Disney is synonymous with magic, dreams that if you keep on believing will come true, unforgettable characters, exciting stories, childhood (but also adulthood because, let’s be honest, Disney fans are like Peter Pan, they never grow up completely, or at least in spirit) but above all… of memorable songs!
Whether you are a true lover of singing, and you use every chance to show off your talents (or your passion) as Anna from “Frozen,” or that you find yourself forced to do it as Flynn from “Rapunzel” (we hope without being threatened by swords!), when the Disney karaoke calls it is very difficult, if not even impossible, to resist.
As a result, it is normal that from generation to generation it has been discussed (a lot, and even animately) on which are the best Disney songs ever, up to the point that the civil war between Captain America and Tony Stark is a playground contention in comparison! Given the fact that everyone is right because it is the personal taste and the love that you feel for a particular title that decrees the winner for each of us, we felt we couldn’t remain indifferent to the issue anymore, and that is why we decided to write down a list of the 10 best Disney cartoons’ songs!
It was not easy, it is certainly not the definitive list, but it contains all those soundtracks that, regardless of age, thrill every Disney lover, and not only. Will you reach #1 without singing?
Coco – “Remember Me” (2017)
Quote: “Remember me don’t let it make you cry, forever if I’m far away I hold you in my heart, I sing a secret song to you.”
Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the iconic song of the animated film “Coco” won the Oscar in 2018 as “Best Song.” Inspired by the Mexican tradition, especially by the Bolero-ranchero style and the Chopin Prelude “Raindrop,” Op 28, No. 15, the song reminds us how the love for music can strengthen and consolidate the bond between people. The song was also thought for those who miss someone in their lives, for those who dream of being close to him/her, but who unfortunately can not do it: sometimes, however, as the film teaches, we just need a song to remember the love of those who are no longer alive and yet will live forever in our hearts…
Beauty and the Beast – “Be Our Guest” (1991)
Quote: “After all, miss, this is France and a dinner here is never second best, go on, unfold your menu take a glance and then you’ll be our guest, oui, our guest, be our guest.”
Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken for the 30th Disney animated movie, the Broadway-inspired song is sung by Jerry Orbach (Lumière) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Brick). Initially meant for Belle’s father when he finds himself alone in the castle and then instead attributed to Belle herself, the song achieved incredible success, thanks also to the incredible use of CGI that makes the scene a riot of moving objects that create a chaotic and joyful choreography inspired by those of Busby Berkeley. The song, which wants to show to Belle all the comforts, the good food and the irresistible company that animates the castle, has been hailed by critics and it was nominated at the Oscars of 1992 as “Best Song,” along with “Belle” and “Beauty and the Beast,” making “Beauty and the Beast” the first film in the history of the Academy Awards to obtain three nominations in the “Best Song” category.
Frozen – “Let It Go” (2013)
Quote: “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all, it’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through, no right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.”
Written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, it is sung by Idina Menzel when Elsa, alone in the mountains, realizes that she no longer needs to hide her powers. The song was born during a stroll, according to Anderson-Lopez himself, “We were speaking while out for a walk in Prospect Park. What does it feel like to be a perfect person who is being idolized, but only because he/she keeps this secret hidden? Bobby pulled out the expression ‘Kingdom of isolation,’ and it worked.” Back home, they composed the whole song that same day. Elsa was originally written to be the villain but co-directors Chris Buck, and Lee gradually rewrote the character to become one of the protagonists following the composition of “Let It Go.” Anderson-Lopez and Lopez specifically wrote the song for Idina Menzel, referring to her as a “one of the most glorious voices on Broadway and one of the icons of the theatrical musical.”
“Let It Go” won the Oscar for “Best Song” at the 2014 Academy Awards, where it was performed live by Menzel. It is the first song from a Disney animated musical to enter the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 from 1995, when “Colors of the Wind” by Vanessa L. Williams reached the fourth place.
The Little Mermaid – “Part of Your World” (1989)
Quote: “When’s it my turn? Wouldn’t I love to explore that shore above? Out of the sea, wish I could be, part of that world.”
Written by the duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and sung by Jodi Benson, “Part of your World” is a ballad that represents Ariel’s will to be part of the human world, where she would be able to live with her love and to be free. The song, inspired by Broadway, was originally conceived as a declaration for Ariel’s love for Eric, but the composers believed that declaring Ariel’s feelings for the mainland was more important to the plot.
Jodi Benson in the recording room used to sing with soft lights to recreate the underwater environment, while silently led by Ashman, who guided her in the recreation of an inner monologue between opposing parties. Imperfect segments were included in the final version of the song to make it as much realistic and emotional as possible. The song is considered the moment when the audience starts to think about Ariel as something real, like a girl who dreams big. And because many of us feel like her, it also represents the moment when the audience falls in love with her. Despite the great success of critics, the song was not nominated at the Oscars 1990 as “Best Song,” won by “Under the Sea” instead.
Mulan – “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (1998)
Quote: “Be a man, you must be swift as the coursing river, be a man, with all the force of a great typhoon, be a man, with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon.”
The song, written by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel and sung by Donny Osmond, represents the hard training to which Captain Shang forces his inexperienced recruits, but also the inner training of Mulan who must do her best to act like a man and to avoid to be recognized as a girl. With this song, the composers paid homage to the Eastern and Western culture, where the East is represented by the use of traditional Chinese drums, while the West is given by the military cadences of the sound. The use of drums and some naturalistic metaphors contributed to the “masculine” tone of the song. To make the scene in which Shang is punched in the stomach while signing more realistic, Osmond used to punch himself several times while recording the piece! The song marks a turning point in the plot: if the first part represents the peaceful family’s environment, from this point on we meet the cruelty of war and the unpredictability of events typical of the fighting times.
Aladdin – “A Whole New World” (1998)
Quote: “A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, no one to tell us no or where to go or say we’re only dreaming.”
“A Whole New World”, composed by Alan Menken and written by Tim Rice, is sung by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga. The song expresses both the love between Aladdin and Jasmine and their desire of escaping from their strict world to discover what new and exciting adventures they can live far from it. The song won both the Golden Globe that the Oscar in 1993 as “Best song:” It is also the only Disney song to reach the first place in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, replacing “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, which was dominating the ranking for 14 weeks!
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – “Hellfire” (1996)
Quote: “Like fire, Hellfire, this fire in my skin, this burning desire is turning me to sin.”
“Hellfire,” written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, is sung by Frollo in contrast with “Heaven Lights,” which is sung by Quasimodo instead, during which the judge and the hunchback express their feelings for Esmeralda: anguish and sin for the first and of ecstasy and relief for the second. There are parts sung by a Latin choir that make the moment more solemn, especially when Frollo refers to the themes of sin, guilt, and Hell. The strength of the text, combined with the original and equally impactful visual sequence, gives life to what it is considered one of the most powerful animation scenes (Disney or not) ever, and that well represents the inner struggle felt by Frollo even in the book “Notre-Dame de Paris” by Victor Hugo, which inspired the film.
Hercules – “I Can Go the Distance” (1997)
Quote: “Like a shooting star, I will go the distance, I will search the world, I will face its harms, I don’t care how far, I can go the distance ‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms.”
“I Can Go the Distance,” written by Alan Menken and David Zippel, is sung by Roger Bart: the song expresses the will of Hercules to find out who he really is and to finally find his place in the world. Initially, the songs for Hercules had to be two but the second one, “Shooting Stars,” did not get the final approval. The song, which encourages to overcome personal limits, is considered motivational for all athletes, also referring to the sportive spirit that characterized the Greek culture and to the transformation of Hercules himself. The song was nominated for both the Oscars and the Golden Globes in 1998 in the category “Best Song,” but lost in both categories against “My Heart Will Go On” from “Titanic.” Disney USA recognized the Italian version of the song as the best among all the foreign ones.
Tarzan – “You’ll Be in My Heart” (1999)
Quote: “Why can’t they understand the way we feel, they just don’t trust what they can’t explain, I know we’re different, but deep inside us we’re not that different at all.”
The song was written by Phil Collins who, thanks to his experience as the drummer of the Genesis, was also hired by Disney to make the sounds of the jungle where Tarzan lives: “You’ll Be In My Heart” was chosen among four other songs proposed by Collins, and it was initially supposed to be called “Lullaby.” It is sung by Kala, the mother gorilla of Tarzan, as a lullaby to make Tarzan falling asleep and as a promise of eternal love and protection. The song is the only one of the soundtrack to be sung by an actual character, while all the others are sung by Phil Collins: it won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar in 2000 as “Best Song,” and it was played live by Collins at the Academy Award ceremony.
The Lion King – “The Circle of Life” (1994)
Quote: “It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love ‘till we find our place, on the path unwinding, in the circle, the circle of life.”
“The Circle of Life” is perhaps the best known and beloved song from Disney for the cultural beauty of the text and for the interpretation of Elton John who edited the music: Tim Rice wrote the text, and Hans Zimmer produced it. Rice said he was impressed by the speed with which John composed it, “I gave him the text around two o’clock in the afternoon, and at half-past three he had already finished writing and recording a wonderful demo.” The initial part is in the Zulu language.
The song accompanies a spectacular visual sequence during which all the animals of the savannah move to Pride Rock to see the newborn Simba, son of the Lion King Mufasa and heir to the throne. The song received an Oscar nomination as “Best Song” in 1995 along with two others from the film: “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” which won the Award.