In honor of Disney’s Friday release of Maleficent, I thought it would be cool to look at what the company has done right: their music. Lets ignore how they have messed up the Pirates of the Caribbean franchiseor most of their live action films and focus on the fantastic music that they have produced. So I have done two separate lists, Best Disney Songs from their animated pictures and at the end of the week I will release my list for Best Disney Villain Songs.
First and foremost the songs have to be from movies that were done by Disney Animation Studios: this means that films like A Nightmare Before Christmas, which was released under the affiliate Touchstone Pictures, cannot be considered. Furthermore, the list can only contain one song per film; if I were to allow multiple songs from one movie then my top five would be full of The Lion King and Hercules music.
‘A Whole New World’ Aladdin
A song that will result in some controversy, ‘A Whole New World’ has been topping lists since Aladdin’s release in 1992. I must back peddle and admit that this is a great song, but I never understood the obsession. It certainly is backed by gorgeous animation, but the recent Broadway interpretation of the Arabian prince helped me to realize that the it does not have the emotional impact that I have felt with other Disney songs. Yes, it is an important tune when talking about Disney Animation, but I cannot help but admit that, in my opinion, ‘A Whole New World’ is a little overrated.
‘Let It Go’ Frozen
The melody that has already become a classic after being released less than a year ago, I certainly love the song and found Frozen the return to ‘Princess form’ for Disney. But while ‘Let It Go’ deservedly won the Oscar and was backed by the beautiful vocals of
Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel, it has suffered from over-saturation. Furthermore, I feel that ‘Let It Go’ needs to be digested more before it is put in the pantheon of ‘Great Songs.’ Will it be in that conversation? Yes, it is certainly in the debate now; but with my countless years of watching Disney’s Animated Features, I cannot in good conscience replace any of my top five with the Frozen theme.
‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ Tarzan
Phil Collins wrote the beautiful ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ for his daughter Lily Collins. Perhaps it is sappy and melodramatic, but it ideally encapsulates the relationship between Tarzan and his surrogate mother Kala. Yes, this is more of a personal choice, however, I have always been fond of the Phil Collins soundtracks and find this to be the best on his fantastic Tarzan soundtrack.
Everything Else The Lion King
Again, if I allowed multiple tracks from a film on my list, the top five would be littered with tunes from The Lion King. I do want to maintain a little bit of mystery with which song I selected, but just remember it was extremely hard to pick just one from this film.
Top Five Songs
5) ‘Part of Your World’ The Little Mermaid
Yes, I choose ‘Part of Your World’ over the much popular ‘Under the Sea,’ but I always found a connection to the slower song. Perhaps it is the idea of the unknown and the basic teenage need to explore it, but ‘Part of Your World’ speaks to all those who want to break out of their shell and experience the world for themselves. Now, mix fantastic water animation with the beautiful voice of Jodi Benson and you have the formula for one of greatest Disney songs of all time.
Furthermore, this perfectly delivers the driving force behind Ariel’s motivation to be different from her family. It is the anthem for every misbegotten youngster in the world and it flawlessly sets up the events that have made The Little Mermaid a classic.
4) ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ Mulan
A great training montage with harsh lyrics, ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ still withstands the test of time. Despite being released in 1998, this mostly forgotten film blends female empowerment (sorry Frozen fans it has been done before) with a cool soundtrack and wonderful performances. Donny Osmund, who is the singing voice for Shang (the character is voiced by BD Wong), has an authoritative voice that makes the rough lyrics that much more effective.
This montage works because visually the director does a fantastic job of showing the characters’ growth over time. The audience witnesses the comradery develop between the other soldiers and Mulan; the viewer understands that there training not only brought them together as a unit, but also, has squashed the squad’s childish hatred for the title character. On top of this, the ability to hear the personal inadequacies of the other warriors enables the director to give the side characters their own individual spotlight.
Furthermore, the build up to the climax, which has Mulan climbing the impossibly tall log, flawlessly proves the character’s worth: this scene is fantastically matched by the chorus being sung ‘a cappella,’ which causes a ‘goose bumps inducing’ finale that has yet to be topped in any training sequence (minus the ridiculously over the top Rocky IV of course).
3) ‘Be Our Guest’ Beauty and the Beast
The enchanting tune sung by the late great Jerry Orbach and the always-fabulous Angela Lansbury impeccably creates a purely fun atmosphere. What starts off as a one-man show evolves into a show stopping song with beautifully choreographed visuals. The lyrics alone will forever be remembered, but the gorgeous computer generated visuals (one of Disney’s first foray into computer animation) aid the near perfect piece. The exquisitely paced music builds to a climax that could cause a ‘kickline seizure.’ Simply put, if you do not want to get up and dance to ‘Be Our Guest’ you must be dead inside.
Again, Beauty and the Beast is full of amazing songs that all could warrant a spot on this list. In fact, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ beat ‘Be Our Guest’ at the 1992 Oscars for Best Original Song. Yet, ‘Be Our Guest’ was the most memorable aspect of my prepubescent viewings of the film. Jerry Orbach’s performance alone cements the tune in history, but all the different elements blending together to create the party-like atmosphere results in one of the greatest Disney songs of all time.
2) ‘Go the Distance’ Hercules
A song that is probably too high on this list, my personal bias elevates ‘Go the Distance’ over fan favorites like ‘A Whole New World,’ ‘Be Our Guest, or even ‘Part of Your World.’ And a lot like the latter song from The Little Mermaid, this tune speaks to all the children who feel lost and out of place in the world. And it tells those who have lost hope that he or she should not give up on their dreams; perhaps a ‘wide-eyed’ view of real life, ‘Go the Distance’ is an inspirational piece that can be appreciated by children and adults alike.
Now, mix this with Hercules’ journey to meet his real father Zeus and it shows that youthful desire to know the unknown. Hercules has a wonderful adopted family, yet a piece of him always knew he did not belong. While it is important for him to appreciate the parents that took him in, once he leaves to find ‘where he belongs’ the music intensively picks up to create a grand finale that ultimately reveals the hero’s past.
And though in real life a person’s purpose is not revealed this easily, it is the idea that the character will do anything to ‘Go the Distance,’ which makes him the representative of hard work and passion: something that gets perfectly represented by Hercules’ persistence during the harsh weather in the journey montage.
1) ‘Hakuna Matata’ The Lion King
All I would have to say is ‘what a wonderful phrase’ and that would sum up the greatness of ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It was so difficult to choose one song from The Lion King, but if I had to pick one, it is the laid back song that introduces two of the greatest characters in Disney history. Not only does the song perfectly set up Timon and Pumbaa, but also the montage establishes their relationship with Simba over time: something that is difficult to do in a four-minute time frame.
On top of that, the lyrics of ‘Hakuna Matata’ make it understandable why Simba would be absorbed by Timon and Pumbaa’s philosophy. The idea that this laid back lifestyle will solve all of his problems is enough to pull Simba out of his suicidal mood. Add the colorful plants and bugs that fill the screen and the result is one of the most visually striking sequences in Disney Animation.
The song further acts as a counterpoint to Simba’s responsibilities as King; this ‘problem free philosophy’ shirks the idea that he may have to grow up one day to retake his kingdom. But at the same time, his growth with Timon and Pumbaa helps the character change from the egotistical entitled youngster that he once was. Perhaps, the adult version of Simba that the audience meets during ‘Hakuna Matata’ is immature, but his laid back lifestyle leads him on a crash course to face the demons he left behind.
‘Hakuna Matata’ was beat out of the 1995 Oscar for Best Original Song by the amazing ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight.’ Both songs were worth the critical praise, but I chose ‘Hakuna Matata’ because of its fun premise and astounding visuals: however, it was far from an easy decision