By Mary Lou Raposa (@themlfox)
Say what you will about the animated Disney movies and their problematic implications, but it cannot be denied that they have produced some of the most iconic musical bangers of the last century.
No 30-ish adult can ever truly call themselves a “Millennial” if they haven’t jammed to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” or belted the first words to the “Circle of Life” like it’s a rallying cry. Anyone who lived Disney would have a personal list of their favourite songs.
Including me. No shame.
Here is my (non-definitive) top 15 favourite Disney songs.
Cinderella – So This is Love
Imagine sitting in a café or a park—or anywhere. You’re not looking for anything specific nor are you expecting something extraordinary. Then, you see them. What happens next is like the big bang: instantaneous but every bit as explosive. One look—one glance and you know they are the one.
Love at first sight. That’s the song. It is whimsical, dream-like—things we associate with instant love. For the cynics amongst us, it’s easy to ridicule the flighty, idealistic scenario of falling for a person you just met. But is that not the point of Cinderella? It’s not waiting for Prince Charming—all Cinderella wanted to do was attend the ball and have fun for a night. This song is looking into the Prince’s eyes and knowing, in an instant, that he is the one.
Now, do yourselves a favour and listen to the French version.
Sleeping Beauty – Once Upon a Dream
Lookit, it’s 2022 and it is undoubtedly super sus if some rando dude decides to boogie with you when you’re having fun fantasising about dancing with your dream prince. In the fifties, however, it may have been a touch romantic.
Cinderella and her Prince had never met. Aurora and Philip (yes, this one has a name) have met as children. Love at first sight in Cinderella ties to fate. Sleeping Beauty treats it as more grounded, achievable. They have an existing connection so falling in love with each other is not improbable.
Dumbo – Baby Mine
The story of a mother torn from her children always leads to heartbreak. It doesn’t matter if it’s about people or animals. Crying at this song is almost an expectation. I bawled like a baby, no shame. Underneath this emotional narrative is the undeniable truth of animal cruelty within the circus industry. Humanity is capable of many things—good and bad. Pink elephants aside, it’s something the movie ensures we never forget.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Hellfire
From existentially sad to morally suspect, I bring you “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The movie is arguably more adult than any other movie before or after it. It doesn’t have an excess of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll but it touches on the insidious facet of human evil. There’s a lesson of being wary of those who self-proclaim to own certain qualities—especially when they believe it themselves. It might not be true behind closed doors. It’s this nuance that makes me appreciate the song more.
Aladdin – A Whole New World
As a Filipino, I celebrate anything Lea Salonga does. She is also the only vocalist to sing for two Disney Princesses: Jasmine and Mulan. From experience, the duet is one of the most common Disney songs to sing. It’s so fun, isn’t it? And it’s so accessible in a way “So This Is Love” and “Once Upon a Dream” isn’t. Also, there’s not much overlap so you can sing both parts easily! It’s been thirty years since the release of this song, and it remains timeless. Thirty more years will pass, and people will continue to attempt to belt out this song in dingy karaoke rooms.
The Little Mermaid – Poor Unfortunate Souls
If this song were a person they would be that mysterious and shady aunt who has all the cool stories but you know for a fact they may have killed someone in their distant past. Asking them for any favours is a risk because it will return to you somehow. That is “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. It’s in the lyrics, the cheeky music, the title, and, of course, Pat Carroll’s delivery. Just by listening to it, I feel like I owe someone money somewhere.
Beauty and the Beast – Tale as Old as Time
An iconic love song, one you hear all the time at weddings. I don’t hold Beauty and the Beast as close to my heart as I do with the other movies but when I watched the live-action remake and reached this scene I could not help choking up. It’s so iconic.
But nothing beats the original. Dame Angela Lansbury’s voice has a down-to-earth quality. The song is trying to convince us that love stories like Belle and Adam’s (yes, the Beast has a name) is timeless. Her wizened and delicate singing adds to that. It’s classic. Also, it’s not so obvious compared to the remake. The crescendo in the melody is more natural, more love song-like than in the remake where it’s yelling at the audience to look because they’re doing the iconic thing.
The Lion King – Circle of Life
Before I say anything, listen to the song first. Listen to the first lines.
Any questions? No? Good. Moving on.
Pocahontas – Colors of the Wind
“Can You Paint with All the Colors of the Wind?”
It’s a good line, it’s such a good line! It’s so vivid, poetic, and titillating to the senses. I love how it is both a challenge and advice. For about two-thirds of the song, Pocahontas argues against John Smith’s worldview of how his society is better than others because of technology, wealth, education, etc. Towards the end, she reminds him that owning and conquering does not make any person better—being understanding and open-minded does.
Tarzan – You’ll Be in My Heart
Tarzan is one of the two renaissance Disney films that feature no musical numbers, with the music traditionally serving as background for pivotal scenes. I distinctly remember the buzz around the songs in this movie because legendary Phil Collins was part of it. And did he make poignant non-musical songs. If anyone ever doubts Disney’s ability to produce non-musical movies, then you point them straight down in Tarzan’s direction.
Lilo and Stitch – He Mele No Lilo
Lilo and Stitch is a post-renaissance movie with no musical numbers—as is the majority of the movies in the era. What makes it amazing is that it stays true to its setting. As an outside audience, I felt like I watched something quintessentially Hawaiian. Also, something quintessentially human. Lilo and Stitch is grounded in reality—within reason. The experience of Lilo and her sister Nani is one many broken families experience everywhere in the world. Creating this movie seems to send a message saying hope is not only exclusive to fairy tales but in real life too.
Frozen – Show Yourself
I don’t know why—I don’t know what I was going through at the time but when I heard this song for the first time in the cinema tears came bursting forth. Was it the arrangement? The lyrics? Idina Menzel’s singing prowess? Maybe all the above? This song took me on an emotional journey. I was there with Elsa as she discovered her true self. For me, this was one of those songs that instantly elicited emotion without much provocation.
Encanto – We Don’t Talk About Bruno
“Oh god, is she a shill for Encanto?” some of you may be asking upon seeing this interesting little entry in a list expected to be chock-full of classic songs. The answer is, no, I am not a shill for Encanto but there is a line in the song that made the most delicious tingles travel up my spine and it is this:
I associate him with the sound of falling sand—shh, shh, shh.
The words, complemented with the onomatopoeic words and Dolores’ mysteriously ominous voice, create this auditory perfection that vibrates from inside my ear right through my bones. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius. With two Disney films under his composer’s belt, will he be the new Alan Menken for the future generation of Disney films? Time will tell.
Anyway. Bruno. Don’t talk about him.
Tangled – I See the Light
It’s Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.
I’m a 90’s baby.
It’s almost like a requirement of being a Millennial.
I’m a sucker for life-changing love duets. Also, this is up there with “A Whole New World” in terms of sing-ability. This song happens after a gruelling and hilarious journey to discover the truth. It’s one of revelation, recognition—of Eugene realising he has fallen in love with Rapunzel. The music gives this feeling of relief and weightlessness, as though you’re floating in the air amongst the lanterns in the sky.
Coco – Remember Me
If any of you watched Coco and did not cry when Hector sang to his baby Coco or when Miguel sang to his Mama Coco, then I don’t know what to tell you… except that I was a huge baby and sobbed loudly during those times. In a crowded cinema. Full of children. No shame.
Okay. A little shame.
- The Little Mermaid – Part of Your World
- Mulan – Reflection
- Frozen – Into the Unknown
- Tarzan – Two Worlds, One Family
- Enchanted – That’s How You Know
And we have reached the end! Wow, I feel a little empty inside after such a journey.
Whether the movies aged well is debatable but with the songs it’s different. They can be taken out of context and applied to any moment at any time, and they will fit like a puzzle. They still can convey what words can’t. I think Disney’s earned its immortal spot in history for that. If not the movies, I hope the songs continue to remain for future generations to find and connect to.