As a child, there are things that make a lasting mark on your brain. For me, that thing was Disney songs.
Maybe it was that impulse to press “play” over and over or rewind the movie to the beginning of the song. Either way, Disney songs managed to leave wonderful and, at times, useless things stuck in my head. But that’s why creating an entertaining environment is important for children, because it’s possible to give a child a song they will carry with them for decades.
That’s a big part of why, thanks to massive audiences and lots of money, Disney matters. From Snow White, to Beauty and the Beast, and even Frozen, those movies, and the songs they contain, have the potential to stay with a person for a lifetime. The relationship with the movie and songs may change over time, but they will never be forgotten.
This morning, EW announced that “Beauty and the Beast” was the greatest Disney song of all-time. The “Magical Bracket Game” originally began with 64 of the best Disney songs and each week, the field got cut in half until “Beauty and the Beast” remained.
In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with “Beauty and the Beast”. But let’s be honest… there are better Disney songs. So I decided to compile my list and narrow it down to the five best Disney songs of all-time. It was a very grueling process, but I think I got this one right. Of course, you can feel free to disagree in the comments below or on Twitter (@danny_shin131), but without further ado, let’s get started!
*I must place a SPOILER WARNING(!) tag on this post for anyone who hasn’t seen the following movies. Hopefully, that does not apply to many people. If you don’t care about spoilers, then go ahead.*
5. “Circle of Life” – The Lion King (1994)
In assembling a list like this, one must take into account the song’s role in the movie. Not only is “Circle of Life” the best song in a film packed with all-time great songs, but the opening scene of The Lion King is the most visually stunning sequence in the history of the Disney franchise. As all the animals meet upon Pride Rock for young Simba’s baptism, the African-inspired intro gives way to arguably the most powerful chorus of any Disney song. The shots of Pride Rock and Rafiki holding up Simba combined with the lyric, “It’s the circle of life,” makes for two of the most powerful moments in the entire movie.
However, the song also represents a painful reality for some. There’s more to see than can ever be seen/more to do than can ever be done. We all live, age and eventually die. As Mufasa states, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.” It is a very valuable lesson that kids will learn early in their lives. It’s the “Circle of Life” that follows each of us in life’s adventures.
4. I’ll Make a Man Out of You – Mulan (1998)
Mulan was one of the great displays of female empowerment, throwing traditional gender roles out the window. After taking her aging father’s place in the Imperial Army, Mulan trains to battle the Huns. Army Captain Li Shang sings “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in an effort turn his clumsy fighters into soldiers, or in this case, men. More importantly, it serves as Mulan’s transition from an apprentice to a capable soldier, though her captain is unaware that she is actually a woman.
As Mulan struggles to complete different tasks, she gets better throughout the course of the song. In the climactic “be a man” part of the song, she scales a large pole to retrieve an arrow lodged into the top. With “the force of a great typhoon” and the “strength of a raging fire,” Mulan overcomes the odds and brings honor to not only her family, but women everywhere.
(Off topic, but there is no Disney movie more deserving a live-action movie adaptation than Mulan.)
3. Let It Go – Frozen (2013)
From a young age, Elsa has possessed powers that no one understands… the ability to control snow and ice. After spending many years locked in her room, she decides to flee her home and live in solitude. In “Let It Go,” Elsa builds a humongous ice castle for herself. As the chorus rises in emphasis and pitch (which I’ll get to in a moment), it becomes clear that she has had enough of people dictating her future. With a newfound confidence, Elsa really lets it all go and transforms into the best version of herself.
Now, let’s get to Idina Menzel. Her vocal performance took over not only the airwaves, but the minds of every child all over the world. Menzel’s empowering delivery helped turn this song into an anthem for adolescent girls who seek independence from the pressures of acting under traditional gender roles.
2. The Bare Necessities – The Jungle Book (1967)
Baloo was best known for letting his worries slip away, sentiments that were later reverberated in The Lion King‘s “Hakuna Matata.” Basically, “The Bare Necessities” is the “Hakuna Matata” for the previous generation. This song emphasizes the quintessential Disney lesson of not “lookin’ around for something that can’t be found.” By learning to appreciate the simple things in life, one can then truly accept the life they have. It may sound easy to do, especially in song form, but you would be surprised at how many people rarely take time to admire “The Bare Necessities” of life.
It’s also worth noting that the 2016 live-action version of The Jungle Book couldn’t resist making a modern cover of this song. Of course, Bill Murray was the natural choice for Baloo, but I think even he had to know that he could not top the original, right? No offense to Murray, but the laid-back, jazzy singing style of Phil Harris is head-and-shoulders above the live-action version. No one will ever top it.
1. Zero to Hero – Hercules (1997)
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a HUGE fan of R&B and soul music.
Granted, “Zero to Hero” tends to stray towards that gospel/Motown sound (like The Supremes), but those elements are especially popular in today’s R&B/soul music. With that being said, this song is an absolute masterpiece. Who put the glad in gladiator? Herc-u-les! The clap-along melody along the change in tempo halfway through will make you want to tap your foot and dance around your living room. Not that I’ve done that before or anything…
What makes this song so intriguing is the “Zero to Hero” message. Sure, Hercules had his god-like strength, but he really struggled to fit in with other people. But with time, Hercules showed tremendous courage and will, and ultimately became someone who many people admire. This message can apply to everyone because anyone can go from a nobody to a “somebody” “in no time flat.” The Motown sound on this song is just icing on the cake.
Let me know what you think in the comments below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). What do you think is the greatest Disney song of all time? Did your favorite make the cut? Let the debate begin.