Jason’s Top 10 Disney Songs
It’s been awhile since I’ve done an editorial piece as I’m always trying to play “catch up” with all the movie reviews that Hollywood has churning out with its releases. So, I thought of doing a little post would be fun and what would be better to do one for my personal Top 10 Disney Songs.
As many out there know…. I’m a huge Disney fan. I grew up with Disney, my childhood is filled with Disney, and Disney is still a part of my fascination in my adult life. Yes, I’m a Disney-nerd…haha….and proud of it. So, like many out there, Disney played an instrument part in many of our childhoods and continues to do so in children’s entertainment. One of the biggest trademarks that the animated studio has done in many of the animated feature films is the inclusion of songs, with many (if not all) being both catchy and memorable. To be honest, some of the songs are more palpable and lyrically memorable than the actual story unfolding in the cartoon. Each of us as their own personal favorite Disney songs to like, so it’s hard to compare “apples to apples” as each one has made a profound impact on our lives (be it a childhood memory or something that’s just being ingrained in our minds).
For this list, my picks are considered from Walt Disney Animation Studios cannon lists from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2018’s Ralph Breaks the Internet (the most recent from the time that I’m writing this lists). I would consider songs from Pixar Animation Studios film, but none of the songs featured in those movies are on my list. Also, this means no live-action movies (no songs from Mary Poppins). Additionally, the songs I choose are from both the actual movie (the cartoon sequence) or from the accompanied artist that does a rendition of the song attached to the feature film.
So, much like my other Top 10 lists, here are some honorable mentions that almost made it on my list……
“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana (2016)
“See the line where the sky meets the sea it calls me”
“Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
“I had a little trouble with the fireplace”
“Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
“A Culinary Cabaret!”
“The Bells of Notre Dame” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
“Who is the monster and who is the man?”
“I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from The Lion King (1994)
“Free to do it all my way!”
And now…my Top 10!!!
10 – When You Wish Upon A Star
From the Movie: Pinocchio (1940)
Performed By: Cliff Edwards
In the long history of Disney Studios, one of the iconic and most memorable films of its earlier years is undoubtedly 1940’s Pinocchio (based on the Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio”). While it’s technical presentation and story handling were indeed ahead for its time (for that particular era of cartoon filmmaking, one of the most recognizable pieces that came out of Pinocchio is the song titled “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, the song, which was sung by Cliff Edwards (in the film’s character of Jimmy Cricket), the song talks about wishing upon a star and how an individual’s dream will come true (no matter the size or practicality), which is reflected in the movie when Geppetto wishes Pinocchio, a little wooden puppet, to life. In a nutshell, the song has a child-like innocence and that’s what makes it so charming and warming to listen to. It’s like reconnecting to your childhood and recalling past memories of days gone by from your youth (almost like a fade flashback memory). It’s that type of feeling. It’s hard to describe, but for any Disney fan out there…. you know what I mean. In truth, “When You Wish Upon A Star” has become so well-loved and recognizable within its lyrics and melody that Disney has adopted the songs as a part of the company mantra, indoctrinating this iconic piece into their business marketing culture that came be heard throughout many mediums (i.e. theme parks, opening logos to feature films (both live-action and animated), cruise ship whistles, television programs, etc.). Basically, whenever you think of Disney…. you either think of Mickey Mouse and the song “When You Wish Upon A Star”. I certainly do.
9 – “Son of Man”
From Movie: Tarzan (1999)
Performed By: Phil Collins
Disney’s 1999 Tarzan was one the lesser known / lesser favorite animated features from the “House of Mouse”. Yes, it had positive reviews and made quite a lot of money at the box office (becoming the fifth highest-film release in 1999), but the film itself sort of gets lost as one of the more “forgetful” entries in Disney’s animated feature film list. (though I think that this movie deserves more credit). That being said, Tarzan did have a few noteworthy songs in its presentation, including the first one titled “Son of Man”. Written and composed by musician artist Phil Collins, the song, which is presented in a montage sequences, reflects upon the film’s title character (Tarzan) and how he learns to be an ape from childhood to adulthood, picks up skills from several jungle animals that he encounters. The song itself is really upbeat and quite a toe-tapper with a positive message of determination and inner-empowerment within its own lyrics like the lines “On this journey that your making. There’ll be answers that you’ll seek. And it’s you who’ll climb the mountain. It’s you who’ll reach the peak”. Additionally, Collins vocals throughout the song are also a highlight, strengthen piece in its melodic bravado as well as the on-screen cartoon imagery. While Collins did perform several other songs in the Tarzan, including “Two Worlds” and “You’ll Be in My Heart”, “Son of Man” is definitely the better of the three and the one that sticks out the most for its catchy upbeat-ness and memorable lyrics. Tarzan might not be my personal favorite Disney movie, but “Son of Man” is definitely a hit to me.
8 – “Friend Like Me”
From the Movie: Aladdin (1992)
Performed By: Robin Williams
During Disney’s heyday of the late 80s / early 90s animated feature films achievements is 1992’s Aladdin, which was released in 1992 in-between Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and delivered an animated powerhouse film that featured amazing animation, solid voice casting, and some memorable songs, including the Academy Award nominated song “Friend Like Me”. As a side-note, it lost the award, but it was won by Aladdin’s other musical song “A Whole New World”. The song, which was written by Howard Ashman, composed by Alan Menken, and sung by actor / comedian Robin Williams (performed in his movie character role Genie), showcases Genie’s nearly omnipotent power to his new master (Aladdin, the movie’s main protagonist and a skeptical thief), with an impressive musical number, stressing that he is a “friend” unlike any other to fulfill his desires for his three wishes. Unmistakably, “Friend Like Me” was quite the show-stopper and toe-tapper in Aladdin, providing enough contemporary feel throughout the song (using fast jazz / big bandstand music) as well as having a much more “lively” and “upbeat’ tone than any of the other songs featured in the movie. Plus, what makes the song (and truly) memorable is vocal talents of Robin Williams, who truly made the song great and fascinating (as well as the character of Genie in the film). Plus, the song in the movie compliments all the cartoon imagery beautiful, providing the perfect example of all the wonderous powers that Genie can do and the potential for what Aladdin “could” wish for. In the end, while other Disney movies have a similar contemporary feel (i.e. “Be Our Guest” from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast and “A Guy Like You” from 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me” definitely stands a crowd pleaser and something truly remarkable for both the movie and to the late Robin Williams. Plus, the best part of the song (in the movie) is the “applause” sign that appears over Genie after he finishes the song. I still laugh at that part.
7 – “Poor Unfortunate Soul”
From the Movie: The Little Mermaid (1989)
Performed By: Pat Carroll
While the heroes and princesses usually have songs to be sung in Disney animated movies, there’s also a chance for the antagonist villains of the respective features to have their chance to express their feelings / motives…” In song form!” (Haha…. I had to throw that Moana line in here). While there has been plenty of Disney villain songs in their animated movie cannon (i.e. “Cruella de Vil” from 1960’s 101 Dalmatians, “Be Prepare” from 1994’s The Lion King, and “Gaston” from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast), my personal “villain” favorite has to be “Poor Unfortunate Soul” from 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Composed by Alan Menken and written by Howard Ashman, the song, which was sung by Pat Carroll (performed in the film’s character of Ursula, a vile octopus sea witch), depicts Ursula using her song in order to seduce Ariel (the film’s protagonist) into trading her voice for the chance to temporarily become human. Unlike a lot of other Disney song, “Poor Unfortunate Soul” has two very distinct lyrical halves, with the first part being more slower and more seductive / somewhat alluring attraction, while the second part is more faster, bolder, and bombastic to certain degree (with dialogue sequences in-between the two). With a combination of burlesque and Broadway mainstage theater, the song definitely strikes a chord in being memorable, showcasing the dramatic poise that Ursula uses when trying to seduce Ariel in agreeing to the deal; ending in quite a showstopper crescendo. It also helps that Carroll’s rasp and sultry voice aids in elevating the song when speaking the song’s dialogue lines. Plus, I’ll admit that my favorite part of the song is actually towards the end when Ursula’s speaks her incantations “Beluga, Sevruga. Come winds of the Caspian Sea. Larynxes, glossitis. Et Max Laryngitis. La voce to me!”. I love that part!
6 – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”
From the Movie: The Lion King (1994)
Performed By: Elton John
1994’s The Lion King is definitely a crowd-pleaser amongst many Disney fans, with some calling the best example of Disney animated movie to date. While the movie boasts plenty to like about from its animation, its story, to its voice talents, the film’s songs is what ultimately comes to many minds, including the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”. While the song featured in the movie, which was mostly sung by Kristle Edwards with few short lines from some of the film’s characters (including Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella) bookending the song, the actual version I’m talking about is the one that appears at the end of The Lion King during the film’s end credits title. Written, composed, and sung by legendary musician Elton John, this version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has different lyrics than the one that was featured in the movie, but, in comparsion, speaks to the same values of love between two individuals. However, Elton John’s version seems more passionate in its words usage and has much more of a romantic side that’s quite enchanting to listen to. It’s slow ballad piece that works and has calming resonating feeling within. While I know Elton John has created many other songs in his illustrious musical career (with some greatest hits along the way), his version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King is my personal favorite of his; capturing something truly endearing and melodically pleasing and just like song says “It’s enough to make kings and vagabonds….believe the very best”.
5 – “Let It Go”
From the Movie: Frozen (2013)
Performed By: Idina Menzel
During the early 2010s era, Disney felt to be distancing itself from its once time-honored traditions and trademark signatures of princesses, talking animals, sing-along features. Of course, 2010’s Tangled was released and receive positive fanfare from all, but didn’t quite “spark” the return of this storytelling identity, with Disney releasing Winnie the Pooh in 2011 and Wreck-It Ralph in 2012. It was until 2013 when Disney released Frozen (an animated film based around the Snow Queen) and brought with those classic nuances to their 53rd feature film, including the ultra-super popular song “Let It Go”. Written by Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the song, which was sung by actress / singer Idina Menzel (who also provided the voice for the character of Elisa), speaks of Queen Elisa’s plight of her circumstances and the ostracized life she has lived, only then to realize of casting aside her old life and embrace her new powers fully without reserve or resentment; thus finally being free to be herself. While the song lyrics are indeed powerful, creating a great sense of empowerment in oneself and learning to accept yourself for who you are, Menzel’s vocal talents are the true highlight, starting out as quiet and mournful and gradually rising louder and finally belting out the final lines of the song. Plus, no one can deny that the film’s imagery of Elisa’s using her powers heightened the song. While Frozen did feature another iteration of “Let It Go” (a more simplified music pop-esque version), which was sung by artist Demi Lovato, during the film’s end credits, Menzel’s version of “Let It Go” is hands down the better of the two and definitely captures the essence of Elisa’s struggles (and ultimate liberation) as well as Disney’s signature mark of their animated princesses singing (and sometimes belting out) their troubles, desires, and passions. Plus, the song brought a new sense to the phrase “the cold never bother me anyways”.
4 – “Why Should I Worry?”
From the Movie: Oliver & Company (1988)
Performed By: Billy Joel
Heading to the streets of New York City, Oliver & Company was a cartoon allegory tale of Charles Dicken’s classic Oliver Twist, with the character of Jack Dodger (aka the “Artful Dodger”) being represented by a sly-talking mongrel mutt (with a mix of terrier breed) named Dodger. While the character of Oliver (an orange orphan kitten) is the main protagonist of the animated film, it’s actually Dodger who’s the most memorable, which is mostly due to him singing the song “Why Should I Worry?”. Written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, the song, which is sung by musician Billy Joel (who also provides the voice for Dodger as well), paints a clear picture, showing Dodger has a cunning streetwise scoundrel (much like in the movie and in Dickens story) and gleefully showcasing his “knowhow” of the inner workings of New York City street life to Oliver, who is chasing him throughout the entire song. I’ll admit that “Why Should I Worry?” is extremely upbeat and catchy with a blues vibe tone playing throughout the entire song. Personally, this was my first introduction to the movie (I owned one of those Disney Sing Along VHS tapes that had this sequence on it. I didn’t see the actually film in its entirety until much later on. Plus, Joel’s vocals perfect match the song’s lyrics beautifully as well as the song’s musical pieces as well. I always loved the lines “They love me at the Chelsea. They adore me at the Ritz” and the whole “Whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo” bit. In the end, “Why Should I Worry?” is definitely one of the highlight songs (and the most iconic) pieces from Oliver & Company.
3 – “Part of Your World”
From the Movie: The Little Mermaid (1989)
Performed By: Jodi Benson
Gadgets and gizmos a plenty indeed. “Part of Your World” is the second Little Mermaid song to be featured on my list is definitely of the most iconic ones of the entire animated film in both animation sequence and in musical song. Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the song, which was performed by Jodi Benson (who also provide the voice for Ariel in the movie), is a powerful ballad in which Ariel (the main character of the film) expresses her strong desire to become human (thus becoming part of their world), with several of the lyrics use placeholder names instead of some human-related terms that are unfamiliar to undersea world (i.e. I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore). In addition, the song’s lyrics are quite powerful as well, with many examining each verse and phrase for deeper analysis meaning behind what’s being displayed in the movie…. ranging from longing for acceptance, being oneself, facing one’s fear, and wishing for a new life experience amongst several other poignant meanings. From beginning to end, Benson’s voice, which start out small and quiet to growing loud and belting it out, captures the essence of those meanings, feeling the vulnerably and ultimate desire of Ariel’s plight throughout the entire song. And, to be honest, there’s a little bit of everyone in that song…I mean…. who hasn’t longed for something new or to go somewhere you haven’t been or even escape the life you know? If you think about it that way, that’s pretty deep for a Disney song. Plus, I’ll never get tired of hearing the final lines of the song…. “Out of the Sea…. Wish I Could be…. Part of that World”.
2 – “Beauty and the Beast”
From the Movie: Beauty and the Beasts (1991)
Performed By: Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme” …. those lyrics still get me. Disney’s Beauty and Beast is filled with enchantment, from its magical rose premise of a beast finding true love before it wilts to its colorful cast anthromorphhic household objects coming to life, but none is more magical endearing that the film’s title song “Beauty and the Beast”. While no one can deny that famed actress Angela Lansbury did a great job in singing “Beauty and the Beast” in the actually movie (fitting perfectly with the entire ballroom sequence), there’s just something magical in the duet ballad version sung by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Dion has always demonstrated her powerful vocals in her songs and does so in this particular piece, creating a strong voice with such memorable words While I never heard of Bryson before this song, his vocals compliments Dion; making the actual duet throughout the song enchanting from start to finish. The song’s lyrics themselves are quite impressive, implying that the feeling of love itself is as timeless and ageless as a “tale as old as time”. It’s really hard to explain, but there’s just something about this song that feels romantic and memorable lyrical and brings back a flood of imagery from the 1991 movie. It’s no wonder that the song won several awards (i.e. Best Original Song at the Academy Awards), demonstrating that a song (as old as time) can be truly something timeless in its own right.
1 – “The Circle of Life”
From the Movie: The Lion King (1994)
Performed By: Lebo M. and Carmen Twillie
So, what’s my favorite Disney song…. oh, that’s easy…. The Circle of Life. 1994’s The Lion King has always been a personal favorite of mine and probably is the best example of a Disney animated movie is (encompassing all attributes of animation and storytelling). Thus, the film’s opening song “The Circle of Life” unfolds as the sun rises, waking the slumbering animals of the Pride Lands, who assemble at the foot Pride Rock to the presentation ceremony of young Simba (the heir apparent to their presiding ruler Mufasa) as their future King. From the opening Zulu vocals by Lebo M., to the deep female vocals by Carmen Twillie, to the rousing score (with African influences), the song, which again was composed by Hans Zimmer and written Elton John and Tim Rice, has remained one of the most powerful and striking captivating openings for a Disney feature. Honestly…. how many of you (my readers) have tried to sing the opening Zulu singing part (I bet quite a lot of you). Even the song lyrics harken back to the film’s idea of what it means to be in the circle of life (i.e. a symbolic continuation cycle representation of birth, life, and death) of which plays an important part in the movie’s narrative. Plus, no one can deny the absolute memorable animated imagery of this sequence from when the sun rises to the reverse wide-angle camera shot of Pride Rock. It’s definitely one of the most iconic sequences of the entire film. In addition, the song “The Circle of Life” has become a mainstay in pop-culture with many various media and mediums parodying the song and its iconic imagery. Thus, altogether, the song “The Circle of Life” stands tall and proud as one of my personal favorite Disney songs of all time.
Wow…. that was kind of fun to do. Heck, that was so much fun to do that I might even do my Top 10 Best Disney Movies sometime soon. So, what do you guys think? I know, I know…I’m probably gonna get a backlash for some of you for not having “Hakuna Matata” or “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” or “Belle” or “Once Upon a Dream” or even “You’re Welcome” on my list. I personally love those song as well, but then this wouldn’t be my top 10 list (more like a top 50 list….am I right). So, what’s some of your favorite Disney songs…. I know you have them.