Welcome, one and all, to the Disney Canon Awards! To celebrate the completion of canon reviews, I’m here to present sixty awards to the best and worst of the fifty-six films in the collection – everything from the most unforgettable leads and the most fantastic songs to the most despicable failures ever to darken Disney’s doorstep. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, we’re here to celebrate (or revile) them all.
First, we have the twenty character categories, for each of which there will be five nominees. Next, we have sixteen categories for the individual aspects of the finished films, and each of those categories will have one winner and one runner-up. Finally, we have twenty-four genre categories for recognising the best and worst films overall, each of which has just the one winner. In this latter group, I am considering some films under multiple genres, if I feel they qualify as such; given the unusual nature of the package films, I’m also considering individual parts of some of them separately as examples of a particular genre.
Across the last eighty-one years, Disney have produced a huge variety of different stories in a wide range of styles and mediums. There’s truly something for everyone, so perhaps you could use this as a guide to help you (or your kids) decide which films to check out. And now, let’s meet our glittering nominees!
Best Male Lead / Worst Male Lead
Nominees for Best: Bernard, Beast, Quasimodo, Tarzan, Hiro Hamada
Representing the best of the lads, we have a plucky janitor-turned-rescue-agent who overcomes his shyness to save a little girl, a tortured prince who must mature to be with the one he loves, a victim of abuse who finds the inner strength to turn the tables on his oppressor, a confused young man with a thirst for knowledge who must find out where he truly belongs, and an intelligent boy who’s juggling his own grief with a desire to help people and ultimately fulfils his brother’s legacy.
And the winner is…
Nominees for Worst: Casey, Arthur, Taran, John Smith, Chicken Little
Among the less compelling leading men, we have an arrogant sore loser, a pathetic puppet with no personality, the most irritating little glory-hog in all Prydain, a literal murderer disguised as a love interest, and a generic nerdy child meticulously designed to force sympathy.
And the winner is…
Taran! Like, seriously kid, get over yourself.
Best Female Lead / Worst Female Lead
Nominees for Best: Esmeralda, Mulan, Lilo, Tiana, Rapunzel
Now for Disney’s top gals. Here we find a strong and selfless warrior of justice, an even stronger literal warrior with a deep love for her family and mad skills on the battlefield, a troubled but intelligent little girl longing for a real friend, a driven and ambitious young woman with clear goals and the talents to reach them, and another abuse victim who uses her own strength and wits to get back the life that was stolen from her.
And the winner is…
Mulan! The greatest gift and honour is having you for a heroine.
Nominees for Worst: Alice, Wendy, Aurora, Maid Marian, Maggie
On the flip side, Disney have also presented us with a dull and whiny Victorian schoolgirl struggling to cope with her own overactive imagination, a simpering Edwardian schoolgirl trying to fill the roles of both a love interest and a mother, a heroine so passive that she’s overshadowed by her nannies in her own film, a female version of a male hero who exists only for him to fall in love with, and an obnoxious cow with a tendency to rub everyone up the wrong way.
And the winner is…
Maid Marian! Sorry love, but you’re little more than a dated stereotype.
Best Male Supporting Character / Worst Male Supporting Character
Nominees for Best: Baloo, Genie, Pacha, John Silver, Nick Wilde
In the category of male supporting characters, we find a fun-loving bear who learns the meaning of responsibility while caring for a human child, a charismatic spirit with endless energy whose friendship with his young master finally frees him from a lifetime of servitude, a kind-hearted country bloke who essentially saves his country by reforming the little tyrant in charge, a fascinatingly conflicted old treasure-hunter whose blossoming friendship with a young cabin boy causes him a major moral dilemma, and a con artist with hidden depths who is able to turn his life around thanks to the help of an unexpected new friend.
And the winner is…
The Genie! AWRIGHT! OO, OO, OO!
Nominees for Worst: Aracuan, Indian Chief, Colonel Hathi, Buck (Home on the Range), Runt
With the good we must take the bad, and it doesn’t get much worse than an irksome little bird whose only function is to annoy everyone he comes into contact with, a blatant racist stereotype whose very existence is going to offend anyone who seems him today, a stodgy old elephant whose negative attitude endangers the life of the protagonist, a cocky and spiteful wannabe who thinks the audience will forgive him for “changing” at the last minute, and a cowardly sexist who changes a girl’s entire life without her consent just because he likes her better that way.
And the winner is…
Runt! Impudent swine, you disgust me.
Best Female Supporting Character / Worst Female Supporting Character
Nominees for Best: Merryweather, Nani, Captain Amelia, Charlotte La Bouff, Mittens
Disney have only recently begun to focus more on their female supporting cast, but over the years, we’ve had a feisty fairy who isn’t afraid of a challenge and proves more capable than the film’s hero, a loving sister with a lot of responsibilities who is trying desperately to keep her family together, a fiercely intelligent intergalactic captain who can hold her own against even the saltiest of seadogs, a seemingly spoilt but kind-hearted young woman challenging racism through her daily actions, and a jaded and neglected cat who helps a mentally abused dog establish a normal life.
And the winner is…
Captain Amelia! You’re finer than most of us could ever hope to be.
Nominees for Worst: Catty the Elephant, Lulubelle, Shanti, Vixey, Mrs. Caloway
Unfortunately, we must also deal with our worst female supporting cast members. These include a hateful old elephant who derives pleasure from bullying a baby, a sexist stereotype who only cares about brawny abusive guys, another sexist stereotype who sings rather than speaks, has no official name and lures the male protagonist in with her underage bedroom eyes, yet another sexist stereotype who is just a female version of her mate, and a prissy, mean-spirited old cow who can’t deal with change.
And the winner is…
Shanti! Honestly, why must you go and fetch the water? You’re a kid, stop flirting and go and play!
Best Male Villain / Worst Male Villain
Nominees for Best: Chernabog, Ratigan, Scar, Frollo, Hades
Ooh, this is a delicious category. Among the baddest of the bad, we have the literal devil himself menacing the locals from atop a Gothic mountain, a deceptively suave underground crime boss who feeds his minions to a giant cat simply for messing up his big song, a cruel and scheming royal “spare” willing to murder his own family for power with the help of his Nazi-like hyenas, a twisted and terrifying old cleric who uses his position to indulge in his own sadistic power fantasies by bullying the oppressed, and the Lord of the Dead himself, who is also willing to murder a baby to usurp the head position.
And the winner is…
Judge Claude Frollo! We know what you were imagining, you magnificent bastard.
Nominees for Worst: Edgar, Ratcliffe, Alameda Slim, King Candy, Hans
Then there’s these chumps. Putting the true villains to shame are an idiotic, selfish butler who bungles even the simplest scheme, a greedy, pompous twit substituting for general racism, a hammy buffoon with a bizarre way of capturing his prey, an unthreatening and insecure attention seeker who isn’t much fun to watch, and a nonsensical “bad guy” so awkwardly handled that he doesn’t even feel “evil” until the last moment.
And the winner is…
Edgar! “Professional, masterful job?” Yeah, okay. You keep telling yourself that.
Best Female Villain / Worst Female Villain
Nominees for Best: Tremaine, Maleficent, Ursula, Yzma, Gothel
These dames are bad news, but still, I bet they’re fun at parties. In this category, we have the quintessential abusive stepmother who’ll stop at nothing in her personal vendetta to deprive her stepdaughter of happiness, the Mistress of All Evil who totally steals the show from her film’s lacklustre heroine with her poise and power, a wonderfully bombastic and trashy cecaelia who carries out her plan so successfully that she almost beats the good guys, a tremendously witty royal advisor whose every line is comedy gold, and a chillingly realistic manipulative bitch who steals the heroine’s entire childhood for the sake of vanity.
And the winner is…
Maleficent! I hope this makes up for 2014, ma’am. They did you dirty.
Nominees for Worst: Elephant Matriarch, Queen of Hearts, Madam Mim, Doris, Dawn Bellwether
Any of the women above could melt your face off in a heartbeat, but these ones will just make you mildly annoyed. Among the weakest female villains, we have a heartless and arrogant elephant who has so little going on in her pathetic life that she feels the need to ostracise children for birth defects, a noisy but rather shallow tantrum-throwing queen with little to no motivation, a fairly enjoyable but utterly pointless witch who shows up out of the blue like a Big-Lipped Alligator (before actually turning into one), a bowler hat with no personality to speak of, and a put-upon introvert gone rogue whose entire scheme rests on the inherent prejudices of others.
And the winner is…
Doris! I truly cannot bring myself to care about this character at all.
Best Animal Sidekick / Worst Animal Sidekick
Nominees for Best: Thumper, Sebastian, Marahute, Meeko, Rhino
In a notoriously “Marmite” type of category, the picks for best animal sidekick will vary a lot from person to person, but for me, I had to include the precocious little bunny who nearly steals the show from his more bashful friend, the warm-hearted crustacean royal guardian who covers his inner sweetness with a hilariously pompous front, the silent but majestic giant eagle who gives her young friend the memory of a lifetime on a breath-taking flight through the clouds, the personable and mischievous little raccoon who picks pockets, braids hair and outsmarts everyone, and the adorable pop-culture-addicted hamster fanboy who gets the adventure he’s always dreamed of alongside his hero.
And the winner is…
Sebastian! Don’t worry buddy, we definitely appreciate what you go through for us.
Nominees for Worst: Dinky & Boomer, Gurgi, Frank, The Gargoyles, Heihei
Well… this was an easy selection, that’s for sure. The canon is full of pestilential little beasts, but among the very worst, we have the two pointless birds who detract from their film’s story with their endless forgettable subplot, the infamously selfish little thingy which steals the emotional climax of the film from the hero, the absolutely infuriating frilled lizard whose sheer stupidity makes you wonder how he’s even survived into adulthood, the not-technically-animal gargoyle sidekicks who completely destroy the dark tone of the film and give their friend some terrible advice, and the equally stupid chicken who usurps the rightful place of the far more likeable piggy alongside his heroine.
And the winner is…
Frank! Yeesh, I’m gritting my teeth just thinking about him.
Best Henchman / Worst Henchmen
Nominees for Best: Horace and Jasper, Fidget, Flotsam and Jetsam, Kronk, Helga
A villain’s nothing without their henchmen, but Disney ones come from a very mixed bag. The better ones include the bumbling Cockney thieves who are completely fine with killing and skinning dozens of helpless puppies, the peg-legged bat who carries out his tasks with a kind of maliciously cheerful efficiency, the surprisingly competent twin eels who have to be outright killed in the final battle to give the good guys a fighting chance, the loveable “punch-clock” henchman who enjoys jump-rope and baking and doesn’t seem to realise he’s meant to be evil, and the badass lieutenant who’s worked her way up to second-in-command at the age of just thirty and won’t take any crap from anyone, including her commander.
And the winner is…
Kronk! Let’s celebrate with some spinach puffs!
Nominees for Worst: Ugly Stepsisters, Creeper, Joanna, Pain and Panic, Willie Brothers
You just can’t get good help these days. This useless lot consist of a pair of jealous, vicious, spoilt brats with no sense between them, a whiny, spineless brownnoser with almost no redeeming qualities whatsoever, a clever but rather tiresome goanna who would be a lot better off on her own, a pair of loud, incompetent idiots who are an embarrassment to their awesome villain, and a trio of insultingly poor dolts who add nothing to their film except a mild sense of irritation.
And the winners are…
The Willie Brothers! Do excuse me, I can’t even remember your names.
Best Mother / Worst Mother
Nominees for Best: Bambi’s Mother, Duchess, Quasimodo’s Mother, Sarah Hawkins, Eudora
People don’t tend to think of strong mothers when they think of Disney (dead ones, on the other hand…). However, there are some great ones hidden away in the canon if you know where to look. The best five, for me, are the caring and instructive mother deer who is cruelly taken from her son too soon, the single mother cat who has to help her three children get home after being left to die in the countryside while dealing with the attentions of a local lothario, another devoted mother who tries desperately to protect her baby from the villain and loses her life in the process, a single mother and business-owner who is trying hard to raise an upstanding young man while juggling the responsibilities of running an inn, and a supportive but realistic mother who beams with pride as her daughter finally achieves her dreams.
And the winner is…
Sarah Hawkins! You represent what motherhood is all about; hard work, faith and love.
Nominees for Worst: Queen Leah, Hera, Fa Li, Penny’s Mother, Queen Iduna
Of course, in a canon notorious for its absent or useless mothers, we also have a few picks for the worst. These include the medieval queen who gets only a single line and has no impact on the plot, a sickly pink Disneyfied version of a jealous and vengeful Greek goddess, an underused mother in ancient China whose only role is to support her stoic husband, a “stage mom” who has pushed her daughter into a career that the girl doesn’t seem to truly enjoy, and another useless queen who has little to do except stand beside her husband looking worried.
And the winner is…
Queen Iduna! Can you remember if she even spoke?
Best Father / Worst Father
Nominees for Best: Maurice, Mufasa, Fa Zhou, Professor Porter, James
For our final character category, let’s take a look at the best of the Disney dads. Here, we have a muddled but devoted old inventor who’s willing to risk his life for his daughter’s, a noble and courageous lion at the height of his glory who’s raising his son with love and discipline until he is stolen away from him, a stern but caring military officer whose daughter means more to him than any material honour an Emperor could bestow, a warm-hearted old professor who shares a passion for nature with his daughter and wants her to be happy, and a poor but cheerful father who encourages his daughter to follow her dreams and instils in her a strong work ethic to make sure she achieves them.
And the winner is…
Fa Zhou! That reunion gets me every time…
Nominees for Worst: King (Cinderella), King Hubert, Leland Hawkins, Buck (Chicken Little), King Agnarr
For every great dad in the canon, though, there’s another who’s not so inspiring. The worst dads include an unnamed tyrannical king who sees his son as little more than a breeding machine, a similarly angry king who likewise has no respect for his son’s agency, a deadbeat commitment-phobe who walks out on his wife and son (who needs him anyway), a “father” who tries to undermine his son at every turn and actively tries to suppress him in order to better mould him to fit his own shallow idea of the “perfect kid”, and a worrywart who creates a severe neurosis in his daughter by teaching her to lock up and repress her emotions, nearly destroying the kingdom.
And the winner is…
Buck! No surprise there, eh? Even Leland wasn’t actively abusive…
Best Traditional Animation / Worst Traditional Animation (pre-1985)
Now we’re moving onto the breakdown categories, starting with three for the many different types of animation used by Disney. Prior to 1985, all Disney animation was done by hand – there are twenty-five features in this category, and they’re so diverse that it’s tough to pick a winner. Sleeping Beauty was famously finnicky and artistically ambitious, but I think I have to give the edge to the German-expressionism-inspired Pinocchio, which features some of the absolute best animation of the Golden Age. From the multiplane pans and the amazing water effects to the terrific character work and intricate clockwork toys, the work on display is just beautiful.
With that in mind, it’s rather disappointing to see how much worse the animation became during the Package Era a few years later. Fun and Fancy Free is perhaps the ugliest of these films, featuring far too many crusty old live-action sequences and very dull animation in between. Yet in the Dark Age, thanks to budgetary restrictions and a lack of artistic guidance, I would say that things got slightly worse – The Aristocats might be a better film overall, but I’m giving it the award for the worst fully traditionally-animated film in the canon. It’s so scratchy that it literally looks unfinished, with loose pencil lines dancing and flickering around characters’ faces and poor integration with the backgrounds. I might have a soft spot for this film personally, but that doesn’t make it any prettier.
Best Hybrid Animation / Worst Hybrid Animation (traditional & computer)
From The Black Cauldron onwards, all of Disney’s traditionally-animated films featured at least some computer animation, with some integrating it more successfully than others. Altogether, there are twenty-one of these “hybrid” features. While I do love some of the animation in Fantasia 2000 (particularly in the Firebird sequence), I couldn’t give it the top spot because of the very dated computer animation in sequences like Pines of Rome. Now, I know Pocahontas is hardly top of anyone’s lists ordinarily, but one thing that is undeniable is that it’s a wonderfully animated film, largely thanks to the talents of Glen Keane, John Pomeroy and Nik Ranieri, among others. The people move much more realistically than earlier ones had (although some criticised that for making the film feel “stilted”), and the few computer-generated elements are smoothly integrated and barely noticeable.
You might expect Disney’s first foray into computer-traditional hybrid animation to be a bit rough – and you’d be right. The Black Cauldron endured an infamously troubled production period (to put it mildly) and it shows in the lazy state of the animation. The humans look generic and move awkwardly, the few pieces of computer animation – such as the cauldron – stick out like sore thumbs. There’s also more of that poor background integration which makes it look like the characters are standing in front of a green screen at times. However, for the title of worst hybrid, I decided I had to go with Oliver & Company, which is arguably the least successful attempt to combine the two styles: the vehicles and certain environments are boxy, simplistic and stiff, visibly dating the film, and the traditional elements are hardly any better, displaying more flickering scratchiness and poorly-designed background characters.
Best Computer Animation / Worst Computer Animation (post-2000)
Finally, we come to the films which use only computer animation (with some occasional live-action). Beginning with Dinosaur, this category includes the remaining ten films in the canon. This is the newest style of animation and hasn’t been around for as long; Disney only really started to find their feet with it towards the end of the last decade. Bolt was the first CG film to appear comfortably handled, featuring a rich, “painterly” tone which was then carried across into Tangled. While I’ve always admired the animation in that (especially on her hair), it’s only natural that I’d give this award to their most recent CG feature, Moana. Computer animation is a science, and science is always progressing – the technology used to create Moana was cutting-edge, and everything from the water to the hair looks incredible.
Ah, we had some really embarrassing stinkers from Disney in the middle of the 2000s, didn’t we? Meet the Robinsons had a cheap, plasticky look to it, with backgrounds that looked like screensavers and characters who looked like they were made of silicone. However, Chicken Little had the additional problems of trying to depict characters covered in feathers and fur, and the animators who worked on it had just barely been trained on the technology, so they were far from comfortable with it yet. It certainly shows; this has to be one of the ugliest Disney films ever made.
Best Original Score / Worst Original Score
There have been some outstanding scores created for Disney films over the decades, with such talents as Alan Menken making a name for themselves with their repeated successes. With his work for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Menken truly outdid himself; it’s powerful stuff that elevates the already strong film to a whole new level with its haunting use of organs, choirs and bells, and objectively speaking it’s probably the best Disney score ever created. That said, I must admit that my number one pick is probably influenced a bit by nostalgia (I first chose this as my favourite animated score in a much earlier post), but that’s not to say the score for Dinosaur isn’t genuinely good. James Newton Howard is one of my favourite film composers – his music never fails to transport me to a whole new world, and of his three Disney scores this feels like his best, featuring creative use of percussion and African choral rhythms courtesy of Lebo M that set the film’s adventurous atmosphere perfectly.
Like just about every other aspect of these productions, the scores for these two mid-2000s bombs are unmemorable and bland. I honestly have very little to say about them; the films both feature soundtracks that consist mainly of pre-existing songs, so the composers didn’t really have a lot of room to go crazy. It pains me to dismiss the work of such talented musicians as John Debney and Danny Elfman as forgettable, but I simply must. Of the two films, I’m giving Robinsons the edge simply for having Danny Elfman (and for incorporating that moving theme from Little Wonders), so poor Chicken Little loses out once again.
Best “I Want” Song / Worst “I Want” Song
Now here’s a debatable category. You just try to find any two people who agree on this one, I dare you. While songs of this type have been seen in Disney films since the very beginning, they have become a staple of the musical ones since the early nineties (especially if the film stars a princess) and the category includes some of the studio’s most iconic tunes. This one really does come down to taste, because the majority of these songs are hugely enjoyable – for me, Just Around The Riverbend takes the prize because of Judy Kuhn’s unbelievable vocals, but Part of Your World is probably the best “I Want” song from an objective standpoint.
Poor Kathryn Beaumont really couldn’t sing all that well, which resulted in this clumsy little off-key number near the start of a crowded and half-finished soundtrack. It’s technically an “I Want” song, but you’d never guess it from the vocals, and the lyrics are also rather vague and pointless. Another Believer is from Meet the Robinsons (I don’t blame you if you didn’t recognise it) and is another song which technically qualifies as an “I Want” song but feels nothing like one. Lewis doesn’t even sing it himself, but that might actually have helped his case and kept the song off the bottom spot.
Best Villain Song / Worst Villain Song
Tying in with my comments about Alan Menken’s fabulous Hunchback score, the award for best villain song is also his thanks to this evil little gem: Hellfire. What a performance – Tony Jay really nails it, expertly conveying Frollo’s twisted internal conflict over his lust for Esmeralda and his religious “purity” and wrapping it all up with an impressively belted note. Just behind this number comes Scar’s maniacal Be Prepared, which is well-known for the distinctive nightclub-meets-Nazi aesthetic, the banter between the intellectual lion and his mangy hyena henchmen and the sassy vocals, provided by both Jeremy Irons and Jim Cummings.
I don’t exactly hate Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo (although I do hate trying to spell it), but the trouble is it doesn’t really work as a villain song because it fails to convey even an ounce of threat. There’s nothing wrong with a villain hamming it up in their big production number if that’s their style, but when Ursula, Ratigan and even Ratcliffe did it, they still managed to get across their diabolical natures and were by turns both scary and entertaining. Alameda Slim is just not scary, which makes this whole song feel like a farce. It’s for this reason that the short and stereotypical We Are Siamese just misses the bottom spot; it might be an uncomfortable number by modern standards due to the racial caricaturing of the cats, but they do at least manage to make their malicious presence felt a bit more effectively.
Best Writing / Worst Writing
This was a tough choice, but I finally narrowed the award for best writing down to these two nominees. In the end, Zootopia just managed to nab it for doing such a marvellous job of presenting an extremely sensitive (and highly relevant) issue in child-friendly terms, all while balancing a good amount of character development for the two leads and working in some genuinely funny comedy that works for both children and adults. The plotting of the crime drama at the film’s centre is also nicely handled and doesn’t get bogged down with complicated subplots like such stories tend to. For the runner-up, I chose Tarzan, which perfected the tried-and-true Disney “formula” that was so popular in the Renaissance and managed to “clean up” a notoriously inappropriate Edwardian novel, making it palatable for modern audiences by removing the racism and sexism, instead replacing it with a more character-focused approach which added greatly to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creations.
I hope this isn’t getting boring, but I’m sure you saw this coming. Another of Chicken Little’s countless problems was with its writing, which I’d say is actually the worst thing about it. The characters are appalling; Abby Mallard had potential but isn’t given enough to do and winds up as little more than a brainless love interest; Runt of the Litter spends most of the film as a cowardly hypochondriac (I really hate this stock type) and then devolves into a creepy sexist at the end; and then there’s Buck, the father who’s so embarrassed by his son that you get the feeling he’d rather the kid didn’t exist. On top of this, the plot is a meandering mess, largely because the original folk tale was so scanty that it had to be stuffed like a pig to fill a feature-length run-time. First the sky is falling, then, oh, there’s a baseball game that matters for some reason, then suddenly, what, aliens, and then oh no back to the sky is falling… Anyway. Outside of this one, The Black Cauldron comes in second for trying – and failing – to cram an entire book series into one rushed film. More wasted characters, more episodic plot points that have little to do with one another, and another badly-paced climax. Thank goodness this thing didn’t sink the studio.
Best Cinematography / Worst Cinematography
For our final breakdown category before the genres, let’s take a look at the cinematography. Now, I adore Beauty and the Beast and have a deep love for its atmospheric sets, the clever use of the weather to emphasise emotional beats, the dramatic staging and the romantic costuming… However, when it comes to discussing inventive cinematography, what other film could I give this award to but Fantasia? The entire film is basically one big, luscious experiment in artistic expression, influenced strongly by the German expressionism that Walt was so taken by during his European tour in 1935. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the major highlights with its fascinating use of light and shadows, not to mention the brilliant water effects of Ugo D’Orsi, but I also love the abstract opening with the Oskar Fischinger touches and of course, the dinosaurs from Rite of Spring went on to have a huge influence on the wider cinematic world in the decades afterwards. Wrapping up with the strikingly contrasting pieces Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria, there’s scarcely a weak moment to be found (as long as you overlook the tacky pastel centaurs).
Well, well, well… here we are once again. For a change of pace, I actually decided to give the award for worst cinematography to Home on the Range, because it completely fails to make use of an extremely inviting setting. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible to make the American southwest look bad, but they did it! Chicken Little, at least, had its alien sequences, and while those might have been ripped off of better films that came before it, at least some of them managed to muster a mild degree of real tension.
Best Romance / Worst Romance
Two well-rounded leads who grow and change one another for the better, hesitantly developing a friendship which blossoms into true love over time, featuring sweeping romantic music and gorgeous animation, all set against the stunning backdrop of Louis XV’s France.
A circus bear with no social skills must learn to woo a “wild” bear by beating her up. The “girl bear” wears a bow so we can tell that she is female, and her only personality trait is being female. Yawn.
Best Sci-Fi / Worst Sci-Fi
An ambitious comic-book inspired art design compliments the eerie otherworldly setting of Atlantis, which makes for a strong contrast with the steampunk style of 1914-era America. This underrated work throws an engaging (if slightly underdeveloped) team of rag-tag adventurers into a genuinely intriguing world of state-of-the-art technology matched against the mythical powers of the ancient Atlanteans. This is a seriously cool film.
Dude… Dude… you know what would make this charming little folk tale like, way better? Aliens. Audiences love, al-i-ens. Oh, snap.
Best Action/Adventure / Worst Action/Adventure
When a young lad living in the Outback gets ensnared in the schemes of a malevolent poacher, it is up to everyone’s favourite “two little mice” to rescue him. The stakes are high, the scenery is spectacular, and the climax – involving a kid dangling over a crocodile-infested river while a man shoots at him with a rifle – well, it has to be one of the most action-packed scenes in the entire canon. If you’re looking for adventure, you’ll find it in the clouds with Cody and Marahute.
While I will defend this film to a point, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t lag heavily in the middle. Plod, plod, plod… are we done with the walking yet? Things liven up whenever the carnotaurs are around, but elsewhere this adventure fails to really get the blood pumping.
Best Western / Worst Western
This really isn’t Disney’s best genre at all. You know you’re struggling when a film like Melody Time is getting an award for being the best at something; I don’t honestly care for the Pecos Bill segment, but it does at least feature a more authentically “Wild West” setting and has some better scenery. Although the live-action opening segment is also very wooden, I do enjoy Blue Shadows on a Trail; it’s perfect for the setting.
Sigh… Bust a freaking Moo?
Best Drama / Worst Drama
This thing is absolutely loaded with drama; there’s a kind of “love square” with three guys all pining after one girl, but she’s more interested in defending the rights of her people, who are being brutally oppressed by one of the three. That same monster is also oppressing the gentle-hearted and deformed bell-ringer (whose mother he murdered), and when he doesn’t get what he wants, he has a disturbing tendency to break out the torches… This film really knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat.
This week in the Disney canon – will the butler be able to successfully get rid of a few pampered cats, so he can swindle their dotty owner out of her fortune? Or will he stop to think for a moment, and realise that he is, you know, human, and would probably have rights to the “cats’ money” anyway if he just waits patiently? Good grief, I can hardly wait to see how this turns out.
Best Crime / Worst Crime
A clever and tightly-plotted buddy-cop movie with plenty of twists and turns, starring two charismatic and complex leads whose own past experiences influence their dealings with the various lowlifes they encounter. The central crime is satisfyingly resolved, but not without some real effort from our heroes.
A familiar tale in which the power dynamic is turned on its head, and the poor must commit “crimes” in order to survive the cruelties of the rich. The film gets bogged down in a soppy romance and excessive supporting characters, with all of the crimes being rather dubious due to the nature of the people committing them. Not the most thrilling effort.
Best Comedy / Worst Comedy
Yzma and Kronk alone are funny enough to carry the whole film, but add in Pacha and Kuzco and you’ve got an absolute side-splitter on your hands. Much of the comedy is dry-witted or deadpan, so it might not be to everyone’s taste, but it really nails this particular style and almost every joke lands beautifully. There’s physical gaggery galore as well, not to mention visual comedy in the lively animation and background gags. Pretty much every scene has at least one highly quotable line, putting this film squarely alongside the other comedy giants of cinema.
I had to check whether this was even supposed to be a comedy before nominating it. Apparently it is. Huh… who knew? Very few of the “jokes” on offer here work, with some handled so poorly that it’s not even clear if they were supposed to be funny. Some gags are too dated, others are too awkwardly written, some are just plain lame, and the whole thing is permeated with a mean-spirited feeling that makes it hard to enjoy anything the characters do.
Best War / Worst War
Once again, this isn’t a genre that family-friendly Disney have ventured into too often, but after a film this solid they didn’t really need to. With a strong, personal motivation and her own self-image at stake, Mulan sets out on a risky mission to take her father’s place in an all-male army, only to find herself caught up in a battle to protect the Emperor himself as the Huns close in on the Imperial City. The scenes in the mountains are truly magnificent in their scale and atmosphere, and some of the quieter moments (such as the discovery of a body-strewn battlefield and the loss of Shang’s father) are quietly powerful with their stark imagery.
Oh dear. The war aspect of this film is one of the things which really seems to get people’s goats. In hindsight, taking on a piece of real history and “Disneyfying” it probably wasn’t the smartest choice, especially when said conflict involved a racial dispute. Many people despise the way the film tries to excuse the actions of the white settlers by making out that the racism is all Ratcliffe’s fault, while also trying to portray the Native Americans as prejudiced to “even” the field. The fact that the tension must be resolved by a single person in the end also weakens the film when reading it as a war story; where’s the epic final battle?
Best Horror / Worst Horror
Disney will likely never produce a true horror film for their canon, but damn, if this film doesn’t come close. The imagery just gets darker and darker as poor little Pinocchio gets lead further and further astray; by the time the Pleasure Island scenes kick in, the film has devolved into pure nightmare fuel. I wouldn’t show this to any kid under about eight; the hysterical screams of Lampwick as he’s slowly, painfully turned into a donkey while a petrified Pinocchio looks on will haunt you for weeks. And the worst thing? None of the villains are caught in the end…
I feel mean nominating this for worst horror film in the canon, but it’s such a limited category that I didn’t really have a choice. While Disney’s take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic in its own right, it has to be said that it doesn’t compare visually with the richness of Pinocchio, and it’s also a bit too short to build real tension. Still, take this with a pinch of salt; I’d still recommend checking this one out!
Best Arthouse / Worst Arthouse
This isn’t the first award won by this film, but it definitely deserves to win in this category. Walt Disney was trying to reform the way people viewed art in general with this project; he wanted to take the experiences of viewing an art gallery and being in a concert hall and fuse them together, and he did a great job of it. Viewing Fantasia is a unique experience, and whatever your thoughts on it, it’s certainly going to provoke a lot of conversation among you and your friends. With this film, the western world finally saw animation as a serious art form for the first time.
Fantasia spawned the knock-off that was Make Mine Music, and that film essentially led to the even shoddier compilation that was Melody Time. The quality of both the stories and the animation in this is very uneven, and there’s little of artistic merit here outside of a few key segments.
Best Musical / Worst Musical
A difficult choice in a canon filled with jaw-dropping musicals, but good old Beauty and the Beast just barely edged out The Little Mermaid for me as the most enjoyable one overall. There simply isn’t a weak song to be found; even the briefest reprises are exceptional, and every song fits in well to the scene it’s a part of, with no filler. The score tying it all together is also a masterpiece, lush and romantic with its soaring strings and delicate melodies. I can’t get enough of this one.
I struggle to remember the words to any of this film’s many, many songs. Despite boasting a greater number of them than any other Disney musical to date, this film proves the old adage about quality over quantity – none of the music here is especially memorable, and unfortunately, the lead character’s songs are let down by relying on an actress with little singing ability (though to be fair, she did improve by the time she played Wendy).
Best Fantasy / Worst Fantasy
People really need to give this one a chance; it’s an epic fantasy adventure set in an alternate, steampunk-inspired version of outer space, featuring an eclectic mixture of elaborate sailing galleons from the Golden Age of Piracy combined with the weirdest and wackiest alien designs in the canon. The characters soar through a universe that looks like a gorgeous painting, hunting for treasure and escaping from supernovas, all while developing new relationships with one another that challenge the very cores of their beings. An unconventional fantasy, perhaps, but a hugely rewarding one for those who dare to ignore the critics and test the waters.
It had to be you, Black Cauldron. This one was trying so hard to be Lord of the Rings, but it just didn’t work. Everything about it feels generic – they threw in castles, dungeons, princesses, dragon-ish creatures, swords, zombies and magic, but it just feels like they’re painting by numbers, adding in elements simply because they’re expected of a fantasy film. The world of Prydain as realised here is entirely forgettable, and the characters’ motivations are so muddled that you can’t really call their adventure a proper quest. What a waste of a good opportunity.
Now, as our winners (and losers) make their way home with their prizes, we can only reflect on the staggering diversity of the Disney canon, and be thankful to have witnessed so many decades of experimentation and innovation from this fascinating studio.
Among our winners, The Hunchback of Notre Dame stands tall with four wins out of an impressive eight nominations, seven of which were in positive categories – it scooped Best Male Lead, Best Male Villain, Best Villain Song and Best Drama, with further nominations for Best Female Lead, Best Mother, Best Original Score and Worst Animal Sidekick (damn gargoyles).
Meanwhile, Home one the Range and Chicken Little duke it out for the distinction of being the absolute worst, with the former garnering nominations for Worst Male and Female Supporting, Worst Female Lead and Worst Male Villain, and winning Worst Henchmen, Worst Villain Song, Worst Cinematography and Worst Western. Of course, to nobody’s surprise, Chicken Little managed to set records with its sheer awfulness – it got a whopping seven wins from nine nominations, all of them negative: Worst Male Lead, Worst Male Supporting (won), Worst Father (won), Worst Computer Animation (won), Worst Original Score (won), Worst Writing (won), Worst Cinematography, Worst Sci-Fi (won) and Worst Comedy (won). How lovely.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, which was another hugely fun one for me to make. I’d love to hear your thoughts on potential nominees that weren’t mentioned, and if you happen to make a similar list yourself, please do share it in the comments below! For my hundredth article, I am going to be celebrating the beautiful artwork from the fifty-six canon films, so be sure to come back soon if you’d like to see it. Until next time, stay animated!
http://treasure-planet.wikia.com/wiki/File:Leland_Hawkins_avatar_.png – credit for Leland Hawkins image