Oscars flashback: ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ is first Disney winner in Best Original Song

This article marks Part 2 of the Gold Derby series analyzing 84 years of Best Original Song at the Oscars. Join us as we look back at the timeless tunes recognized in this category, the results of each race and the overall rankings of the Academy Awards winners.

The 1940 Oscar nominees in Best Original Song were:

“Down Argentine Way” from “Down Argentine Way”
“Who Am I” from “Hit Parade of 1941”
“It’s a Blue World” from Music in My Heart”
“When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio”
“Only Forever” from “Rhythm on the River”
“Love of My Life” from “Second Chorus”
“Waltzing in the Clouds” from “Spring Parade”
“Our Love Affair” from “Strike Up the Band”
“I’d Know You Anywhere” from “You’ll Find Out”

Won and should’ve won: “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio”

Let’s take a moment to stare in wonder at the star-studded nature of this line-up. You have not just one of the all-time great Disney tracks – the first Disney song to ever grace the category – but also tunes performed by the legendary likes of Fred Astaire (“Love of My Life”); Bing Crosby (“Only Forever”); Betty Grable and Don Ameche (“Down Argentine Way”); and the charming-as-ever duo of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (“Our Love Affair”). This desn’t mean their songs are especially note-worthy – in fact, in most of the cases, they’re not very memorable at all – but still, talk about a stacked category.

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With that said, the songs are a mixed bag, in spite of the star wattage. The weakest links are the Grable-Ameche duet, a bouncy but hokey ode to, according to the song, just about the dandiest country on earth, Argentina; “It’s a Blue World,” a very short number competently performed by Tony Martin in the forgettable Rita Hayworth musical “Music in My Heart”; and, surprisingly, the Astaire and Crosby tracks, which are decidedly second or even third-tier in their respective discographies. Astaire famously declared “Second Chorus” his all-time worst picture and, judging by this nomination, it’s not hard to see why. “Waltzing in the Clouds,” sung by Deanna Durbin, is a slight step up from these, nicely performed but still not much to write home about.

From there, there are two solid numbers – the Garland-Rooney duet (“Our Love Affair”) and “I’d Know You Anywhere” from the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi comedy “You’ll Find Out.” Stripped of their performers, neither of these songs is especially great. Garland and Ginny Simms (on the second track, sounding dazzling) sell the songs so perfectly, though, that it’s tough not to get sucked in, even if the tracks are lyrically just decent.

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Ultimately, this comes down to the “Pinocchio” and “Hit Parade of 1941” songs. “When You Wish Upon a Star” is such a dreamy, charming piece, a perfect opener for its film. “Who Am I” is a piece gloriously performed by Frances Langford and features the lushest of orchestrations. Talk about a forgotten track, and what a shame that is. Choosing between the two is hardly the easiest of decisions but there’s no denying the timelessness of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

The Oscar winners ranked (thus far):

1. “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
2. “The Way You Look Tonight” from “Swing Time” (1936)
3. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940)
4. “Thanks for the Memory” from “The Big Broadcast of 1938” (1938)
5. “Lullaby of Broadway” from “Gold Diggers of 1935” (1935)
6. “Sweet Leilani” from “Waikiki Wedding” (1937)
7. “The Continental” from “The Gay Divorcee” (1934)

SEE Oscars flashback: Best Original Songs of the 1930s, including ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘The Way You Look Tonight’

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