared to the first film. And I also considered 2000 Leagues Under the Sea winning Best Visual Effects but, to be fair, at the time that was probably considered very good. I also was seriously considering Pearl Harbor winning in 2002 for Best Sound Editing but, to be fair, the sound editing is not terrible in that film, it’s just everything else about that film that’s terrible.
Without further ado, here are the five worst Disney Oscar wins.
5. Toy Story 4 wins Best Animated Feature in 2020
This is the most recent entry on the list, but at the time this bothered me, probably a lot more than it should have. Toy Story 4 is my least favourite of the Toy Story films; I think it has the least amount to say and doesn’t really feel like much of a progression of what was going on in Toy Story at the time. But the thing that really bothers me as well about it is Toy Story 4 really did not need this Oscar. Pixar didn’t need it for a start, and the other 3 Toy Story films had all won Best Animated Feature in their respective years that they were nominated, with the exception of Toy Story 1 though it did win a few Oscars. (It only didn’t win Best Animated Feature because that award didn’t exist at that point.) Basically, it was a lack of need, and there were a bunch of other animated films nominated that year that could have easily got a win, and even some that didn’t even get nominated. It really was a prime example of money talking ahead of which films really wanted to see get honoured that year.
4. Tarzan wins Best Original Song in 2000
Okay, there are two reasons why I don’t like this win: 1. They picked the worst song in the film to go for: ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ did not deserve the nomination. I really love Tarzan’s soundtrack; I actually think it’s probably Phil Collin’s best work since leaving Genesis and going solo, but if I was going to pick a song to be nominated for Best Original Song from that album, I would have been much more inclined to pick ‘Strangers Like Me’ or ‘Son of Man’; even ‘Two Worlds’ or ‘Trash in the Camp’ would have made more sense. So, not only have they picked the worst song in the film to give the win to, it was up against ‘Blame Canada’ from South Park. Put it this way: which song are people still listening to over two decades after they came out? No one’s listening to ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’; everyone’s still listening to ‘Blame Canada’. They picked a really bad, schmaltzy song that didn’t really tie into the film very well over a song that ties into the film brilliantly and talks on a social issue that’s still going on to this day of overbearing parents blaming media and art for their children’s bad behaviour, and that didn’t get the win? You even had Robin Williams performing it at the Oscars! How did that not win?!
3. Alice in Wonderland wins Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction in 2011
Okay, Alice in Wonderland (2010) is a really bad film, and by that I mean easily a contender for Tim Burton’s worst movie, horribly miscast, really morose and grimy-looking, and has a plot which is way too complicated for what is an Alice in Wonderland story (you know, a story that’s all about nonsense). Look at the wins it got. Okay, Best Costume Design? Maybe—they did have some out-there costumes, but even then I think there were some better nominations that year. But Best Art Direction? That is genuinely one of the worst qualities of this film. It is really bad in that department. This isn’t something that you could even say in hindsight; at the time people were saying that this film looked terrible. Everything’s way too dark, even by Burton’s standards. And it’s not as if that’s fitting to the Alice in Wonderland aesthetic—traditionally, Alice in Wonderland has always been very bright with primary colours. It’s very hard to do a dark take on Alice in Wonderland. Tim Burton might have been able to pull it off, but the fact that his art department won this Oscar is shocking.
2. Song of the South wins Best Song in 1948
I kind of find it interesting, this one. Okay, to be fair this is incredibly a hindsight thing; you can’t really expect people in 1948 to have the same racial sensitivity that people now have in 2021 but that doesn’t change the fact that this is still a very, very uncomfortable Oscar. And Disney probably wants you to forgot that this Oscar exists. That’s one of the major reasons why Song of the South has never been reprinted for DVD or wide circulation. Trust me, if you got some sort of copy of Song of the South right now, you are sitting on a goldmine on eBay. Just be aware you’re probably selling it to potentially disreputable sources in a moral sense of the word. Look, it’s very easy to say that this is completely a hindsight thing but I would be remiss not to include it and not to say it was one of the worst decisions since it’s not a film we can look back on very well anymore. That being said, number 1 did not have that hindsight excuse.
1. Pocohontas wins Best Original Song in 1996
Okay, Pocohontas picked up two awards: Best Original Score—more on that later—and Best Original Song. Now, at that time all the Disney Renaissance films won those two Oscars. I have shown my displeasure for this song on several occasions; I even put it in another list of bad Oscar decisions. But, man, do I hate this decision! The song that got nominated and won was ‘Colors of the Wind’. Okay, for a start, that’s the second to worst song in the film, the worst being ‘Just Around The Riverbend’. Say what you like about ‘Mine, Mine, Mine’ but at least that song’s kind of catchy. So, once again, you picked one of the worst songs in the film to nominate. Secondly, not only is this a bad song but this is really going into Native American stereotypes that we were really realising were not great at the time, let alone now. And keep in mind this film’s meant to be Disney’s attempt at racial sensitivity to get the big Oscar wins; this is basically what passed for progressiveness in the 1990s. And this was to such an extent that people were leaving The Lion King to work on this film.
Also, ‘Colors Of The Wind’ is lyrically terrible. Look at all those songs that won Best Original Song that came from Disney studios and you would never put ‘Colors of the Wind’ against them. ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ is a better song than ‘Colors Of The Wind’. The reason I hate ‘Just Beyond The Riverbend’ more is because it has all the same problems as ‘Colors Of The Wind’ and it’s just done to break up part of the film and doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever; at least ‘Colors Of The Wind’ serves some purpose narratively in the plot, and I guess that people at the time were taken aback by the animation used for the sequence. But, believe me, in hindsight the whole can’t-we-all-just-get-along-and-live-with-nature theming does not hold up brilliantly.
Okay, now onto the best decisions. And believe me, Disney got some well-deserved Oscars over the years. One of the things I found surprising with this one is that the major of these came from Disney affiliations, not Disney themselves. Three out of the two were from Disney affiliated studios, but they were in charge of distribution so this counts to the list. Let’s go.
5. Beauty and the Beast wins Best Score and Best Song
Okay, I mentioned before that Disney at this time was guaranteed these two Oscars ever since The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast was definitely one of them to succeed in that department. I seriously considered giving this to Aladdin but if I took the two together, while I think the score is better, I don’t think the song that was chosen to win was the deserved choice—‘A Whole New World’ won even though it was also nominated against ‘Friend Like Me’ which failed, probably because Robin Williams was still having a very public feud with Disney at the time and refused to perform the song at the Oscars, and that public feud probably didn’t help with the For Your Consideration campaign. (For more information on that, check out Lindsey Ellis’s video on the subject; it’s a fascinating watch.) So, while I did think that Aladdin’s soundtrack is overall slightly better than Beauty and the Beast, I think if you take the two Oscars that were earned, Beauty and the Beast did better. Obviously, Beauty and the Beast has a great score done by Alan Menken and Howard Ashmen who composed all the songs around this time, and I really felt their contribution to Disney meant I had to put one of their wins on the list, and, well, this one definitely is one of the most deserved. They did a brilliant job bringing to life the story and I think they picked the right song. Granted, it’s not my favourite song from the movie as that would go to ‘Kill The Beast’, —there was no way that was getting nominated—and if you take them as a whole, I think it was a good choice. Really, Beauty and the Beast is a brilliant film and I think it’s really underappreciated, well-deserving of the 1992 Oscars.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? wins several technical awards and a Special Achievement Award in 1988
Roger Rabbit walked away with Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. The visual effects in particular seriously deserved that nomination. Honestly, go back and watch Roger Rabbit—it’s very well-integrated with the live-action actors. Also, Roger Rabbit is a seriously well-done film and I’m glad it got the honorary mentions. Disney giving their blessing to have their characters appear with Warner Bros characters for the first time really adds to those scenes. Who can forget the piano battle between Donald and Daffy? It’s also great to go back and watch because some of the original Disney actors were giving their final performances in their iconic roles. Roger Rabbit is always going to be an influential film that were going to look back on fondly and I think these Oscars are very well-deserved.
3. Chicago wins Best Picture in 2003
Chicago won a whole bunch of Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, but, most importantly, it won Best Picture. Chicago is very deserving of that Oscar. Unlike most musicals, it gets around the absurdity of it by having all the musical numbers being non-diegetic (they’re kind of all taking place within the characters’ heads, not actually in the scenes). I’m actually kind of surprised it didn’t win Best Song for ‘He Had It Coming’, and it feels weird that it didn’t succeed for Best Original Score as well. That being said, all its Oscar wins are very well-deserved. Chicago is actually a much better film than I remembered, having watched it during the pandemic as research for a previous list I did. And I think it was absolutely the right decision for it to win.
2. Coco wins Best Original Song in 2018
Okay, there’s a reason why this one topped the list. I talked a lot about the song that shouldn’t have got the nomination getting nominating and winning, but this was the absolute right song to pick. ‘Remember Me’ got the nomination and eventual win and it was well-deserved. It’s the song that is the complete emotional crux of Coco which is already a phenomenal film with one of Disney’s best soundtracks. They could have picked any version of ‘Remember Me’ because it keeps changing throughout the film to match; that’s how good and versatile a song it is. This was absolutely the right decision for the win, and like many Oscars, we’re going to look back and say, “Yes, that was the absolute right decision.”
1. Spirited Away wins Best Animated Feature in 2003
Yes, this counts—Ghibli was a Disney-affiliated studio at the time. Disney distributed the movie in America. Disney kind of shot themselves in the foot with this one. They got three nominations that year because it was up against Treasure Planet and Lilo & Stitch, which is even more ironic considering that the actress who played Lilo also played Chihiro in the English language dub for this film. It’s not just the fact that it was nominated against two of Disney’s really great films, but it absolutely deserved the win. Spirited Away is one of the greatest movies ever made and the fact it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture is astounding. You can’t even say it won anything at the Baftas that year which really was a bad decision in itself.
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