1. I Wanna be Like You, The Jungle Book (1967)
On the surface, this song is just a swinging good time. But, beneath its seemingly happy-go-lucky veneer of horns, cross-dressing and bee-bop-scattin’ is something deeper, darker… King Louie is a raw nerve, seething with unadulterated rage and covetous jealousy. He wants to be a MAN!!! This is as real as it gets. We’ve all been there - wanted something so bad that it’s driven us to the point of madness but it’s not often these feelings manifest itself in something so seemingly upbeat and… jazzy. It’s this juxtaposition of light and dark that puts it a cut above the rest; offering a depth of soul, music and lyrics that make it the best song in the HISTORY of Disney!
1. I Can Go The Distance, Hercules (1997)
I knew this song was my number one before I even started to work on my list. Strange, because it's a ballad, and those usually aren't my picks. However, the incredibly underrated Hercules still makes me cry during his song of hope and longing to find his place in the world. Isn't that what we all are trying to figure out? As a dreamer, the lyrics "I am on my way, I can go the distance," really resonate with me, as I'm sure they do for any true Disney lover. Excuse me while I go watch it on Netflix for the 1000th time.
2. I'll Make a Man Out of You, Mulan (1998)
This song is so dramatic and elaborate, which makes it sooooooooo good. This is another one of those songs that I can play on loop and never get tried of it. Why hasn't Mulan made it to Broadway yet? Can you imagine that shirtless gorgeous specimen of a Captain running around on stage? YES PLEASE.
Aside from that, this is when Mulan proves she is just as strong as any man - heck yeah! Girl power! This montage sequence is one of my favorites in Disney animation history, showing humor, power, and honor in a matter of minutes. Serious greatness. Oh and yes: that is Donny Osmond singing.
2. When You Wish Upon a Star, Pinocchio (1940)
It’s Disney’s unofficial theme song: it greets you as you pass through Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and evokes the very essence of Walt Disney himself. Once upon a time, just like Geppetto, Walt made his own wish and, against all odds, it came true (Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Disneyland!)! That’s my favourite part of the song – it’s sneakily defiant. It’s the line that says “makes no difference who you are…” that separates it from all other longingly saccharine ballads of false hope and wanton optimism. Walt proved that wishes and dreams aren’t just for the elite and bourgeoisie and that even a skinny, big nosed cartoonist from Marceline, Missouri, can become the most culturally relevant and innovative American there ever was!
3. You Can Fly, Peter Pan (1952)
This one holds the distinction of being the rare Disney song that isn’t being sung by an actual character in the movie (aside from title songs introducing the movie or when Phil Collins does essentially the whole soundtrack like in Tarzan or Brother Bear). More importantly, this song is just quintessential Disney magic. The opening “wooo wooo woooooo” still gives me chills every time I hear it and is just the embodiment of pure happiness and childlike wonder. Incidentally, my go-to “happy thought” is the very song that occurs once the Darling children realize their own happy thoughts.
3. Be Prepared, The Lion King (1994)
Scar wins in villains songs. WINS. This type of brainwashing takes one heck of a bad cat. Voiced by Jeremy Irons, the whole song has a creepy bad aura about it, but it is so well done that you almost fall in line with the rest of the hyenas. If you haven't seen The Lion King: The Musical, I'll tell you with absolute certainty that it is worth the ticket just for this number.
4. Ev’rbody Wants to be a Cat, AristoCats (1970)
Like a rose growing from concrete, we have this raucous ditty blooming from the otherwise unremarkable AristoCats. A song this unhinged could only exist in a movie this bland. In as much, I would have much rather seen a movie centered on this ragtag group of alley cats moonlighting as musicians in turn-of-the-century Paris, France. Instead, we got a single mom a not-that-evil evil butler and a couple of spinster geese.
4. Poor Unfortunate Souls, The Little Mermaid (1989)
Soooo...you might be seeing a trend here. The villains had the best songs during the renaissance! I was actually going to choose "Part of Your World" (because my 8-year old self used to belt that like Mariah Carey - believe that!), but when I scoped about it, someone reminded me about Ursula's number. DUH! This sassy song is my JAM. It's so hard to believe more female villains didn't get to belt out their evil deeds, especially since homegirl here absolutely kills it. We didn't get another one until over 20 years later (with Mother Gothel in Tangled), but it still doesn't match the level of greatness that is "Poor Unfortunate Souls". Seems like a missed opportunity, Disney.
5. Friend Like Me, Aladdin (1997)
While most would argue that i should've have picked "A Whole New World", I honestly believe both Genie songs are the best parts of this musical (I almost picked "One Jump Ahead" but I was super proud of myself as a kid when I learned all the lyrics to this tune).
The movie wasn't about the romance between Aladdin and Jasmine. It is clearly about the friendship between him and his genie, which begins with this very song. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, making it an easy favorite of the Disney animated classics.
5. The Phony King of England, Robin Hood (1973)
Most Disneyphiles would consider Baloo’s “Bare Necessities” to be Phil Harris’ (perhaps Disney’s most decorated crooner) best offering but “Au contraire, mon fraire!” It’s this Robin Hood tune sung by Little John that’s the real cat’s pajamas! This song isn’t just fun, it’s a political statement – a rallying cry that galvanized and inspired all of Nottingham to rise up against that “Phony King of England” Prince John! There may be better Disney songs but none more important.
6. What Made the Red Man Red?, Peter Pan (1952)
This is a controversial pick for obvious reasons but we believe in nuance here and sometimes two things can be equally true: while this song is inappropriate at best and racist at worst, it’s still fun and a damn good tune! How does the idiom go? Don’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water. Anyway, what makes the song so good? It’s got drums and the deeper-than-deep and raspier-than-raspy voice of Disney legend, Candy Candido, on lead vocals as the Indian Chief.
6. Gaston, Beauty and the Beast (1991)
I'm having a super hard time listing my favorites during the renaissance, especially because this was the rise of the musical villains. "Gaston" is the most wonderfully narcissistic song I have ever heard and is easily my pick from the Oscar-Award winning Beauty and the Beast. While he is an awful human being, it shows how good looks and popularity still make people want to be in your posse. I mean, these men are singing about how ridiculous he is and still love him for it. Gaston is fully aware of this and completely uses it to his advantage. Plus, that voice? Yeah, Gaston needs his own recording deal.
7. Son of Man, Tarzan (1999)
I think I have mentioned this before, but I love Phil Collins. This was one of the few Disney movies where the soundtrack was done by a celebrity and it's probably the only one that really worked. Collins style just fit the jungle-set film (must be the drums) and "Son of Man" is the epitome of the coming-of-age of our hero. Maybe I love it because I have two sons, or maybe it's because my eldest was obsessed with the movie for half a year, but I love it and can listen to this song on loop all day.
7. The Dwarfs’ Yodel Song (The Silly Song), Snow White (1937)
I’m a sucker for Polka. It’s just such happy, upbeat music. And, I’m especially fond of the sound of pipe organs – particularly within the context of Snow White where the Dwarfs’ once dormant and cobwebbed organ began blowing loud and strong upon Snow White’s arrival. #HUBBAHUBBA
8. The Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book (1967)
I don’t have a lot to say about this one. It’s just a good, fun song! It’s probably the GREAT Phil Harris’ most popular song but not necessarily his best (more on that later!).
8. Almost There, The Princess and the Frog (2009)
This song gets me moving! I love the determination that Tiana has for her dreams and this song makes us instantly root for her. It is still hard to believe that the film wasn't viewed as a success because it followed everything that made the Disney Renaissance great. Every Disney princess should be so lucky to be voiced by someone like Anika Noni Rose.
9. Out There, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Menken and Schwartz, man. Whew, this whole score gives me chills. It easily makes my top 10 Disney soundtracks list, and I will continue to shout from the rooftops (pun intended) that this should be a Broadway musical.
"Out There" still gets me emotional. His wish may seem small to us, but it would mean the world to him. Listening to such hope coming from someone that refuses to give up on dreaming is incredibly moving. Plus, that voice! Yep, pretty dreamy. I just want to give him the biggest hug.
9. So This is Love, Cinderella (1952)
More often than any other song on this list, I’ll invariably find myself humming this hauntingly beautiful, almost eerie tune. Why? I can’t say… but, I do know my one-year-old son, Louie, loves it when I hold him in my arms and whisk him through the house singing “so this is Louie… doo dooo doo doooo, so this is LOOOOOUIEEE.”
Amy and I are doing our Top 10 Favourite Disney Songs. But, with a list this ambitious, we’ve decided to each tackle a different era. Amy is chosing songs from The Little Mermaid on while I’m taking everything prior. This works well for us since I’m the old soul of our partnership where Amy is everything cool, hip and modern. Unfortunately, we had to leave a lot of great songs out but thems the breaks. Did your favourite songs make our lists?
10. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind, The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
I have a pet theory that this song helped usher in a new era of Disney music. For one, it evoked a show tunes, Broadway style of song that would become Disney’s standard throughout their Renaissance (beginning with The Little Mermaid in 1989). Also, it was one of the first times Disney had let the main villain sing his very own big song all about himself. And, from here, it became the norm with Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” Gaston’s eponymous “Gaston” and Scar’s “Be Prepared.” Lastly, this has nothing to do with the price of tea in China but Rattigan (voiced/sung by Vincent Price) straight up stops in the middle of the song to kill one of his drunk lackeys by feeding him to a cat! Coooold blooooded…. (
#10: When Will My Life Begin, Tangled (2010)
I've said this before and I'll stand firm with this statement: Mandy Moore was the perfect Disney princess. Bubbly, quirky, and can sing! Aurora used to be my favorite princess as a kid, but when Tangled came around, I was instantly smitten with Rapuzel from the moment the movie started. Her first song is incredibly fun, charming and encompasses everything about the "modern-day" Disney princess I have come to love. While I am a huge fan of The Princess and the Frog, most would consider Tangled to be the film that kicked-started the second Disney renaissance. Get it, girl!