The music and wonderment of Disney encapsulates a majority of childhood memories filled with dashing heroes and heroines, vile villains and the tales of fantasy that allow us to escape. From the Sherman Brothers to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to Phil Collins, Disney has provided us with tunes that stick with us and allow us to return to that sensibility, even if it is just for a moment. Yet, to narrow it down to a select few as the very best is no simple task…but I am doing it anyway. Remember, as with all lists, this one is highly subjective. This is what I believe to be the best of the best of Disney and not just there animated features, but the whole nine yards. Mouseketeers, I present the 10 Best Disney Songs.
10. ‘I See The Light’ from Tangled, Sung by Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi),
Music & Lyrics by Alan Menken
In more recent years, Disney has changed shifting from the traditional hand drawn 2D animation to the ever popular 3D CGI animation. Fortunately, even this change could not stop Disney from delivering another fantastic musical and a instant classic in the form of ‘I See The Light.’ Mandy Moore captures the curiosity and wonder Rapunzel expresses during the Lantern sequence of the film by little her gorgeous voice dazzle against the background of lush pop guitars and strings. When Zachary Levi joins in after the bridge, he expresses Flynn’s newfound admiration for the girl he just happened to save from the grasp of her evil mother. With Flynn finally figuring out what he truly wants out, Levi pours his soul revealing the softer side of the daring thief. Alan Menken went solo for this film and used the knowledge Howard Ashman gave him to work out a modern masterpiece. For those Disney purists who bowed out of seeing Tangled, have no fear because this ballad is proof Disney has not lost there golden touch.
9. ‘Once Upon A Dream’ from Sleeping Beauty, Sung by Princess Aurora (Mary Costa) & Prince Phillip (Bill Shirley)
Music by Tchaikovsky, Music Adapted for Screen by George Bruns, Lyrics by George Bruns
George Bruns had the difficult task of taking a Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, already well-known in the ballet world and adapt it for the screen for another version of the classic tale. Bruns succeeded and delivered the classic ‘Once Upon A Dream’. In a daydream brought to life, Aurora begins to sing about the Prince she met once in a dream, only for the prince to hear her from afar and join in on her daydream. Costa’s dazzling soprano captures Aurora’s dreamlike fantasy well hitting high notes like nobody’s business (Even turning a few heads along the way). Shirley’s fascinating tenor compliments Costa as he gets wrapped into the whirlwind romance in bloom around them. Bruns’ adapted score comes in full force combined with a choir to captivate the already stunning sequence with fluttering flutes and violin crescendos galore.
8. ‘If I Never Knew You’ from Pocahontas 10th Anniversary Edition, Sung by Pocahontas (Judy Kuhn) and John Smith (Mel Gibson)
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
When Disney cuts a song, it is usually for the best. When ‘Human Again’ was included in the special edition release of Beauty and the Beast, the song brought the movie to a halt. When ‘The Morning Report’ was added into The Lion King, it felt unnecessary since it reiterated what Zazu said in the original only through song. On the 10th anniversary release of Pocahontas, the addition of the scraped song made the movie better than before. The song did see the light of day in the form of a chessy 90’s pop ballad with Jon Secada and Shanice, but there was an original recording of the two characters singing. In the song, the emotions of both John Smith and Pocahontas are expressed from their viewpoints with John Smith wondering that he would be lost without the presence of Pocahontas as she wonders why hatred must bury their relationship. Mel Gibson’s nearly broken voice works well against Judy Kuhn’s pop vocals that dazzle. The fact that Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame wrote the lyrics is a feat onto itself, creating a saving throw for a otherwise mediocre feature.
7. ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ from Mary Poppins, Sung by Bert (Dick Van Dyke) and Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews)
Music and Lyrics by The Sherman Brothers
The hardest decision on this list was choosing which song from Mary Poppins should end up on the list. ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ wins that vote simply for being the one that comes to mind thinking about the film. The most popular is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, but popular does not equal well written. Technically, ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ appears twice in the film with Bert giving a preview early on with the arrival of the tituliar character of the film. Later, the song reappears with Bert describing the life of the chimney sweep being marvelous as they gaze onto the world in between the midnight and daybreak hours. Mary Poppins chimes in later to carry on the tune (cheeky) helping Bert uncover the true beauty that he experiences. Julie Andrews’ voice is pitch perfect as always and Dick Van Dyke’s terrible Cockney accent works oddly well to deliver a song that is always fun to sing along to…but usually without the whole Dickensian chimney sweep ideology. Who even owns a chimney these days?
6. ‘Space Mountain Theme Song’ from Disneyland’s Space Mountain
Composed by Michael Giacchino
Michael Giacchino is the name of think of when I think of great modern composer and the fact he went and composed an entire ride is just perfect. Taking the hard edge guitars of his Mission: Impossible score and classical jazz-esque style from The Incredibles, Giacchino makes visiting space the most exhilarating and badass experiences alive. The chorus welcoming to the uphill launch drifting into a surf rock spy sound is pure amazement with hints of the classic John Barry score from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service thrown in just to add to the fun. The perfect soundtrack for the perfect ride into the great unknown above us all.
5. ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from Pinocchio, Sung by Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards)
Music and Lyrics by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington
I understand this is a typical choice for the list, but even the most typical is worth a spot as it is the most iconic Disney song. Disney follows the mantra of wishes and stars despite in recent years showing the danger of wishes in Aladdin and the hard work that is needed to fulfill it in The Princess and the Frog. Cliff Edwards’ vocals on this song are broken and heartfelt longing for the wish he made to try and come true. This makes the song powerful as he realizes that in order to obtain what he truly desires and wish, he has to put his all into it with such subtlety in the lyrics (unlike Princess and the Frog which constantly reminds the audience ‘you have to work for it’ every five minutes). Now, we all know that not every wish comes true and the world can’t give us everything, but if we believe enough in ourselves to get it, we can make the most of it and prevail in no time. To me, that is one hell of a beautiful though.
4. ‘Hellfire’ from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sung by Judge Frollo (Tony Jay)
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
Arguably the darkest song in Disney history, ‘Hellfire’ is about lust, desire, and greed all in a film for a family friendly audience. With famous lyricist Stephen Schwartz at the helm, the song becomes a gorgeous and powerful showstopper with Tony Jay’s voice expressing the madness of Frollo slowly and gradually taking over ending with his madness in full bloom ready to do anything to stop the gypsies and Esmeralda and battling his inner demons in the form of blood red hooded figures. The song also works as it is the complete contrast of the song before it, ‘Heaven’s Light’, which Qausimado expresses a true admiration and a ‘need’ for Esmeralda in a soft melodic voice compared to the harsh desire of ‘want’ from Frollo which borders on pure killer instinct. The fact that this even was allowed by Disney of all people is astonishing and shows a true testament to their storytelling, regardless of how dark the subject matter may be.
3. ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sung by Snow White (Adriana Caselotti)
Music and Lyrics by Frank Curchill
Short, sweet and sentimental are three words that can easily describe this classic in the Disney canon. Adriana Coseletti’s voice brings out the dreamlike qualities with her voice nearly cracking next to the composition of the song with strings building an aura of hope and longing. I am aware that it is also a typical choice, but when a song is this memorable, it is hard to resist. The song has since been covered by Sinead O’ Connor and Mile Davis basing an entire nine minute masterpiece with his spin on the Disney classic. Of course, we all know her prince did come and the film ends with a reprise of this song that is sure to get a tear out of those who have not seen it in ages.
2. ‘Reflection’ from Mulan, Sung by Fa Mulan (Lea Salonga)
Music by Matthew Wilder, Lyrics by David Zippler
In the scope of the Disneyverse, the ‘I Want’ song has always been the desire to break out into the open and grab onto something out their that can make them experience something new. Yet, what about the desire to break away from yourself? ‘Reflection’ is a gorgeous heartbreaking ballad devoted to just that. Mulan wants to break free from what others think of her and release what she wants to be by breaking the chains of what she is. She is ready to show that she is more than a delicate flower but wonders when that moment shall approach. Lea Salonga, famous for being the singing voice of Jasmine in Aladdin, belts it out to deliver the pain and struggle Mulan feels and her heartache to finally be free. Their is an extended version of this scene as a bonus on the home video release and it is a shame they didn’t use it because it is quite gorgeous. Luckily, Cristina Aguilera sings the full version during the credits and is one hell of song to end a film on…after ‘True to Your Heart’ that is.
And the number one Best Disney song is…
1. ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and the Beast, Sung by Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) & Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury)
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Were you expecting something else? If we are going by a grandiose display of everything that encompasses Disney and what it stands for, ‘Be Our Guest’ would be that number and it is. It is bombastic, light and a pure celebration. Heck, even the section before Mrs. Potts verse covers the more sadder sad of the story (Which, if you have seen the movie, is quite depressing). It is a manic song about just wanting to entertain and after years of not entertaining, coming back to show off and get it done, which represents the more current age of Disney more than anything. The fantastic build-up to the final reprise of the chorus is terrific with Jerry Orbach’s vocals leading the show as it deeps into a manic spiral of delight and wonderment. Lansbury’s verse shows that even Mrs. Potts cannot wait to have someone new around to show what the castle has to offer. When you get down to the heart of it, this is Disney and what it does best. This is also the masterpiece of Howard Ashman, one of the great musical lyricist ever to walk the Earth, who poured his heart into every nook and cranny of this film to deliver a musical experience on celluloid. Ashamn, combined with Menken, was a match made in musical heaven and without them, Beauty and the Beast would not be the great animated film it is and will always be. For all that and more, ‘Be Our Guest’ earns its rightful place at number one.
‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King, ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid, ‘Ducktales Theme Song’ from Ducktales, ‘When She Loved Me’ from Toy Story 2, ‘Friend Like Me’ from Aladdin, ‘A Whale of A Tale’ from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and ‘Friends on the Other Side’ from The Princess and the Frog