My Disney Top 5 - Songs in the Disney Animated Filmsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. I truly hope you are all keeping yourselves safe and healthy out there.
The holiday season is upon us and last night I was watching the Disney Holiday Singalong on ABC. I'm not going to pass judgement on this particular installment of the Disney Sing-Alongs. All things considered, I'd rather not be a Grinch at this time of year. But the show did get me thinking about covering something I've only briefly touched on before; the deep history that the Walt Disney Company has with music. Disney and music are inextricably linked and have been ever since 1928 when a certain mouse swayed back and forth on screen to the tune of Steamboat Bill, the song Mickey whistles in Steamboat Willie - a moment so significant it has turned into the company's calling card at the beginning of its animated films. I've written about Disney music before, but mostly articles focusing on music in the parks. This time, I thought I'd attack the entire musical history of the company's animated films and see if I could really narrow things down to only 5, a fairly daunting task.
Music has always been a substantial part of my life. My older brother played electric guitar. Growing up in the 70's that meant Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" being cranked out of his bedroom seemingly just about every single day of my young life. His love of classic rock and roll and my parents love of music rubbed off on me for sure. I can remember getting a record player for Christmas when I was about 6 or 7 along with my first albums, The Monkees Greatest Hits and the Beatles Second Album - both of which I still have to this day. That kicked off a substantial vinyl, cassette, CD, DVD and download collection that continues to grow each day.
I tried playing the drum in the school marching band. That never took. I tried playing the electric bass because, as I told my bass teacher, "Paul McCartney plays bass." That never took either. But my love of music has never left me. Aside from my family, it's music, skiing and Disney when it comes to the things that make me happiest in life and I don't anticipate that will ever change. I'll put it to you this way, I was at a concert at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2020, Two days later the pandemic shut Broadway down. Three days later my school shut down for six months. I was at the very last concert in New York right before this whole mess began. And if this whole mess never began, I imagine I would have had the pleasure of several more shows like that one. I miss Disney World. I miss sitting in a restaurant. But you have no idea how much I miss seeing live music.
That said, how do you narrow down 92 years of Disney's music into a Top 5 list? First I took the parks off the table. So, no "One Little Spark" and no "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." Then I decided it would only be the animated films. That took some favorites off the list like "Feed the Birds (Tuppence a Bag)" and "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins. I decided to take out the Pixar films, which aren't really known for songs, but, trust me, it was hard to leave out "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story and "Remember Me" from Coco. At that point I had to really think about the songs that get to me every time I hear them. For me Disney has always been about the escape. So these songs take me away and make me smile, just like good music should. I didn't try and focus on one time period. I could write a whole article on the Top 5 songs from the Disney Renaissance for sure. Believe me a big chunk of my favorites and I'm sure your favorites come from that glorious run of films between 1989's The Little Mermaid and 1999's Tarzan. But I thought I'd make it harder and take on the whole history of Disney's animated films and their music. What did I come up with? Let's take a look with my top 5 songs from Disney's animated films.
5 - "Be Our Guest" written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
I'm going to go out on a shaky Disney limb here and say that I'm not really a big fan of musicals. I kind of despise the whole idea of, "Let's break into song at any given moment! And let's sing every word instead of speaking them!!" That said I do have my soft spots. For example, given my description of why I'm not too fond of musicals I should hate Les Miserables. For goodness sakes, every word is sung. Despite that fact, Les Mis has always gotten to me and hits me in a good way. I think that's a testament to the songs themselves. Given the number of songs in Beauty and the Beast, I shouldn't like this film either, but the truth is I more than just like this film. I love it. I loved it in the theater when I saw it open in New York City in 1991. I loved it on Broadway - twice! I love it at Hollywood Studios. And I love the moment I hear Lumiere begin to break into this song in Mickey's Philharmagic.
"Be Our Guest" is about as fantastic a Disney song as you're going to find. If this song doesn't make you happy, you might not have a heart. Beauty was Howard Ashman's swan song. Much of the music was completed during the final weeks of his life and he did not get to see the completed film, nor it's astronomical success. I've always felt that you could feel that in the music from Beauty and the Beast, that someone literally poured every last bit of their heart and soul into the songs and score. This duo wrote some of Disney's most amazing music together, but the songs from Beauty and the Beast just feel a bit different, like a notch above. To me, it's their crowning achievement.
4 - "I See The Light" written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater
I personally think that Tangled is one of Disney's absolute best animated films and I often feel like it doesn't get that recognition. First of all, the film looks stunningly beautiful. Being more of a Disney purist, I initially wasn't that sold on the switch to all CG animation. Sure, the Pixar films were, at times, breathtaking to behold. But, how could CG stack up to a Sleeping Beauty or the aforementioned Beauty and the Beast as far as beautiful animation? As far as a Disney princess film goes, and following along the timeline of releases, I enjoyed the classic animated sequences of Enchanted (2007) and I loved the look of The Princess and The Frog (2009). I wasn't all that sold on Chicken Little (2005), Meet The Robinsons (2007) or Bolt (2008). I consider those all pretty decent films but there's just a little something lacking, that stunning animated sequence that makes a Disney film stand out. Then, in 2010, along came Tangled and I was pretty blown away.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Belle and Beast waltz across the big screen or Aladdin and Jasmine taking their magic carpet ride. Those were mesmerizing scenes set to beautiful music. I felt the same way and continue to feel the same way every time I see the lantern scene from Tangled set to this amazing song. I watched it last week and got as choked up as I did the first time I saw it in the theaters ten years ago. Only a powerful song could do that and "I See the Light" does it to me every time.
3 - "Circle of Life" written by Elton John and Tim Rice
Who doesn't get a lump in their throat and goosebumps when the opening notes of this song come on? It happens to me when I see the film. It happened on Broadway when the lights go down an those stunning animal puppets walked across the stage. It happens when I'm in Animal Kingdom in the audience of Festival of the Lion King. It just happened when I played the song on my computer as I was writing this. It also doesn't hurt that it's part of one of the greatest animated sequences of all time, not too mention, in my opinion, one of the greatest opening scenes in motion picture history.
It's not the first time that Elton John inspired me with a piece of music. "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" and "Tiny Dancer" are two of my all time favorite pieces of music, so it was no surprise that he and Tim Rice were able to compose an instant classic on their first outing for Disney. But what a homerun they hit! You just can't get more iconic than "Circle of Life" and I know I'm not the only Disney fan that feels that way.
2 - "When You Wish Upon a Star" written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington
Too easy? Did I take the painless, uncomplicated and straightforward route including this ubiquitous Disney song near the top of my list? I don't believe so. Sure, it's practically the Walt Disney Company's anthem. It plays at the beginning of every Disney film. The Disney cruise ships blast it out of their horns. I even heard that they were experimenting with the idea of building grooves in the pavement at Walt Disney World that would play the notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star" as the Disney buses drove over them. It's almost become a song that Disney fans take for granted and that's a shame because it really is a beautiful, inspiring little piece of music. Disney is all about dreaming and making those dreams come true and that's in no small part due to the existence of this song in it's canon of films. It's perhaps the quintessential Disney song and with good reason. No song embodies the soul of the Disney experience more than "When You Wish Upon a Star."
I've always loved Pinocchio as a film. It's one of my favorites and always has been. It was a stellar achievement in animation and in my eyes, holds up to this day as a work of art. Once again, in a very different way than "Circle of Life", this song opens the film and we are treated to our first sight of Jiminy Cricket, one of Disney's most timeless creations. However, aside from, but still connected to my love of Disney, I have a deep sentimental attachment to this song. Jiminy Cricket was a big favorite of my dear friend Robert who passed away just over a decade ago. When I write that sentence, it's hard to believe he's been gone that long. I can't hear this song and not think of him. So, being a Disney fan - I hear this song just about constantly and that means I'm thinking and remembering Robert constantly and that's a wonderful thing for a piece of music to do.
1 - "You Can Fly" written by Sammy Cahn
Peter Pan is my favorite Disney film. Peter Pan's Flight is my favorite Walt Disney World attraction.
Therefore it's only fitting that "You Can Fly" from the film - and heard throughout the ride - would be my favorite Disney song. As I've said many times here on MousePlanet in all my years of writing, Disney is about the escape. It's about leaving the world behind for a little while and allowing yourself to experience some of the wonder and magic that you believed in as a child. Disney allows that to happen. Music allows that to happen. To my ears, there's no better song in the Disney canon that captures that feeling of youthful transformation.
"When there's a smile in your heart
There's no better time to start
Think of all the joy you'll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye"
Peter Pan reminds me of that magical childhood state of mind that many of us seek out in our lives. Indeed, the character himself never wants to grow up. Some people accuse me of being a big kid. That's fine. I consider that a compliment. Yes, I'm a happy big kid with a more magical outlook on life. That's not such a bad thing. "You Can Fly" embodies that whole Disney ethos of rekindling the childhood spirit that lives in all of us and that's why it's my favorite Disney song of all time.
Honorable Mention - "Little Wonders" written by Rob Thomas
I felt the need to put this song on the list because it's hands down one of the most beautiful songs featured in a Disney animated film or for that matter, anywhere else. Rob Thomas wrote this song for the movie Meet The Robinsons and yet, I don't really feel like this is recognized as a Disney song. Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 fame was asked to write a song for the film and despite the fact that it was actually written about his dog, which is a little fact that I doubt most people know, the song fits in beautifully with the storyline of the film. It's in a Disney movie and yet, never seems to make the published lists of great Disney songs and it truly deserves a high spot on any list so I gave it honorable mention on mine.
This was one of the hardest lists to create in all my years of crafting Top 5s here on MousePlanet. I can write a whole other Top 5 article listing the songs that I had to cut to whittle it down to what you see here. Where's "A Whole New World," "Bare Necessities," "Go The Distance," "Out There," "Under The Sea," "How Far I'll Go," "You'll Be In My Heart," "Reflection," "Belle"…the list goes on and on.
You'd be hard pressed to find a movie company with a more celebrated musical history than Disney. Great songs will forever be part of the company's legacy. Some of Disney's songs, like "Someday My Prince Will Come" and "When You Wish Upon a Star," have become bona fide standards and have been covered dozens of times by other artists. Many of them were major commercial successes apart from the films they are from. I'm not the only one out there that regards these songs so highly. I'm quite sure, there's probably a Disney song or two on the soundtrack to most people's lives. These are mine. I'm sure you have yours.
That's my list of favorite songs from the Disney animated films. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to comment on my list, share your own list of Disney favorites, stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.