What Are the Best Disney Movie Songs of All-Time?
Walt Disney Studios animated films stir all your emotions, and one trick has worked marvelously well over the years. Disney movies have come with rip-roaring soundtracks that leave you humming as you exit the theater. Which ones are the best, though? Sure, there’s no right or wrong answer here, but let’s start a conversation here. Here are my choices for the best 12 Disney movie songs of all-time.
Be Our Guest
Before I get started, I had one rule for this list. I can only pick one song from any Disney film franchise. In my evaluation, it only impacts a few titles on this list, each of which I’ll explain when the time comes.
As for the selections, I suspect that most of them don’t require explanations. You’ll read the titles and start unintentionally humming the music. That’s how engrained Disney songs are in our DNA.
I mean, seriously. How many times have you heard Be Our Guest over the years? It’s in the hundreds if not thousands, right? You know that’s impossibly catchy and utterly charming and everything that Disney songs should aspire to be. Beauty and the Beast simply doesn’t work as well without this show-stopping rendition.
Can You Feel the Love Tonight
The Lion King qualifies as one of Disney’s films where it’s difficult to select the “best” song. Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata likely have the most name recognition, and the naïve innocence of I Just Can’t Wait to Be King is charming.
Still, I prefer a different track off the soundtrack. I’d certainly never expect Disney to throw together a Barry White-esque get-down song in the middle of an animated movie. That’s the cheeky thought process behind this tender ballad. Newly adult Nala and Simba fall in love and find companionship in trying times.
The most Disney part is that Scar could never get anyone to fall in love with him. This love scene demonstrates another way that Scar is unfit to rule, while Simba is born to lead. But let’s be real. Nala would rule the jungle better than any of the dudes in this film.
Friend Like Me
First of all, I think Will Smith got a bad rap for his take on this Robin Williams classic. His version is every bit as entertaining, a harder feat given that the original version has become iconic.
Having said that, Friend Like Me demonstrates masterful storytelling. The lyrics begin by referencing Ali Baba and Scheherezade before moving into more seductive territory. The proverbial genie in a bottle promises Aladdin all his heart’s desires, yet there’s an ominous undertone. Is it simple mischief or a warning about the dangers of getting what you wish for?
Friend Like Me sets the table for much of the story in Aladdin. That’s what a great Disney song should do.
Go the Distance
Happily Ever After is the current nighttime presentation at Magic Kingdom. The creators of this fireworks display could have chosen any Disney song to anchor the program.
Fittingly, they selected Go the Distance from Hercules, one of the most underrated Disney songs ever. It’s a melodious masterpiece that’s somehow both gentle and ferocious.
Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride
I recognize that not everyone loves Lilo & Stitch the way that my family does. Even so, I defy anyone to listen to this joyous celebration and not tap their toes.
The upbeat rhythm is infectious, and the tune somehow feels like a day at the beach. Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride is one of my favorite shower songs, as it really energizes me.
As a kid, I’m not sure that any Disney song proved more memorable than this one. It’s probably because the ditty includes gibberish sounds that children love to make. However, the lyrics work as an anthem for Walt Disney’s workaholic nature, too.
I have a confession, though. I probably wouldn’t have selected Heigh-Ho for this list if not for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The euphoria of that Magic Kingdom has renewed my love for the song that plays as the roller coaster cart climbs up the hill.
Did you know that magical dishes aren’t exclusive to Be Our Guest? This hidden gem from The Sword in the Stone features more nonsensical lyrics, including the ones in the title. And the memorable movie scene for the song includes battling sugar bowls, bouncing books, a begrudging owl, and a blockhead.
Merlin, the magician, somehow comes across as powerful and incompetent in the song, which only adds to his charm. THIS is the Disney song of my youth, as it seemed to play on television every other weekend. I think I always watched and sang along.
How Far I’ll Go
I often worry about recency when I pick relatively new songs. However, I didn’t hesitate with Moana, as I strongly considered two different tunes, both of which are exceptional. We Know the Way by Lin-Manuel Miranda nearly got the nod, as I actually like it more than a couple of other titles listed here.
Alas, I couldn’t overlook How Far I’ll Go. Moana possesses an innate understanding that she’s destined for something beyond her current location. This sensation is so relatable to many teenagers and young adults trapped between the comfort of home and the desire to make an impact on the world.
I honestly believe that Moana’s in the conversation for the best Disney animated movie ever. How Far I’ll Go sets the table for the entire story arc of its heroine. It’s perfect.
Let It Go
Since I established the rule about film franchises, I trapped myself in a corner with Frozen. I fully believe that Into the Unknown already qualifies as one of the greatest Disney songs ever. In fact, one of my friends has a young daughter who has made him watch Frozen 2 for nine days in a row.
I joked that he should switch to Moana, and he sounded offended by the notion. He’s taking a parent’s pride in watching his little girl learn the lyrics of Frozen 2.
So, why did I pick Let It Go? I couldn’t very well exclude the Disney anthem of the 2000s, could I? As great as Into the Unknown is, Let It Go defines Disney music for an entire generation. That song has indoctrinated a full decade of kids into loving Disney, no small feat since it hasn’t been out ten years.
When people think about Disney in the 2000s, the lyrics of Let It Go double as a battle cry about remaining true to yourself no matter the cost. This song embodies the best of Disney.
Part of Your World
The Little Mermaid is the best Disney movie of the past 40 years, and if you disagree, I will have to ask you to step outside. I get fighty about this one because I feel that strongly about Ariel’s journey from future mermaid queen to landlubber.
Part of Your World works as a kind of precursor to How Far I’ll Go. Like Moana, Ariel knows that her home is wonderful, just as she understands that her heart yearns to explore another place. It’s classic Disney and explains why The Little Mermaid triggered a renaissance for animated cinema.
This Is Halloween
At some point, I’ll create a complementary list of Best Villain Songs, some of which almost earned a spot on this list. However, when I thought about the most memorable tune from Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, Oogie Boogie didn’t spring to mind.
Instead, I thought about the thrilling introductory scene wherein everyone makes a scene. The pumpkin song is so aggressive and tone-setting that it gets in my head and just. Will. NOT. LEAVE!!! It somehow sounds like a Moog synthesizer gained sentience and then immediately went mad, playing a haunting tune to encapsulate its plight.
I’m convinced that This Is Halloween is the closest we can ever come to looking inside Tim Burton’s brain. It’s dark and scary in there, but I still keep looking. The music is that hypnotic.
This song’s undeniably the outlier on the list. It’s nothing like any other Disney anthem ever written. And that’s what I love about it. I’m thankful that this song exists.
You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!
Whenever people talk about Disney, someone inevitably references the need for Pixie Dust. That premise comes from the song, You Can Fly!, that seminal sequence when Peter Pan introduces the Darling family to the power of flight. All it takes is faith and trust!
Walt Disney loved Peter Pan as much as any fictional character. The flight sequence from the movie signifies the realization of a lifelong dream for Disneyland’s creator. The song ably demonstrates Uncle Walt’s attitude that anything is possible as long as you believe enough.