Top 20 Disney Songs

Hey all!  This may come as a giant surprise to you, but...I'm a huge nerd.  And I love Disney movies...especially Disney songs.  I grew up with so many of them and they were a big part of my childhood.  So I wanted to make a countdown of the Top 20 Disney songs.  Enjoy!

20. "Go the Distance" - Hercules

Here's the thing.  I think Hercules is a terminally underrated Disney film.  It's really pretty good, but it never got the attention it deserved.  This is the first of two songs from Hercules to grace our list.  Go the Distance is a lovely motivational song, and it works really well within the context of the film.  Hercules has always felt out of place (because he's a god), and when his parents tell him that he was adopted, he goes out to seek his purpose in life.  Even though the legend of Hercules is that of a hero (albeit one who went crazy and killed his wife and kids, but we won't go there), the movie purposely averts this.  For a good chunk of this movie, he's just a spindly little guy with awkwardly large calf muscles...which makes him all the more human and relatable.  You root for the little guy to prove himself to the gods and earn his rightful place.

19. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" - The Little Mermaid

Dear sweet Jesus, Ursula is terrifying.  She's just this weird, blobby sea witch with crazy makeup and a shock of white hair.  Why wouldn't you trust her?  This is her at her best, while she coolly manipulates Ariel into giving up one of her greatest gifts...her voice.  It's the Disney version of a Faustian bargain, and the song goes a long way in selling the concept.  While I can't stand the plot point that makes feminists weep (yeah, Ariel, it's fine, sell your man wants to hear your thoughts, he just wants to look at you.  In fact, he probably prefers it if you don't talk), this whole sequence is just too much fun.  And it horrified me when I was a kid.  To this day, The Little Mermaid is probably my least watched Disney film...between Ursula and Ariel's screaming father, I was a bubbling mess of I CAN'T HANDLE THIS!

18. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" - The Lion King

I really don't know what to say about this one, except that it's just so sweet.  It's a beautiful song from Elton John, and I kind of want to take a bath in Nala's voice.  Is that creepy?  I don't think so.  What I like about this is that it's not a typical bombastic love song, it's actually really chill.  It's all about Simba and Nala getting to know each other after several years apart, reconnecting, and picking up right where they left off.  And it's also bittersweet, when Timon sings his verse, because he knows that he's going to be losing one of his best friends.  Bottom line, this is just really well done.

17. "Ma Belle Evangeline" - The Princess and the Frog

OMG...this song is about a firefly who falls in love with a star (that it thinks is a fellow firefly).  Randy Newman, you're going to make me cry.  It's an amazingly touching (if one-sided) relationship that is one of the high points of the film.  Ray Ray the Cajun firefly has a love that is so simple and pure, it almost doesn't matter that it's directed at a flaming ball of gas.  I love that the other characters don't ruin it for him either.  That's the thing about Disney...they can take fireflies and frogs and just make it all so damn romantic!

16. "Once and For All" - Newsies

Spot Conlon isn't even in this number.  I just love him.

Yeah, OK, I'm a giant nerd, I like Newsies.  I know this isn't a cartoon like the rest of my Top 20, but hey it's a Disney musical, I think it counts.  So anyway, there are a lot of really catchy songs in this movie.  "Seize the Day" and "King of New York" were also contenders for the list, but in the end I decided to go with this one.  It's on a much smaller scale than most of the other musical numbers, but it's got a tension and driving action that I really enjoy.  It's all about the main cast (sadly Spot Conlon was not involved...if he was, this would be number 1 on my list.  That's how much I love the little guy.) as they find an old printing press and come up with their own newsletter for all the child laborers of NYC, inciting them to strike.  (A surprising amount of these kids are literate.  I leave that to the side for now.)  But anyway, I just really like this song, and I think it's an exciting one to watch.  So there.

15. "Once Upon a Dream" - Sleeping Beauty

Yeah, we're kicking it old school now, aren't we?  I think this is a really cute sequence, but there are certain things that elevate it beyond that for me.  I love that the prince in this movie actually has a character and a sense of humor.  He's cheeky!  Think back to the princes from Snow White and there anything that distinguishes them as human beings besides being royal and generally attractive?  Didn't think so.  I also love the little moment of humor when Aurora/Briar Rose looks at the owl in shock, realizing he's not the one dancing with her and he just shrugs and makes a cute little owl noise.  Super impressed by the animals being able to coordinate their movements enough to waltz with her, BTW.

14. "One Jump Ahead" - Aladdin

I decided to include this song for everything that it's able to accomplish while still managing to be insanely catchy and well-written.  It's the first song of the Aladdin story, and it has the responsibility of establishing the tone of the film.  And does it ever.  We're introduced to Aladdin, a young thief, who is quick-witted and likeable, and Apu, his monkey sidekick.  We get a sense of the type of the humor that will be present throughout the film (zany, off-the-wall, but usually right on the mark).  My favorite moment is when Apu steals a sword and brandishes it daringly at the guards, who are frightened...and completely unaware that they too have swords.  But this is Aladdin's story, and what this song does best is make us willing and excited to be on his side for the rest of the film.

13. "Kiss the Girl" - The Little Mermaid

Now I will be the first to admit that The Little Mermaid is not one of my favorite Disney movies.  I never had much time for it as a kid, and although it's grown on me now that I'm an adult (albeit one who still watches Disney movies) there's still many others that I like better.  But come on...try to get this song out of your head now that I've mentioned it.  Go ahead.  I dare you.  One of the things I really like about this is how creatively it uses fish and other animals as an orchestra of sorts, as well as a major part of the cinematography.  It's really fun and interesting how they all try to "set the mood" for Ariel and Eric.  It's sort of let down by the fact that Eric is Mr Bland Blandington of Blandville, but mostly they're just cute and sweet.  Seriously dude just kiss her already.  OMG Flotsam and Jetsam you DOUCHES!

12. "The Work Song (Cinderelly) - Cinderella

The mice are hands-down my favorite part about Cinderella.  Seriously...I want Jaq and Gus to come live at my house.  The song is cute, but what really wins it's place on the list is how much love those little guys have for Cinderella.  My heart breaks whenever they say, "Poor Cinderelly."  I honestly don't even remember the other songs from the movie...this is the only one I have time for.  It's so sad how hard they work to make her dress ready...and how quickly her jerk face stepsisters can ruin it.  Only issue: Jaq volunteers to do the sewing, and one of the girl mice chastises him, saying, "Leave the sewing to the women!"  Oh're silly.

11. "A Girl Worth Fighting For" - Mulan

I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.

What a nice marching song, this is so fun and light-hearted oh shit genocide.  That's pretty much this song.  They start off singing about what all soldiers sing about -- the laydies.  There's some great stuff here about the type of girls that each guy would like to get with...completely disregarding the fact that they're not exactly God's gift to women.  Ling wants a hottie, Yao wants someone to hero worship him, and Chien-Po just wants a girl who will enable his food addiction.  Mulan, always the feminist, suggests an intelligent and bold woman.  This is hi-larious to the menfolk.  It's a lot of fun -- until their snowball fight is disrupted by the discovery of a village that has been utterly decimated by Shan-Yu. Bummer, dude.

10. "Friends on the Other Side" - The Princess and the Frog

One of the things I love most about The Princess and the Frog is how well they use the culture of New Orleans as a backdrop.  So I think the choice to have the main villain be into voodoo is a really clever one.  The song is sufficiently off-putting, Dr Facilier is a creepy version of what would happen if Prince got into black magic, and the art design is fantastic.  I also really enjoy the black comedy that they have in these sequence -- when a spooky chorus joins in with Dr Facilier, he quickly assures his victims that it's just an echo, "just a little something we have here in Louisiana".  And bonus points for this guy having the best shadow since Peter Pan.  All in all, the whole sequence amounts to what seems like a really bad trip -- and I love it dearly for that.

9. "Hellfire" - Hunchback of Notre Dame

This one had to be included just for the sheer balls it took for the filmmakers to even put this in the movie.

Seriously, this is a musical number...about a minister who is lusting after a young Gypsy girl...and a chorus of red-cloaked scary guys pass judgment on him, condemning him to hell.  In case you forgot, this is a KIDS movie.  By the way, Frollo, it's called an erection, and it's all part of becoming a man.  Chill, my friend.  I think it's great that they have him hypocritically blaming the woman for his own weaknesses, calling her a siren and praying that she will burn in hell for bewitching him.  Obviously that happens in real life (how many times have rape victims been told that they "were asking for it" because of the way they were dressed, while the actual perpetrator faced little to no condemnations?), and again, it takes some serious balls to address this.  Oh Hunchback of Notre are operating on a completely different level than your audience.  But I like that they took risks and did that, otherwise it would have been a lot weaker of a film.

8. "Gaston" - Beauty and the Beast

Yes, we all love Tale as Old as Time and Be Our Guest, but for me, this is the showstopper, and it's one of the most fun Disney songs that I can think of.  The lyrics are hilarious, especially given that they were just dummy lyrics for the animators to use as reference until the writers got around to writing the song.  An ode to one of the great narcissists of our time.  In my opinion, Le Fou is one of the unsung sidekicks of Disney...he's pitch perfect as Gaston's enabler.  BTW, I love that the village bar has a giant framed picture of Gaston hanging on the wall.  I guess he's the town man crush.

7. "I Won't Say I'm in Love" - Hercules

Oh Meg.  No one understood that you were supposed to be an homage to film noir femme fatales.  Well, at least not the small children who watched Hercules.  And maybe that's one of the reasons this movie never took off.  Regardless, I think it has an inspired soundtrack concept.  I love the idea of using soulful, Motown-esque songs in a story set in ancient Greece.  It works really well, especially in this song.  Meg is such a different type of Disney female.  She's a woman who's been around the block.  She's loved, she's lost, and she is in no way the simpering girl who's just waiting for her prince to come along.  So it's hard for her to reconcile her strong confident persona with the fact that she is in love.  I think it's a great song, and something that's a little different from the typical romantic tripe.  Although...Meg, sweetie, Hercules killed his wife and kids.  Maybe you're better off on your own.

6. "Cruella De Vil" - 101 Dalmatians

I wanted to include this song for a number of reasons.  It does so much in a very limited amount of time.  It gives you insight into the playful side of Roger's personality, provides an amazing introduction for our fur-loving villain, and showcases Anita and Roger's super-cute relationship.  Oh...and it's just a really fun song.  If you can do all that in less than three minutes, you deserve to be on my list.  I also think it's hilarious how Cruella flounces into this house and just causes complete havoc.  She gleefully blows puffs of smoke everywhere, puts her cigarette out in one of Anita's teacakes, scares the dogs, insults her house and her husband, then leaves... .. Wow.

5. "Circle of Life" - The Lion King

Circle of Life.  Seriously, guys?  I can't listen to the first note of this song without crying and going into nostalgia overload.  And I didn't even like The Lion King that much.  It freaked me out.  Manipulating a little boy so that he blames himself for his father's death?  Got to hand it to Disney...they know where a child's fear lies.  But anyway...Circle of Life is a beautiful song.  It's a nice message, and it's absolutely breathtaking when you see all the animals celebrating Simba's birth and bowing to the new heir.  Elton John hits another one out of the park, and the animation team keeps path with him.  It's such an emotional beginning to an incredibly emotional film.  I talk a lot about how some of these songs are responsible for introducing the films tonally.  This is another one of those.  But coming on the heels of Aladdin, an incredibly successful movie that was popular in large part because of its sense of humor, I think it was especially important for The Lion King to establish right off the bat that this was going to be a different kind of movie.  And Circle of Life does that 100%.

4. "A Whole New World" - Aladdin

I really just think that this is an incredibly romantic song.  It wins because of that.  It's got great, clever visuals (I love when they wave at the guy carving the Sphinx and he's so shocked he chisels off its nose...historically inaccuracies aside) and it carries a crucial point in the storyline.  Jasmine wants to get out of her sheltered palace life, and Aladdin is the perfect person to do that.  But more importantly, there's this theme of trust...she is trusting him to take care of her.  I mean, she's on a flying carpet for God's sake, she better trust him.  Which makes it all the more difficult and painful when she discovers that he hasn't been totally honest with her about himself...both times.  But most of all, I chose this song because it genuinely has become a cultural icon in itself.  Does anyone not know the words to this song?

3. "Colors of the Wind" - Pocahontas

This is probably one of the best messages Disney has ever put into a film.  Not because of environmentalism or preservation or being nice to Native Americans or not shooting bears (although those things are good too).  But because it teaches kids about the importance of perspective and open-mindedness.  To John Smith, the Native Americans are savages, bears are for eating, and lands are for conquering.  But in this song, he is willing to let Pocahontas show him another point of view, and that just because her's is foreign to him doesn't mean that it isn't valid.  I'm all about that.  I think one of the biggest problems facing America today is that so many people are totally unwilling to accept anything that doesn't fall within their own limited life experiences, and to recognize that what's true for them isn't necessarily true for others.  So for Disney to come out with this beautiful song and animate a beautiful sequence to go along with it...well that's just amazing.

2. "God Help the Outcasts" - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I think it's really sad how underrated The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, but it's in large part because it was such an ambitious film that took risks and wasn't afraid to be emotionally complex.  Regardless, this is a beautiful song.  Anytime Disney is willing to present such a positive message of helping those who are less fortunate...well, that's a win.  I think it's great how Esmeralda is a minority who is persecuted, but even so, she is a good enough person to be concerned with people who are still worse off than she is.  It's good for kids to recognize that everyone has problems, and that it's important to realize that ours' aren't the only ones that matter.   And taking a pot shot at the hypocrisy of organized religion?  Icing on the cake.

1. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" - Mulan

This is just the best of the best.  First of all, it's insanely catchy.  Seriously, you hear it?  Good luck getting it out of your head for the next three weeks.  But more than that, it's a song that's up to the task of scoring a montage sequence which presents a huge amount of character development for Mulan and her fellow troops.  A sentence I never thought I would type: Donny Osmond is pretty fantastic.  This song is great for getting people pumped up and making them feel like they can accomplish anything.  When I did high school theater, we used to play this song in the dressing rooms to get our energy up.  Honestly I just think it's an incredibly fun and entertaining song, and I consider it to be one of the most memorable from any of the post-Disney Renaissance period.  Love it!

So there you have it.  I had a lot of fun with this.  I'm thinking about possibly doing a series of reviews of all the Disney movies in chronological order.  Then again, this also might be certifiably insane, given the fact that I've already taken on the Top 1000 films.  I don't know...we'll see.  But anyway, those were my Top 20 Disney songs.  What do you think? Are there any I missed that you think should have made it?

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Anonymous said...

I loved Newsies and Spot was my favorite!

Anonymous said...

Love this list..and i completely agree, the hunchback of notre dame and Hercules are two underrated would've added "When somebody Loves me" from TOY Story 2...that's a beautiful song which always makes me cry...

Diana Dagomc said...

Nice list ! Great blog ! but you put my favorite at the end ... lol lol

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