Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast hits theaters this weekend, and we’re excited to see it! To celebrate this occasion we’ve chosen to look back at our favorite Disney songs from across their catalog. Turns out, we’re all fans of quite a lot of Disney songs, and this was a difficult one for all three of us to narrow down. Keep reading to see where we finally landed!
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While I love all the older Disney classics in a nostalgic way, when it comes to the music, it wasn’t until the studio’s ’90s renaissance that I really connected (maybe because that’s when they became a little more pop-y, and at heart, my tastes are extremely Top 40?). Whatever the reason, beginning with The Little Mermaid (which 4th Grade Me saw in theaters… six times? I think?), the new wave of movies and songs spoke to me in a way the older ones never had. So while there will always be a soft spot in my heart for all the movies made during Disney’s Golden Age, all of my picks come from movies released post-1989.
Also, although we decided when we set out to do this post that any Disney movie was fair game, I’ve decided to disqualify Newsies and The Nightmare Before Christmas because most people don’t think of those when they think of “Disney songs” (even though they contain some of the very best Disney music), and also because if I included them, that’s… all this list would be. But, for the record, if I hadn’t taken them out of the running, “This is Halloween” and “Seize the Day” would be sitting RIGHT AT THE TOP.
5. “Son of Man,” Tarzan
It’s hard to narrow down a single favorite song from Phil Collins’ Tarzan soundtrack (because, let’s face it, they all sound kind of similar), but I think that, for me, “Son of Man” edges out the others by a narrow margin. I love its upbeat tempo, the catchy chorus, and, for whatever reason, I am just a sucker for a good growing up montage. Also, for reasons I cannot entirely explain, my favorite visual in the entire movie is that shot during the final chorus where the camera is tracking the gorillas walking majestically across the jungle floor, then they look up to see Tarzan swinging above them in the trees. (Stop looking at me like that, I told you I can’t explain it.)
4. “Why Should I Worry?” Oliver and Company
While Oliver and Company is not one of my favorite Disney movies, it has one of my favorite soundtracks, including this one, which is truly Peak Billy Joel. (And let’s be clear, in the mid-’90s — and maybe still a bit even today — I was All About Peak Billy Joel.) It perfectly sets the scene for the movie, establishes Dodger’s character, and will get stuck in your head for daaaaays. With a lesser song, this might be a bad thing, but for me, it’s just a bonus.
3. “Let It Go,” Frozen
I know I KNOW everyone is sick to death of this song, but the thing is, when Frozen first hit theaters, no one was talking about it yet. And when we took our kids to see it opening weekend, knowing nothing about the movie other than it was the latest Disney Princess film, this song blew me away. When it ended, I have a vivid memory of my husband and I just looking at each other in the theater with our jaws hanging open. It was that stunning. And although it’s been suuuuuuuuper overplayed ever since, I still get a little choked up every time she sings “I am one with the wind and sky” and then AGAIN when she embraces her power and takes her hair down and creates her… magic… ice… dress? Whatever, I don’t even care, it’s a beautiful song and I’m not crying you’re crying.
2. “You’re Welcome,” Moana
I’ll admit that PART of the reason I love this song so much is the fact that it is sung by The Rock (because doesn’t that mental image just fill your heart with joy?) but really, it’s just a terrifically fun tune playing under an amazing character introduction. I will fully admit to listening to this one over and over to make sure I had every syllable and cadence of the rap section memorized, and that I will occasionally perform spontaneous a cappella renditions of it with my kids. No shame.
1. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” Mulan
There was never any contest in my mind for which song would fill the #1 slot on my list. While overall, my Mulan feelings are more or less ¯_(ツ)_/¯, this song is my absolute favorite and I’m not sure it’s even possible for another to ever take its place. It’s just the perfect mix of a catchy melody, clever lyrics, an Affecting Key Change, and touches of humor — plus it’s one of the easiest songs to work into everyday conversations. I apologize in advance if you ever tell me it’s time to get down to business and I respond with “TO DEFEAT THE HUNS.”
I really, really love Disney music. Like, I am that person who has an entire playlist of Disney songs and am known to bust it out at any given moment (It makes me SUPER popular with the kids). It’s just music that makes me happy (or makes me cry depending on my mood) and I enjoy singing along to the songs from my childhood to now. As such, it was incredibly difficult to narrow my list down to only five. There were SO MANY incredible songs that didn’t make the cut for various reasons and I am sorry to them: “Why Should I Worry” from Oliver and Company, “Go The Distance” from Hercules, “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp, and “Stand Out” A Goofy Movie.
5. “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana
The only reason this song isn’t higher on my list is because of how new this movie is. This soundtrack is one of the best Disney soundtracks to come along in years (thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda!) and this song in particular is so damn gorgeous that it’s impossible to include it. So even though this movie only came out in November, these songs have imprinted on me in a way that is hard to shake. I know they will be ones I listen to over and over again for years to come.
4. “Be Our Guest,” Beauty and the Beast
It would be utterly remiss of us to create this week’s top five in honor of the live action Beauty and the Beast movie and not have a single song from the animated classic on there.The animation is incredible, it’s so fun watching the sweeping dance numbers done by cookware, plates, and utensils. It also doesn’t hurt that this song is just so fun sing along with.
3. “Oo De Lally,” Robin Hood
If you’re at all familiar with me, you know that Robin Hood is my very favorite Disney movie. And while I know the whistling from this song drives most people bonkers, it just makes me smile. It’s a delightful intro to the movie and the characters and cleverly sets the stage for the type of adventure you are in for.
2. “Friend Like Me,” Aladdin
Robin Williams’ portrayal of the Genie is absolutely one of the best things that Disney did in the ’90s and this song was his crowning glory. The song is fantastic on its own, but just like with “Be Our Guest” it’s the animation that brings it to life and makes it one of my all-time favorites.
1. “I Won’t Say I’m in Love,” Hercules
There is nothing more satisfying that driving down the highway, windows down, and singing along to this song at the top of my lungs. Megara is one of the more interesting Disney women (don’t you dare call her a Princess, let alone a Damsel in Distress) and this song conveys so much more about her character that we typically see.
Disney movies are not “just for kids,” and so I will always look forward to and devour new offerings from the Mouse. From their oldest classics to their newest hits, there’s just so much to choose from, and startlingly few duds among the batch. There’s nothing quite like finding people who love these songs as much as I do to share with, especially if you’ve got the time to road trip somewhere and spend hours in the car singing along. Choosing five was hard, and I kept flip-flopping on a few, but here is where I have come to rest.
5. “Be Prepared,” The Lion King
Ah, the villain song. Disney is so good at these that there are two on my list! I love this one partly because of Jeremy Irons, and partly because of the addition the hyenas make near the climax (“We’ll have food/lots of food/we repeat/endless meat!”). The visuals on this are stark and stunning, especially when you know that the marching hyenas were purposely made to echo marching Nazis from The Triumph of the Will. If you weren’t sure Scar was the bad guy before this song, there’s no denying it by the end. But man, did he get a showstopper.
4. “Chim Chimney,” Mary Poppins
Say what you will about Dick Van Dyke’s famously panned “Cockney” accent, this song’s a charmer and so is he. It’s such a cheery song, and considering my high school did a Mary Poppins halftime show my senior year and I still love this song despite having played it into the ground at such a formative age, I think that says a lot for its quality. It’s a lot of fun to play on the piano, as well, which is a very important component of songs making my Disney faves list.
3. “Just Around the Riverbend,” Pocahontas
I am bizarrely fond of Pocahontas despite the fact that Disney just straight-up ignored most of what actually happened in the historical accounts around her and doubled her age. A lot of the songs are memorable, and “Just Around the Riverbend” is my favorite of them all, because it’s hands-down one of the best Disney songs to sing along with if you want a bit of a challenge. They took great advantage of Judy Kuhn’s range, and the result is absolutely charming.
2. “Hellfire,” The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This bombastic curse of a song, delivered by Frollo in a despairing treatise against his own lust for Esmeralda, is a dramatic high point in one of Disney’s less-remembered movies. While the film is not a favorite, its soundtrack absolutely is, and this track in particular is a lot of fun both to listen to and to play along. The gorgeous animation of the dancing fire and looming shadows around Frollo only makes it more effective. To my mind, this is the most powerful of Disney’s many villain songs.
1. “Once Upon a Dream,” Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is, and will likely always be, my favorite Disney movie. I grew up watching it, and while my favorite thing about it is actually its magnificent villain, Maleficent, I’m just as fond of its beautiful art style and its music. The creepy, melancholy clarinet that plays as Aurora climbs the tower to prick her needle may actually be a large part of why I chose it as my own instrument in band as a child, and I inherited a deep and abiding love of waltzes from my father, who shared one with me at my wedding. This song holds a very strong hold on my heart.