12. “Let It Go” from Frozen (2013)
What could possibly be said about this global phenomenon that hasn’t already been said hundreds of times, in as many languages, over the past few years.
Apart from the fact that Frozen is now Disney’s highest-earning animated movie (unadjusted for inflation) and that “Let it Go” set a Guinness World Record for having been officially recorded in 45 languages, this is positively one of their biggest, loudest and most intense showstoppers.
It’s a song that became as popular as it did because of its drainingly endless earworm factor. No one can say they walked out of the theatre not humming the song, and sometimes that’s really all it needs to be.
11. “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella (1950)
Remember before when we were talking about unofficial anthems? “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is, melodically and lyrically, the song we think should be Disney’s unofficial anthem. Instead of exhorting the listener to engage in celestial imaginings, Cinderella tells us (and herself) that wishes come from deep within and that dreams are inherently linked to our deepest desires.
And perhaps it’s because Cinderella is THE Disney princess, or because its core theme lies in dreaming, believing and wishing, but we can’t help but feel the melody in “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” feels tonally Disney.
10. “Be Prepared” from The Lion King (1994)
In one of the company’s absolute best examples of character building, up until this point Scar had been mostly unlikeable but it’s during “Be Prepared” that the exact level of his insanity really get turned up to an 11.
The way he manipulates his henchmen, Hitler style, while slyly calling them worthless to their face paints him in the worst light possible and yet the utter magnetism of the song forces us to sing along every time.
9. “The Bells of Notre Dame” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
“The Bells of Notre Dame,” and to an extent the movie itself, is Disney doing musical spectacle: an animated film presented on the scale of Les Misérables, another one of Victor Hugo’s stories. In our humble opinion this is the clear standout song of the film, and that’s including things like “Out There,” “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire,” “Topsy Turvy,” “God Help the Outcasts” and “Court of Miracles” — clearly for us, this is a movie filled with unforgettable musical numbers.
If we hadn’t ranked these songs based on a formula we used that included pop-culture influence, this song may have been on the top of this list. Unfortunately, it barely gets mentioned among the company’s greatest songs so it’ll have to settle in a still impressive #9 slot.
8. “Arabian Nights” from Aladdin (1992)
“Arabian Nights,” which became Aladdin’s official theme song, pulls the viewer in slowly lulling them into a sense of false-satisfaction much like a snake charmer does before unraveling into the fast-paced action of the Agrabah-set adventure.
It acts as a sort of surrogate to the old “once upon a time, in a land far away…” trope a lot of classic Disney fairy tales used, by inviting the audience in and maintaining a fascinating rhythmic flow. It’s the kind of skillful musical writing Disney does so well; taking a simple yet highly affective tune and making it fit the narrative while staying true to the very influence of the respective film’s setting and culture.
7. “Part of Your World / Reprise / Finale” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
What “Part of Your World” does so incredibly well (and moreso the reprise) is paint our lead as something entirely human, a broken girl who just wants to learn more about the world. It’s the first time a Disney princess was given a third dimension — a trait or two beyond the flat “I just want a prince” routine.
Much as Aladdin came out at just the right time for a certain demographic of male Disney fans, if you are a woman between the ages of 30 and 35 there isn’t a chance in the world that you escaped your childhood without this song playing itself out on repeat. God, before the release of Frozen in 2013 with its power ballad of longing and acceptance, “Part of Your World” was, more than any other, THE song that spoke directly to little girls.
6. “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
The success of this song lies in the silly, zany, over-the-top ‘hot crustacean band’ that Sebastian throws together for an impromptu jam session.
From the lobster playing clam shells like a steel-drum to the plaice strumming tied-together octopus tentacles like a bass, these undersea creatures throw together one hell of an inventive jug band — and an infinitely catchy one at that. Having heard all these arguments Sebastian makes in his attempts to persuade Ariel we are really only left with one conclusion: he’s right; life is de bubbles!
5. “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Much like “Once Upon a Dream,” the thematic resonance of the song relies on the visual aesthetic just as much as it does on music and lyrics. So that’s not to belay the sheer iconography of Belle’s yellow dress, the grand ballroom and the 360-degree computer-generated twirl that melted even a hardened cynic’s heart and brought Beauty and the Beast into the conversation to be the first animated movie nominated for best picture at the Oscars.
These are some of the most sweeping and romantic moments for the production company. Winning Academy, Golden Globe and Grammy Awards as well as breaking into the top ten on the Billboard charts, this is not only a song of its moment, but also one for the ages.
4. “A Whole New World” from Aladdin (1992)
This Karaoke mainstay represents the most romantic moment for Disney, it’s easily their best duet, it may be the most recognized and easily memorized song, and despite “Arabian Nights” being the official theme song for Aladdin, “A Whole New World” is by anyone’s standard the defining song of the musically flawless Renaissance.
There may be others that we consider to be slightly better (and we mean slightly) but there’s none higher on this list that are more stamped in culture — though #3 comes fairly close.
3. “Circle of Life” from The Lion King (1994)
When it comes to establishing a sense of setting, character, theme and place no one does it better than the House of Mouse. Presented on a scale befitting David Lean, “Circle of Life” is an epically grand opening number designed to draw the audience in and more importantly, to capture their attention and force them to gaze in awe.
The power conveyed in this opening number is palpable: from the moment the sun rises over the African savannah with Lebo M calling out in Swahili to the final note smashing the title onto the screen, “Circle of Life” is painstakingly controlled.
2. “Belle / Reprise” from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Entire conversations can be had regarding small parts of this song. Does the harried mother frantically buy six eggs every morning? If so, why not buy a dozen and skip a day? And just what is it that’s “too expensive?” But frankly the most pressing question is also the plainest.
Why does Gaston want the one person in town unwilling to give him the time of day? For a song to be that layered and thought provoking (while at the same time remaining both energetic and entertaining) is a testament to the late Howard Ashman’s love for his work, despite being on his deathbed while writing the lyrics. We’d say all the numbers from Beauty and the Beast, and none moreso than “Belle,” represent one hell of a swan song.
1. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
And finally “Poor Unfortunate Souls” oddly enough holds a very special place in our hearts (we know, it’s a morbid song to have an emotional connection to, but it’s a long story that we won’t get into at the moment).
We were nervous about this song placing highly on the list at all, simply because of the points scale, what we found pleasantly surprising (to say the least) is that the song really does excel in all areas of musicality and lyricism but then we were faced with also having to take into account its influence on pop-culture. Well, our case is this: ultimately we respect “Poor Unfortunate Souls” for being the first and only time Disney gave us a drag show.