The 50 Greatest Songs from Disney Animated Movies
Remember the first time you heard Julie Andrews sing “Spoonful of Sugar” in Mary Poppins? I do, ‘cause it was the first time my parents ever took me to the movies. (Hey, there wasn’t much to choose from back in 1964 as far as family fare went.) The song was relentlessly cheery and, just as important, hummable. To a precocious four-year-old, that’s important stuff. So suffice it to say, because “Spoonful of Sugar” resonated with me, I’ve always held it in high esteem.
You can say much the same thing about a lot of Disney songs. The vast majority of them
are incredibly optimistic and upbeat numbers that, not surprisingly, always accentuate the positive. Friendship, love, teamwork, caring for others -- you want to know about the inherent goodness of human nature, just listen to a Disney tune.
Of course, not all Disney songs have that unifying theme running through their lyrics or melody. You might find this hard to believe, but some are just plain dark, while others just plain silly. And while the most famous ones are about aspirations, dreams and wish fulfillment, Disney songs don’t always try to send a message. In short, there’s a little something for every musical ear to appreciate.
According to the American Film Institute (AFI), songs set a tone or a specific mood. They can also define a character’s personality, advance the plot or express a movie’s theme. The best songs, AFI points out, stand the test of time because they stand in our collective memory of the film itself.
That’s certainly true with Disney songs. Since November 18, 1928 -- Mickey Mouse’s first film appearance in Steamboat Willie - Disney movies have received 37 prestigious Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, and have taken home that gold statuette on 11 different occasions. The most recent win occurred this past February 27th, when Randy Newman copped the Oscar for Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together.”
Though “We Belong Together” is a nice song, for my money, Disney’s “I See The Light”, from the movie Tangled, was the tune that should have won the award. That’s why award shows don’t mean a great deal to me. They’re the penultimate popularity contest. After all, just because your favorite didn’t win the prize doesn’t mean it’s still not a good song, right?
Take “Chim Chim Cher-ee” for instance. A classic, right? Mary Poppins had a score to die for. Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman churned out 16 songs for that film, most of which are so ingrained in our consciousness that it’s a rare person who can’t name at least one song from that movie. Typically, however, that song is likely to be “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and not “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” But what is even more surprising is that Walt Disney himself reportedly loved “Feed the Birds” more than any other song from that movie.
So what’s your favorite song from a Disney animated movie? Below is a list of mine, including tunes from live-action movies that feature animation, such as Mary Poppins, Song of the South, Pete’s Dragon and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. If you don’t find your particular Disney fave here, just remember, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good song. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder (a message perhaps best summed up by the song I ranked #28), lists are entirely subjective:
“When You Wish Upon A Star.” (Pinocchio) - Widely regarded as the Walt Disney Company’s official anthem, this iconic song also ranks as #7 in AFI’s own Greatest Movie Song list;
“Be Our Guest.” (Beauty and the Beast) -- If “When You Wish Upon A Star” is the Disney Company’s official anthem, this showstopper and 1991 Oscar nominee is the unofficial motto of the company’s parks, stores and cruise ships;
“Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah.” (Song of the South) -- The Academy Award winner from 1947 rates as #47 on AFI’s list of greatest songs. Along with the song “Everybody’s Got A Laughing Place,“ it inspired the Splash Mountain theme park ride. Here’s hoping the Disney Company one day has the guts to reissue the movie, which most people have never even seen and is viewed by those who have as a hallmark in interracial relations;
“Chim Chim Cher-ee.” (Mary Poppins) - Nowhere is there a more happier crew than when this 1965 Academy Award winner plays in our household;
“Belle Notte.” (Lady and the Tramp) - A beautiful song made more special by the indelible image of a canine couple being serenaded by a human restaurateur and his cook -- who accompany themselves on an accordion and violin as the dogs nibble at the same strand of spaghetti;
“Baby Mine.” (Dumbo) -- The quintessential double hankie song. Film critic Leonard Maltin writes that, “for decades, people have been crying during…this lullaby.” Unless you’re an unfeeling lout, you’ll no doubt agree that you’ll need a few box of Kleenex to get through this classic number;
“Part of Your World.” (The Little Mermaid) - The Howard Ashman - Alan J. Menken Broadway-like ballad that should have received an Oscar nomination but didn’t;
“You’ll Be in My Heart.” (Tarzan) - Phil Collins’ 1999 Oscar winner for Best Original Song bested a field that included #17 on this list, thereby proving that, when it comes to Disney music, it really is a jungle out there;
“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” (The Three Little Pigs) -- Generally considered the anti-Depression anthem of the movie-going public of the early 1930’s, people are still humming its unforgettable chorus 78 years after its introduction….and, given the sad state of the U.S. and global economy these days, maybe it’ll help to lift the spirits of a whole new generation;
“Colors of the Wind.” (Pocahontas) -- The 1995 Oscar winner, you know a song is really special when it, and it alone, is used as the trailer for the film it appears in;
“You’ve Got A Friend in Me.” (Toy Story) -- the ultimate feel-good buddy song, the only reason it had no chance at winning at the 1995 Academy Awards was because it had the misfortune to be nominated in the same year as #10 on this list;
“Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo.” (Cinderella) -- It’s lyrics are ridiculous, but nobody can dispute the wide grins it puts on peoples’ faces;
“Circle of Life.” (The Lion King) -- The life cycle, as expressed by Elton John, Tim Rice and Hans Zimmer. A masterful opening for the film that beat out 1994 Best Picture winner Forrest Gump at the box office, grossing a reported $300 million in the U.S. and Canada alone;
“Some Day My Prince Will Come.” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) -- AFI voted this the 19th greatest song in film history, and you’d be hard pressed to disagree…..even if feminists are conflicted about its underlying message!
“A Friend Like Me.” (Aladdin) -- Disney on amphetamines, courtesy of the manic, but brilliant, song stylings of Robin Williams;
“A Whole New World.” (Aladdin) -- Talk about falling for someone! The ‘boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl and takes a breathtaking, soaring carpet ride over the clouds’ concept proves irresistible to audiences. The 1992 Oscar winner for Best Original Song is about as romantic as they come;
“When She Loved Me.” (Toy Story 2) -- Sarah McLachlan’s emotional, heart-wrenching recording of this Randy Newman classic was only defeated at the ‘99 Oscars because it was nominated in the same year as “You’ll Be In My Heart”;
“Cruella De Vil” (101 Dalmatians) -- The first great Disney villain song, it has a bouncy, jazzy melody and hysterical lyrics by composer Mel Leven;
“I Wan’na Be Like You.” ( The Jungle Book) -- A rollicking whirlwind of a song, I cannot even imagine anyone else but the late, great Louis Prima voicing King Louie the orangutan;
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (Mary Poppins) -- You know, you can say it backwards, but Suoicodilaipxecitsiligarfilacrepus just isn’t as funny. The AFI must have thought so too, since this is #36 on its list of great songs;
“A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.” (Cinderella) -- Cross “When You Wish Upon A Star” with “Over the Rainbow” and what do you get? Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston’s all time classic convinced us all that, if you “have faith in your dreams….someday your rainbow will come smiling thru”;
“Once Upon A Dream.” (Sleeping Beauty) -- When it was released in 1956 the film was known as the most expensive animated cartoon of its time, reportedly costing $6 million to make. Finances aside, Sammy Fain and Jack Lawrence’s sleeper hit was worth whatever the price of admission theater owners charged to see the picture;
“When I See An Elephant Fly” (Dumbo) -- Featuring four crows singing one of the wittiest numbers in Disney movie history (Sample puns include the following: “I’ve seen a peanut stand, I’ve seen a rubber band…” AND “I’ve heard a fireside chat, I’ve seen a baseball bat..”), this song is arguably the funniest part of what is an otherwise slow-moving film;
“I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.” (The Lion King) -- Recall #32 on this list whenever you see how this song ends? While you might say Disney is ripping off Disney, it is nonetheless a fast-moving, visually colorful and lively number that never fails to make us roar our approval;
“If I Didn’t Have You.” (Monsters, Inc.) -- In 2002, seven years after #15 on this list came out, Newman followed up with yet another buddy-buddy song that earned him his first Oscar for Best Original Song. The vocal pairing of Billy Crystal and John Goodman was sensational;
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” (The Lion King) -- That I ranked the 1994 Best Original Song winner where I have might surprise a lot of folks but, you’ll have to admit, while it is a beautiful song, its beauty is diluted by its opening and closing. Simply put, Timon and Pumbaa should have no role in this number;
“Spoonful of Sugar.” (Mary Poppins) -- Need I say more?
“Beauty and the Beast.” (Beauty and the Beast) -- Truthfully, while I think #33 on my list should have won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1991, there’s no denying that this is a great song. And the AFI no doubt agreed, since the group named it as the 62nd greatest song in film history;
“Candle on the Water.” (Pete’s Dragon) -- An Oscar nominee for the 1977 Best Original Song, just like #34 on my list, this was Helen Reddy’s shining moment in her otherwise pedestrian movie career;
“God Help the Outcasts.” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) -- No, that’s not Demi Moore’s voice as Esmerelda, rather, a New York City cabaret artist named Heidi Mollenhauer. Thank G-d; this is a subtle, but powerful, song;
“Why Should I Worry?” (Oliver & Company) -- You don’t have to. Billy Joel proved that male pop singers can do Disney, as well.
“Under the Sea.” (The Little Mermaid) -- A totally different kind of tune than Disney audiences were ever previously exposed to, this Oscar winner with the Caribbean flavor was a smorgasbord of sights and sounds;
“Belle.” (Beauty and the Beast) -- No opening number from a Disney animated movie ever defined its main characters better than this showstopper from 1991;
“Someone’s Waiting For You” (The Rescuers) -- Fain outdoes himself two decades after writing the lyrics for “Sleeping Beauty” with this sad, sweet song about a kidnapped girl trying to keep her faith that someone will save her from the clutches of her captors;
“The Best of Friends.” (The Fox and the Hound) -- A puppy, a young fox and Pearl Bailey make movie magic together in this sweet and understated number from Stan Fidel and Richard Johnston;
“Out There.” (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) -- Yes, that’s really the guy who played Pinto in Animal House and Mozart in Amadeus singing. The quintessential Disney number about fitting in, Tom Hulce’s vocalization is surprisingly moving and touching.
“So This is Love.” (Cinderella) -- Gorgeous woman and handsome prince dance under the moonlit stars above. So what’s not to love?
“Go the Distance.” (Hercules) -- Michael Bolton performed this number in the end credits, but it was the singing talents of Roger Bart, better known at the time for his work on Broadway, that really made this song a keeper;
“Hakuna Matata.” (The Lion King) -- This sidesplitting comedic number, which the AFI ranks as the 99th greatest song of all time, features an absolutely hysterical flatulence joke by a meerkat and a warthog. Audiences had no worries about it;
“Poor Unfortunate Souls” (The Little Mermaid) -- Ashman and Menken deliver one of the most unforgettable Disney villain songs of all time, made even more special by Pat Carroll’s deliciously rich rendition of nastiness personified;
“The Three Caballeros.” (The Three Caballeros) -- Full of gags, this fast-moving number from the 1944 movie of the same name introduced a new comic foil for Donald Duck -- a Mexican charro rooster named Panchito;
“Little April Shower.” (Bambi) -- Though “Love is a Song” got the Oscar nomination that season, this number is still exceptionally pleasant. Frank Churchill’s beautiful and thoroughly underappreciated score was a big reason this movie became such a major hit, especially because there’s so little dialogue.
“Gaston.” (Beauty and the Beast) -- One of the most self-absorbed characters in Disney movie history is serenaded by his sycophants in a splashy production number that prominently features the hocking of a loogie;
“Height Ho.” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) -- Hands down, the greatest of all the Disney marching themes;
“You Can Fly.” (Peter Pan) -- What I’ve always enjoyed about this number is the fact that Peter starts talking the lyrics before the three children join in. It’s all done with a subtlety that is very refreshing;
“Be Prepared.” (The Lion King) -- Jeremy Irons drools evil as King Mufasa’s calculating and pissed off brother who, upon the birth of his nephew, Simba, realizes he has to devise a sneaky succession plan to the throne if he is ever to be the ruler of Pride Rock. The part of the song where an army of hyenas parade past Scar in perfect step and with chilling precision has been likened to how Nazi troops responded to Hitler;
“The Bare Necessities.” (The Jungle Book) -- The perfect marriage of material and artist, Terry Gilkyson’s high-spirited lessons of life are exuberantly expressed by Phil Harris;
“Winnie the Pooh” (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) -- Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays, you’ll find the enchanted neighborhood of a young boy’s dreams. The song lists all of the principals, but the chorus is still its most famous part, given that this is about a silly old bear;
“ Hi Diddle Dee Dee” (Pinocchio) -- One of the best supporting characters in Disney history, a sly fox named J. Worthington Foulfellow, ticks off the numerous reasons to become an actor in this joyous number;
“The Un Birthday Song” (Alice in Wonderland) -- As far as polar opposites go, this crazy tune is as different from David’s “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” as you can get. Nonetheless, it’s filmed so imaginatively that you can’t help but remember it.