So, before we get into the list, here are three rules (some more arbitrary than the others) that I decided to play by in order to make the impossible task of picking out the ten best songs of the entire Disney Canon a little easier for me. First rule: Only movies in the Canon are eligible. That means no “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” or any song from Mary Poppins, even if they probably would have made the list. Second rule: Only movies written specifically for the movie they appear in. So, for example, all those Elvis songs featured in Lilo & Sitch are not eligible. Third rule: Only one song per movie, because otherwise, the list would have ended up being all Beauty and the Beast songs.
And one more thing before we start. This is not only a ranking of the songs, but of the way the song and the animation work together to service the movie. Good songs featured in lame sequences, or great sequences scored to lackluster songs won’t make it on this list.
10. “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book (1967)
Written by Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
Performed by Louis Prima
“I Wanna Be Like You” is without a doubt the stand-out musical number in The Jungle Book, and Louis Prima was inspired casting for King Louie. Apparently, the jazz musician was really excited about voicing a Disney character. So much so as to send the studio story notes about the character. Prima’s performance of the song is just fantastic, full of the excitement and vitality that make King Louie such a memorable character despite the fact that his appearance probably doesn’t amount to ten minutes of screen time.
What About…? The only other song from The Jungle Book that I considered was “The Bear Necessities“, which is fun and sweet, but doesn’t have the anarchic power of “I Wanna Be Like You”.
9.“Friend Like Me” from Aladdin (1992)
Written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Performed by Robin Williams
Talk about show-stopping numbers… The first part of Aladdin has quite a bit of problems, but they all disappear once the Genie (Robin Williams) arrives with his thunderous performance of “Friend Like Me”. Your response to Aladdin as a movie might depend a lot on how much you like Williams’s schtick. I find it really funny, and if for no other reason, “Friend Like Me” deserves a spot on the list just for the amount of flexibility adopted by the animators to capture Williams’s riffing in cartoon form.
What About…? I’m not a huge fan of the rest of the Aladdin score, but I will admit to having a soft-spot for “A Whole New World“, even if its lyrics are a little too cheesy even for Disney standards.
8. “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994)
Written by Elton John and Tim Rice
Performed by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M
I said this in my review, but it bares repeating, who doesn’t know the opening african chant to The Lion King? The rising sun over the savannah, and all animals walking together to greet young Simba as he is lifted in Rafiki’s arms are all some of the most prevalent images in the contemporary public consciousness. There might be certain weaknesses to the songs in The Lion King, but “Circle of Life” is a spectacular beginning to a wonderful movie.
What About…? For a while, and just for the sake of being a contrarian, my list didn’t have any Lion King songs. That obviously didn’t last long (there’s no denying the power of “Circle of Life”). I also considered “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” thanks to its visual playfulness, and “Be Prepared” because how the hell is there a Disney song that features Nazi imagery?
7. “Up, Down, and Touch the Ground” from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Written by Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
Performed by Sterling Holloway
“I’m short, fat, and proud of that”, all of the appeal of Pooh as a character in a single song. Watch this and tell me it’s not the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen. The Sherman brothers were masters of coming up with silly little songs, and when paired with Sterling Holloway’s sweetest performance, the result is pure magic.
What About…? This one is full of classic songs, it was really hard to pick just one song. The two that came closest to making the list were “Little Black Rain Cloud” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers“
6. “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Written by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey
Performed by Adriana Caselotti
Pretty much all the songs in Snow White are good, but I had to pick one. “Whistle While You Work” just happens to be my favorite. I also might have given it the advantage based on historical bases. I mean, this is the beginning of the cheery princess that cleans up the house with the help of cute little animals, and where would we be without that character stereotype? It’s also a very fun song to sing while cleaning up your own house.
What About…? Like I said, the Snow White score is pretty fantastic. The stand-outs that didn’t make the list are “Someday My Prince Will Come“, which is a very good song, but not the best sequence in the movie, and “Heigh Ho“, which is terrific, but also really short.
5. “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo (1941)
Written by Oliver Wallace, Ned Washington
Performed by Mel Blanc, Thurl Ravenscroft, The Sportsmen
It might be a little far-fetched to think all of this was a product of Dumbo being drunk, but who am I to say what the effects of alcohol are in young elephants. What I do know is that there is no way you watched this scene as a kid and were either scared as hell or completely fascinated by it. It’s simply one of the best dream/hallucinating sequences in all of cinema. If you have a stoner friend who hasn’t seen Dumbo, he’ll appreciate it if you show him this.
What About…? The other big Dumbo song is the Oscar-nominated “Baby Mine“, but if I have to be honest, that is one of the cases I talked about above, where a fantastic sequence (Dumbo reencounter with his mom always brings me to tears) scored to an unmemorable song.
4. “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Written by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee
Performed by George Givot and the Studio Chorus
If you ever find yourself watching a montage of the most romantic movies (be it while watching the Oscars, or YouTube, or wherever people watch montages nowadays), and this scene is not included, you can rest assured that whoever put together said montage is a complete imbecile.
What About…? If I had allowed more than one song per movie, be assured that Peggy Lee’s steamy rendition of “He’s a Tramp” would have been a very, very serious contender.
3. “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio (1940)
Written by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington
Performed by Dickie Jones
Hard to pick from a score as fantastic as what Harline and Washington wrote for Pinocchio (I was very close to pulling my hair out), but I am very comfortable in my pick of this funny, little song. It is funny, catchy, and it features fantastic animation in the way the marionettes move and dance around our little wooden hero.
What About…? This was probably the hardest movie to pick just one song from. I mean, Pinocchio simply has the best Disney score from any Disney movie released before the nineties. “When You Wish Upon a Star“, “Give a Little Whistle” and even “Hi Diddle Dee Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me)” could have comfortably earned a spot in the top ten.
2. “Part of That World” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman
Performed by Jodi Benson
I said it once in my review, and I’ll say it as many times as it is necessary, because people just have to know that this is the best “I Want” song ever written. It’s also probably my favorite of all Disney songs.
What About…? If my love for “Part of That World” weren’t as unreasonably high, I would have had a horrible time picking just one song out of The Little Mermaid’s score. “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” are amazing, and I flirted with the idea of choosing “Poor Unfortunate Souls“, because I wanted to have a villain song in the list, and Ursula’s number is probably the best such song in the Canon.
1. “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Written by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman
Performed by Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Alec Murphy, Mary Kay Bergman, Kath Soucie, and Chorus
Since I just wrote that “Part of That World” is my favorite song, you must be wondering why I didn’t have it at number one. Well, while it is fantastic, there are two reasons I picked “Belle” for number one. First, because I think Beauty and the Beast is the best score of any Disney movie and it deserved to have the top spot. Second, because the sophistication with which “Belle” works as both a song to introduce us to the world, the tone, and the main character of the movie is like nothing Disney had ever done (or has done since, to be honest).
What About…? Like I said, the best score in all of Disney history (give or take your Mary Poppins). It has all of the big Disney areas covered. A great villain song? You got “Gaston“. A show-stopping number? There’s “Be Our Guest“. One of the most romantic songs ever? you just have to listen to the eponymous “Beauty and the Beast“.
Before I go, let me just list a number of songs I considered for the list, but sadly didn’t make it. They are (in chronological order)…
– “The Three Caballeros” from The Three Cabaleros
– “The Working Song” from Cinderella
– “Cruella De Vil” from One Hundred and One Dalmatians
– “I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from Hercules
– “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan
– “Son of Man” and “Strangers Like Me” from Tarzan
– “I See the Light” and “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled
– “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “For the First Time in Forever” from Frozen