Sometimes you wake up and say, “I’d love to do an article that’ll get me destroyed on the internet.” Well, today is one of those days, and what better topic than Disney — a company and fandom that’s totally cool, normal, and not at all completely terrifying?
Recently, my wife Jayne and I were cooking and told our Alexa device to play some Disney songs. The list was pretty obvious but it got us thinking about just how many incredible songs there have been over the years. This then led to a heated debate over dinner prep and that’s never a good thing when knives are involved. Which is to say, I knew this was a topic that people would have very strong opinions about, but also that I should probably write without my wife’s input for fear of lifelong retribution. Instead, I present it to the internet, a place that will surely be understanding and respectful. A place where it’s obvious lists are subjective and open to debate.
To that point, nowhere will this list be called “definitive,” especially since we’re limiting this strictly to Walt Disney Animation films. So no Mary Poppins, no Nightmare Before Christmas, no Pixar, and, most crucially to me, no High School Musical. Even with those exclusions though, narrowing down over 80 years of movies into 10 songs is, well, damn near impossible. For example, here’s a teeny tiny sampling of stone-cold classics that didn’t make my list: “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella, “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, as well as everything from Moana, Hercules, The Emperor’s New Groove, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Mulan, and about three dozen others. So what exactly is on this list?
10. “Let It Go” from Frozen
As far as songs that stand on their own go, “Let It Go” might be the best one Disney has ever released. It’s got a million layers, all different tempos and keys, not to mention the incomparable Idina Menzel singing it. Everyone, everywhere, knows “Let It Go.” And yet, with this list, I’m trying to judge things alongside the scope of Disney history. In time, it could probably end up in the top three. But, for now, it’s a bit too new to compete with the rest. (Music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Idina Menzel)
9. “Cruella De Vil” from 101 Dalmatians
We love a good villain song and Disney has done some classics. “Be Prepared,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” etc. However, this is the only one on the list. Sorry, all. I just love “Cruella” because of its simplicity, the way it’s weaved into the fabric of the story, and how you honestly can’t see the character, even now, without humming this simple, perfect tune. It’s become as much a part of her as the fashion. (Music and lyrics by George Bruns and Mel Leven, performed by Bill Lee)
8. “Heigh-Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
You have to pay respect to the earliest days of Disney and this catchy, classic song does just that. Even now, just reading the words “Heigh-Ho,” chances are your toes are already tapping. (Music and lyrics by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, recorded by Horace Heidt and his Brigadiers, as well as the Kings and Glee Club)
7. “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin
Aladdin is my personal favourite of all the Disney musicals and while I wanted to put multiple songs on this list — and a second one almost made it — I decided to boil it down to the best one. And it’s gotta be Robin Williams, turned up to 11, spitting out lyrics and quips a mile a minute in a song that just makes you want to get up and dance. (Music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, performed by Robin Williams)
6. “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book
Oddly, I don’t love The Jungle Book movie but Baloo’s song about how he chooses to live his life isn’t only clever, it’s catchy, super well-written, and brings the entire movie to a whole new level. (Music and lyrics by Terry Gilkyson, performed by Phil Harris and Bruce Reitherman)
5. “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast
“Be Our Guest” is a tour de force, partially because of the huge variety of voices that sing it, partially because of just how grand the scope of the production is, but also the energy and earnestness in the song just add that little something extra. You can feel the joy and relief these workers have that they finally have a guest. (Music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, performed by Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury)
4. “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King
The Lion King is another movie that had multiple songs in contention. But being a person who literally wore tie-dyed Lion King shirts with a fanny pack and Walkman playing the Lion King soundtrack back in the day, this was always the song I looked forward to the most. It’s funny, crucial to the story, and the way it spans multiple time periods is just so smart. (Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, performed by Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Jason Weaver, and Joseph Williams)
3. “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid
Again, The Little Mermaid could have four or five songs on this list. They’re all that good. However, the energy and beat of “Under the Sea,” sung by the unmistakable legend that remains, Samuel E. Wright, coupled with the hilarious animation, sets the tone and standard for what a Disney animated sequence should be from here on out. Of all the Disney films in the 1990s Golden Age that had that one big mega song — several of which you’ve already read about on this list — the best is “Under the Sea.” (Music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, performed by Samuel E. Wright)
2. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio
“When You Wish Upon a Star” doesn’t have that upbeat nature I’m obviously so smitten with, but it’s a song that has become so synonymous with the overall brand you almost forget it originated in a movie. Now it’s just kind of the quintessential Disney song: one that makes you feel happy and like anything is possible. That legacy is why it ranks so high. (Music and lyrics by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, performed by Cliff Edwards)
1. “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast
To me, Beauty and the Beast is a perfect movie. Watch it again if you haven’t seen it in a while (the animated one, though the live-action was better than expected). All of the songs are incredible, which is why it’s the only film with two on this list, but the title song is the stand out. It takes place at a crucial moment in the film, has unforgettable lyrics which are beautifully sung by Mrs. Potts (multiple Tony-winning legend Angela Lansbury), and the sweeping, epic feel makes you know you’re watching, and hearing, history being made. (Music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, performed by Angela Lansbury)