The 25 Greatest Disney Songs Ever

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Over nearly 80 years, the 56 feature films from Walt Disney Animation Studios have become beloved for their iconic fairy tales, memorable comic-relief sidekicks, terrifying villains, and some of the greatest songs in cinema history. This week sees the release of Disney’s latest animated film, Moana, which boasts songs co-written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. So there’s no better time to compile a list of the 25 best songs in animated Disney history  with a couple of important pre-list caveats. First, to avoid overloading the list with songs from only a few films, each movie here could only be represented by a maximum of two songs. Second, this list has films in the official Disney animation canon only, so nothing from Pixar or even The Nightmare Before Christmas. With that in mind, here’s the list!

25. “So This Is Love”
From Cinderella (1950)

As was the standard in earlier Disney princess movies, both halves of the central romance in Cinderella don’t get quite the same level of personality development. That said, Cinderella and her literal Prince Charming come together beautifully in “So This Is Love,” on which they share singing duties while they dance away from the main crowd at the ball being held in the Prince’s honor. “So This Is Love” isn’t the grandest love ballad on this list, but its distinct, almost dreamlike style — we don’t see the characters singing, making their connection almost telepathic — makes it uniquely memorable.


24. “Let It Go”
From Frozen (2013)

Obviously this song is on the list. Frozen, for all of its rabid success, wasn’t as packed with great music as Disney Renaissance stalwarts like Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast. Some of its numbers are catchy, but few are substantial. That said, “Let It Go” is a triumph of performance and animation above all else. As the conflicted Queen Elsa, Idina Menzel uses her voice to imbue the character with depth and complexity only teased in the lyrics and script. You might be tired of this song after 3 years, but it earned its instant classic status.


23. “Be Prepared”
From The Lion King (1994)

Casting Jeremy Irons as the back-stabbing Scar in The Lion King was genius, and he gets one of the truly great Disney villain songs. “Be Prepared” is a disturbing number: Scar’s plan to overthrow his brother requires hyenas at his beck and call, who look like goose-steppers straight out of Triumph of the Will. The song, by Elton John and Tim Rice, is lyrically deft, as befits a talent like Irons. In spite of only singing two-thirds of the number (vocal troubles forced Jim Cummings to replace him), “Be Prepared” is deliciously despicable.


22. “Friends on the Other Side”
From The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog is a truly underrated Disney movie, boasting some great Randy Newman songs and remarkable hand-drawn animation. The two come together gorgeously and menacingly in “Friends on the Other Side,” performed by Keith David as the devious Dr. Facilier, a “shadow man” in New Orleans. Dr. Facilier, who has the louche Prince Naveen in his clutches, details his connection to the spirit world before cursing the prince to be a frog. This song features seductive lyrics and performance, and the colorful visualization of Dr. Facilier’s voodoo powers is chilling. Give this another watch; it’s really spooky.


21. “Hellfire”
From The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the studio’s most ambitious film in 20 years: An adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel that tried to balance tragedy with typical Disney lightness. That ambition is best realized in “Hellfire,” a surprisingly adult number sung by Quasimodo’s psychologically abusive guardian, Judge Frollo, as he struggles to balance his desire to crack down on Paris’ gypsy population with his attraction to the gypsy woman Esmeralda. “Hellfire” is beautifully visualized, and Tony Jay’s performance uses menace and confusion to depict Frollo’s plea to the heavens. This movie’s flawed to its core, but “Hellfire” is perfect.


20. “Prince Ali”
From Aladdin (1992)

It’s not surprising that Aladdin’s best songs have lyrics from the late Howard Ashman, a key figure in the late-’80s and early ’90s Disney Renaissance until his death in 1991. “Prince Ali” is slightly less memorable than Robin Williams’ other big Aladdin number, but it’s almost giddy in expanding Aladdin’s fake prince to impossible heights. It’s not just that this prince is beloved, or that he’s got friends in high places, it’s that he’s the best of everything. Aladdin is, of course, a good guy at heart, but “Prince Ali” is almost like a version of “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast if the lug wasn’t a straight-up jerk.


19. “Winnie the Pooh”
From The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

This is kind of a cheat; This song is featured in the 1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but it originated in the 1966 short that introduced Disney’s version of A.A. Milne’s stuffed bear. Still, “Winnie the Pooh” is a hallmark of Disney music, courtesy of Richard and Robert Sherman; like the character and stories he inhabits, the song is gentle and pleasant, with a repetitive hook that’s a true earworm. The song’s been covered many times (including by Zooey Deschanel in the 2011 revival), but the original’s the best of all, a nursery rhyme in song form.


18. “Almost There”
From The Princess and the Frog (2009)

It’s unfortunate that The Princess and the Frog remains Disney’s last big-budget hand-drawn animated film. The old technique’s liveliness is on full display in “Almost There,” where waitress Tiana sings to her mother that she’s closer to realizing her dream of running a New Orleans restaurant dedicated to her father. Anika Noni Rose is fabulous belting out the Randy Newman lyrics, and the song comes to life in Art Deco style, a la “Rhapsody in Blue” in Fantasia 2000. “Almost There” is an all-timer of music and animation; it’s a shame we can’t get more sequences like it.


17. “Friend Like Me”
From Aladdin (1992)

Because lyricist Howard Ashman died a year before this film was released, Aladdin’s songs came from a variety of sources. Some lyrics, like the ones in “A Whole New World,” were written by Tim Rice. But “Friend Like Me,” the big introduction to Robin Williams’ magical Genie, is another Ashman classic. The number doesn’t offer space for Williams to improvise, but with lyrics like “You’ve got me bona fide certified/You’ve got a genie for your charge d’affaires”, there’s no need. The mix of Ashman and Williams, as in “Prince Ali,” is hard to beat.


16. “Once Upon a Dream”
From Sleeping Beauty (1959)

The 1959 film Sleeping Beauty has an appropriate dreamlike quality; its combination of stately, widescreen animation and intensely colorful environments makes for a hazy viewing experience. So it’s fitting that “Once Upon a Dream” is its best song; our heroine Aurora walks through a picturesque forest and sings about meeting a beautiful stranger in a dream, only for that stranger to materialize in the form of the dashing and debonair Prince Philip. “Once Upon a Dream” relies a bit more on music than lyrics, but its soaring melody is enough to make it memorable just under 60 years later.


15. “I’ve Got No Strings”
From Pinocchio (1940)

Though this isn’t the best song from Pinocchio (wait for it), “I’ve Got No Strings” is a rare moment of joy for the little wooden boy before he realizes exactly how monstrous the showman Stromboli is. In the song, Pinocchio performs for a crowd with a series of manipulated marionette dolls who aren’t as free as he is to spin around, jump up and down, and more. Dickie Jones, as Pinocchio, brings the right level of boyish excitement to the hero as he thrills at how much he can do without someone pulling on his strings (or so he thinks).


14. “How Far I’ll Go”
From Moana (2016)

Many Disney films emulate Broadway musicals and “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana is no different. Our heroine is on a predestined path of royalty, but her passion lies elsewhere, sailing the open ocean. As Moana, Auli’I Cravalho conveys teenage yearning to explore the world outside a sheltered existence; the lyrics, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’I, and Mark Mancina, hit that mark equally well. It’s fortunate for all of us that “How Far I’ll Go” is hair-raisingly good. We’re going to hear it ad infinitum for years.


13. “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”
From Cinderella (1950)

Cinderella isn’t the first Disney princess movie — that is, of course, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — but it features a song that might as well serve as the mission statement for any Disney princess. “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is the mantra that gets our heroine through her day as the scullery maid who serves her stepmother and stepsisters, the nasty Lady Tremaine and daughters Anastasia and Drizella. As sung by Ilene Woods, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is one of the more plaintive pieces of Disney music, proof that hope springs eternal.


12. “Cruella De Vil”
From 101 Dalmations (1961)

Villain-centric songs are a Disney staple; “Cruella De Vil” is unique, in that it’s a snappy number about a villain, instead of a song sung by a villain. 101 Dalmatians only has three songs, one of which is a literal commercial jingle; the others are performed by Pongo’s owner (and jingle writer) Roger, and this is easily the standout. He sings “Cruella De Vil” to his wife, both as a dig to her old friend and to escape writer’s block. This song’s fairly short, but with such a memorable hook, it doesn’t need to be long to be great.


11. “Heigh-Ho”
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is only on this list once; its other songs are decent, but none are as iconic as “Heigh-Ho,” a ditty sung after a day’s work. This song, as much as anything else from the first Golden Age of Disney Animation, is impossible to miss, referenced in future movies and even Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s more than the title repeated ad hominem; the rhythm shifts from the dwarves’ work to their commute home, becoming bouncier as it progresses. From the beginning, the message was clear with songs in Disney animated films: make them unforgettable.


10. “Kiss the Girl”
From The Little Mermaid (1989)

Jodi Benson deserves plenty of praise for her voice work in The Little Mermaid, but Samuel E. Wright is the film’s stealth MVP. As the Jamaican crab Sebastian, he gets two major songs: The show-stopping “Under the Sea” as well as “Kiss the Girl.” This is among the best love songs in Disney history, as Sebastian exhorts friendly Prince Eric to move quickly with the strange, silent young woman he recently met by the beach. The song is remarkable, but Wright’s energetic-bordering-on-desperate delivery pushes it above “Under the Sea.”


9. “I Wan’na Be Like You”
From The Jungle Book (1967)

Earlier this year, we heard Christopher Walken’s version of this song, as the fearsome King Louie in the remake of The Jungle Book. Though his King Louie was scarier, there’s no topping Louis Prima’s take. “I Wan’na Be Like You” is as jazzy as you’d expect from a musician like Prima; the Sherman brothers capture the character’s desire to harness fire with his swingin’ attitude. Unlike the new version, the original climax lets King Louie and Baloo duet; no such combo occurred in the 2016 film, which is bananas. Walken and Bill Murray duetting would’ve set the Internet alight.


8. “Bella Notte”
From Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp has notable songs like “He’s a Tramp”, but no list of the best Disney songs is complete without “Bella Notte.” It’s the soundtrack to one of the most iconic scenes in movie history; the two canine leads sharing a plate of pasta and touching noses as they eat the same spaghetti strand. George Givot, as the boisterous Tony, lays the Italian accent on thick, but Peggy Lee’s lyrics and Sonny Burke’s wistful music are too much to resist. The image of Lady and the Tramp “kissing” endures because of “Bella Notte” and its emotional heft.


7. “Be Our Guest”
From Beauty and the Beast (1991)

In “Be Our Guest,” Belle functions as the audience surrogate while living candelabra Lumiere exhorts her to relax while he and the other living household objects attend to her every need. “Be Our Guest” goes further than the similar “Under the Sea,” turning the dining-room table into a massive stage for various foodstuffs and kitchen appliances to show off for their first guest in a while. Jerry Orbach, doing his best Maurice Chevalier, brings the right amount of brio to Lumiere; let’s hope Ewan McGregor reaches the same heights in the live-action remake coming in 2017.


6. “Poor Unfortunate Souls”
From The Little Mermaid (1989)

We could have dedicated a fifth of this list to Little Mermaid songs. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s work is among Disney’s finest, including “Part of Your World”; “Poor Unfortunate Souls” stand above the others because Ursula is so delightfully compelling, bursting at the tentacles with personality. Pat Carroll gets a five-course meal of a song as Ursula, with lyrics like “[Men...] swoon and fawn/on a lady who’s withdrawn/It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man” evincing the baddie’s cruel philosophy. The mix of music, performance, and animation makes for one hell of a sequence.


5. “Circle of Life”
From The Lion King (1994)

Leading up to the release of The Lion King, Disney made a unique marketing decision: Instead of a traditional trailer, they played the film’s opening four minutes as an enticement for audiences. That choice, along with other elements, helped The Lion King become one of Disney’s biggest hits. The “Circle of Life” sequence, performed by Carmen Twillie, is one of the company’s best openers. The animals of Pride Rock are introduced to Simba, the king’s infant son, with the accompanying song providing the appropriate sense of excitement, awe, and uplift. Whatever issues The Lion King has, its opening is unbeatable. 


4. “Gaston”
From Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast is full of catchy tunes, but some are slightly better than others. “Gaston,” for one, offers a joyous blend of bad guy and lyrics; it’s a pick-me-up sung by LeFou, Gaston’s lackey, in his friend’s hour of need. Howard Ashman tops himself with lyrics recounting Gaston’s feats of strength, dieting (he eats five dozen eggs!), and more. “Gaston” isn’t just catchy, it’s one of the funniest and most Sondheim-esque Disney songs to date.


3. “Baby Mine”
From Dumbo (1941)

There’s no sadder Disney song than “Baby Mine.” This is a devastatingly effective lullaby from mother to son, plus the circumstances in which the song is performed are extraordinarily downbeat for a kids film. Dumbo and his mother are eventually reunited, but when the opening notes to “Baby Mine” play, both characters are at a cosmically low point. Mrs. Jumbo is stuck in a cage, and Dumbo is being used in the circus as a clown. She sings to cheer up her depressed child, but of course he cries his eyes out. This is a musical tearjerker.


2. “The Bare Necessities”
From The Jungle Book (1967)

This year’s The Jungle Book remake tried to tell the story of man-cub Mowgli in a slightly new way, but even it couldn’t resist the pull of the original film’s great songs. So of course Bill Murray played Baloo, and of course he sang “The Bare Necessities,” still one of Disney’s best-ever pieces of music. Its laid-back, jazzy style fits the characterization of Baloo as a “jungle bum,” and Phil Harris’ performance is still potent and charming after nearly 50 years. In this respect, even Bill Murray couldn’t compete with the original.


1. “When You Wish Upon a Star”
From Pinocchio (1940)

There’s no more quintessential Disney song, animated or otherwise, than “When You Wish Upon a Star.” This number, which opens the company’s best film, Pinocchio, is essentially the studio’s theme song. An instrumental arrangement accompanies the studio logo, its lyrics are written in front of Disneyland Park’s castle, and its tremulous strains were once the opening music for the Disneyland TV series. After over 75 years, this song continues to earn its iconic status. It’s a haunting melody with straightforward lyrics brought brilliantly to life by Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket.

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