Ah, Disney songs. They're whimsical, fun, easy to sing along to, and always impeccably well-written. For many, Disney songs have played a large role in their childhood development. For many others, Disney songs still play a big role in their lives: whether they're still listening to them in adulthood or passing them down to their own kids.
This week on the Billboard Hot 100, the Encanto song "We Don't Talk About Bruno" hit #1 on the chart. It’s become the first song from a Disney movie to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 29 years. It's also become the 2nd Disney song to achieve such a feat.
Disney's Billboard win has us wondering...what other songs in Disney's catalogue deserve praise? What are the all-time best songs to come out of the animation studio? Which songs are the easiest to remember, and have had a profound effect on modern pop culture?
Ranking Disney songs is a near-impossible task, since everyone has their own personal preferences. Instead, we're listing our picks for the 15 Best Disney Songs, in no particular order. Whether you're a fan of the old classics, Disney Renaissance movies, or the newer stuff the company is putting out today, you'll find a great mix of magical songs on this list.
1. "Be Our Guest" - Beauty and the Beast
This show-stopping number from Beauty and the Beast sees Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and other servants in the Beast's castle singing to Belle as they serve her dinner. Undoubtedly, it was because of this song and other great tracks in Beauty and the Beast that the film became nominated for Best Picture and won Best Music, Original Score at the Oscars.
"Be Our Guest" was written by Alan Menken & Howard Ashman and orchestrated by Danny Troob. It features vocals from Jerry Orbach (Lumiere) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), as well as a full chorus of furniture. With its high energy, great rhyming lyrics, and uniquely French sounds (like an accordion opening), "Be Our Guest" is anything but second best.
2. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" - Mulan
Let's get down to business! While this 90s classic may be considered a little heteronormative for 2022 standards, there's no denying that when you play this song during a road trip, everyone in the car will belt along. Perhaps it's the cliché masculinity of "I'll Make a Man Out of You" that makes it really fun to sing. After all, the point of the song in the movie is to show Mulan can be just as swift as a coursing river with all the force of a great typhoon even though she is the only woman among Li Shang's motley crew of soldiers.
With stunning vocals from Donny Osmond and a grand orchestra with pounding drums and blaring trumpets, you'll feel extra buff while listening to this pumped-up track. And don't forget about that quotable chorus! The nature-infused lyrics are actually representative of four of the five elements of Wu Xing: Chinese fields used to describe an array of phenomena. The reference to the River speaks of the water element, whilst Typhoon, Forest and Fire speak of air, earth and fire. It is also a reference to Sun Tzu, who penned in The Art of War: “as swift as wind, as gentle as forest, as fierce as fire, as unshakable as mountain.”
3. "Colors of the Wind" - Pocahontas
The theme song of Pocahontas, “Colors of the Wind” was written by lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Alan Menken for Walt Disney Pictures' 33rd animated feature film. It's flowy, elegant, and rich with imagery and sonic grandiose. A pop ballad, the song’s lyrics contrast the priorities of European imperialism with values like respecting nature and living in harmony with the Earth’s creatures. In the time of climate change, "Colors of the Wind" is a more relevant song than ever.
The song was originally recorded by Judy Kuhn in her role as the singing voice of Pocahontas, and she gives a powerhouse performance. Later on, Vanessa Williams' cover of the song was released as the lead single from the film’s soundtrack in 1995. Alan Menken even said "Colors of the Wind" was, "one of the most important songs I’ve ever written."
4. "Part of Your World" - The Little Mermaid
There are so many fantastic songs from The Little Mermaid. For this list, we're choosing the famous "I Want" ballad "Part of Your World," which Ariel the mermaid sings in the film's first act.
You can hear Ariel's desire and curiosity for human life within Jodi Benson's masterful performance. "Part of Your World" is another hit written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and in the Walt Disney Records The Legacy Collection: Commentary, Menken explained, "One of the things we looked for immediately was something that would reflect water flowing. So we came up with this figure that was: [plays the opening piano chords for “Part of Your World.”] That movement is intrinsic to the whole Mermaid score."
Over the years, several artists have covered this song: including Faith Hill, Carly Rae Jepson, Sierra Boggess, and Skye Sweetnam. We can't wait for Halle Bailey to offer her interpretation in 2023!
5. "A Whole New World" - Aladdin
Besides the Encanto song "We Don't Talk About Bruno," this is the only other Disney song to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1993. Another Menken song created with the help of Tim Rice, this song is Aladdin and Jasmine's love ballad as they have an adventurous magic carpet ride.
Despite being one of Disney's most famous songs, the writing process for "A Whole New World" only took 45 minutes! The song also won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, and singers Lea Salonga and Brad Kane got to sing it outside of their animated forms. What can we say about this whimsical track? It's shining, shimmering, splendid.
6. "Let It Go" - Frozen
Hailed as the power ballad of all power ballads, "Let It Go" is a staple of early 2010s' popular music - and probably the most well-known song to come out of Disney in recent years.
Winning the 2013 Academy Award for Best Original Song, "Let It Go" was penned by married duo Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez: the team behind The Book of Mormon. In the song, Elsa (voiced by Broadway actress Idina Menzel) embraces her ice powers and vows to leave "the past within the past."
"Let It Go" is a song full of teen angst, pride, and cathartic acceptance. Its message is a powerful one: there's no use in hiding your special gifts from the world.
7. "Circle of Life" - The Lion King
"Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba!" Like the Pride Lands animals coming to worship Simba's birth, we bow down to this royal Disney song written by Tim Rice and Sir Elton John.
The African chants by Lebo M help open The Lion King on a triumphant note, and Carmen Twillie's strong vocals offer a special reverence to the already-iconic movie scene. And who doesn't love that awesome key change when Rafiki lifts Simba high into the air?
Once The Lion King was released, Elton John also shared his own pop version of "Circle of Life." It peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
8. "You'll Be In My Heart" - Tarzan
When it comes to Phil Collins, you fall into one of two camps: you either know him as the guy from the band Genesis, or you know him as the man who sang the songs on the Tarzan soundtrack.
"You'll Be In My Heart" is the standout from that movie, and although it's originally sung by Kala the ape (Glenn Close) in the film, Collins' pop rendition from the official soundtrack got a lot more attention. It was one of five original songs written by Collins in 1998 for the 1999 picture. In the movie, the song ends on the first verse, but the full version of the song is available on the soundtrack.
Like many great Disney bops, the number went on to win the Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Original Song. It also received a Grammy nomination for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture. It lost to Madonna’s "Beautiful Stranger,” which was written for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Fun fact: Lily Collins, Phil Collins' actress daughter, claims this is her favorite song from her dad.
9. "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" - Mary Poppins
There's a lot of great songs from the 1964 film Mary Poppins, including "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee." But in terms of the song we feel is the most memorable, the very long-titled "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" takes the cake.
Written by Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman, Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) sings the peppy song just after she's won a race and is describing how she's feeling. She's joined by Bert (Dick Van Dyke) and a happy orchestra of cartoon characters. Believe it or not, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is a real word! And it's the right word to describe how we feel when listening to this Disney track.
10. "When You Wish Upon a Star" - Pinocchio
A famous tune from Pinocchio which has become the theme song for Disney itself. The melody now plays before every Disney movie, during the company's intro.
Hopeful and full of childlike wonder, "When You Wish Upon a Star" was written by Leigh Harline and composed by Ned Washington. It's a simple-yet-effective tune sung by the film's supporting character, Jiminy Cricket. This is the kind of song that makes you feel like anything is possible in life. It's what Disney is all about.
11. "Heigh-Ho" - Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
Besides "Closing Time" by Semisonic, this is probably the greatest off-from-work song ever written. With happy whistling and a sturdy tempo, it's easy to march along with the dwarfs from Snow White as they carry pickaxes home from their mine. Little do they know there's a fugitive princess in their abode!
This is another song written by Leigh Harline, as well as Larry Morey & Frank Churchill. It was released in 1937 for Disney's first feature film and the first traditionally animated feature film in history. If it weren't for "Heigh-Ho" and the other great songs within Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who knows if we would have other wonderful Disney movies today!
12. "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" - Cinderella
Another classic song from the golden age of Disney. "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" is similar to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in the sense that it's both elegant and hopeful. Ilene Woods' shimmering vocals and lyrics by Oliver Wallace, Jerry Livingston, Al Hoffman, and Mack David make this tune an undisputed Disney classic.
In the song, Cinderella claims that dreams at night are desires from the heart. She tells her animal friends she wishes she could live in her dreams instead of serving her horrible stepmother and stepsisters in waking life. Like the mice in Cinderella's bedroom, this song will put you in a pleasant daze.
13. "How Far I'll Go" - Moana
“How Far I’ll Go” is Moana’s character-establishing “I Want” song. While she wants to stay on her island with her family, she also wants to go on an adventure out on the open sea.
Disney did an extensive casting search to find their Polynesian princess Moana. We're glad they picked Auli'i Cravalho, because she knocks it out of the park in "How Far I'll Go." Lin-Manuel Miranda also contributed lyrics to the tune. In order to get in the right state of mind, he locked himself in his childhood bedroom and tried to remember feelings of teen angst.
Miranda said on Genius, "It’s a challenging song. It’s not 'I hate it here, I want to be out there.' It’s not, 'There must be more than this provincial life.' She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people. And there’s still this voice inside. And I think finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you, and… being who you are, once I wrote that…it then had huge story repercussions. The screenwriters took that ball and ran with it."
The number was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and performed live at the 2017 Oscars by Auli'i Cravalho. It even peaked at #1 on the charts in Canada.
14. "The Bare Necessities" - The Jungle Book
Jazzy and fun, "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book teaches us that simple joys often yield the best rewards. This song helps you forget about your worries and your strife! It's essentially a precursor to "Hakuna Matata." And it has a subtle message about eating healthy.
The song was written by Terry Gilkyson with vocals from Bruce Reitherman & Phil Harris. With "The Bare Necessities" you get a sense of just how carefree - yet joyful - Baloo the bear is. Remember: "when you pick a pawpaw or a prickly pear, and you prick a raw paw, next time beware! Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw when you pick a pear. Try to use the claw. But you don't need to use the claw when you pick a pear of the big pawpaw!"
15. "I See the Light" - Tangled
Finally, we've got a song from Tangled on the list! While we love "Mother Knows Best" and "When Will My Life Begin?" we know the fan-favorite is "I See The Light" from the middle of the film. It's easy to see why: the duet between Rapunzel and Eugene is romantic, dreamy, and makes you feel warm inside.
"I See the Light" actually underwent a lot of changes before it became the Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi hit it is today. The duet was originally called “You Are My Forever,” and was a reprise of a song Mother Gothel sung to Rapunzel. After “You Are My Forever” was removed, the song was still different from what it was in the finished film. It was supposed to be an anthem-like song at first, but Alan Menken made the decision of adding gentler lyrics.
"I See the Light" was nominated for Best Song at the 83rd Academy Awards but lost to another Disney tune: “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.
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