My little heart is swollen with song lately, because I’ve discovered that Disney has put 90s-era soundtracks out on vinyl and I’m acutely here for it. I’ve got The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin, and I’m just fluttering around my home like a goddamn Disney princess, fully expecting a bird to tie a bow in my hair at literally any moment. I’m at Disney World, looking for any excuse to blow my wad (of money), quite possibly scouring its shops, hundreds of shops, for more soundtracks to add to my collection.
Admit it – you’ve got a favourite Disney song. I’ve got dozens. So just know that to whittle the list down to 10 was excruciating.
10. When She Loved Me, Toy Story 2. Written by Randy Newman and performed by Sarah McLachlan. I don’t even like Sarah McLachlan, like at all, but this song is perfect as it backs a montage wherein Jessie reveals her melancholy to pal Woody. How her previous owner outgrew her and ultimately left her forgotten at the side of the road. I don’t know many people who made it through the song dry-eyed and I’m sure I don’t know ANYONE who survived it without some pretty definite pangs of guilt for our own neglected toys. It’s seriously one of the saddest songs ever written for film, especially when you hear it as a metaphor for children growing up and leaving their parents as well:
And when she was sad
I was there to dry her tears
And when was happy so was I
When she loved me
So the years went by
I stayed the same
But she began to drift away
I was left alone
Still I waited for the day
When she’d say I will always love you
Big gulps. Oddly (in my opinion), this movie didn’t win the Oscar that year – it went instead to You’ll Be In My Heart, from Tarzan, which is a good song, but you’ll not see it on this list.
9. Remember Me, Coco. Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Performed in the film by Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, Anthony Gonzalez, and Ana Ofelia Murguía. Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade do the pop cover that plays over the credits. It’s used several times throughout the movie. We first hear it as Ernesto de la Cruz’s big hit song, a plea to his fans to revere him always, and then come to realize that it’s actually Hector’s song, a special lullaby for his baby daughter. The song is then used by Miguel to reach his great-grandmother, Coco, through the webs of her dementia. It’s a song that crosses multiple generations and unites them all.
I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart
8. You’re Welcome, Moana. Moana overflows with beautiful music. How Far I’ll Go is an absolute treasure and We Know The Way is absurdly good, but for my money, it’s You’re Welcome every time, because it’s the one that my nephew, no more than 2 or 3 at the time but already a rock star in his heart, would break into randomly. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s performed by Dwayne The Rock Johnson, who, in case you haven’t noticed, is not a singer. But Miranda crafts the perfect song for his talents, and the perfect song for Maui to sing boastfully while hoodwinking Moana.
I know it’s a lot, the hair, the bod
When you’re staring at a demigod
What can I say except “You’re welcome”
7. Colors of The Wind, Pocahontas. Written by lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Alan Menken, this song was lauded as one of Disney’s best in many years. Vanessa Williams provided the pop cover that would be released ahead of the film, while Judy Kuhn did the singing in the movie. Inspiration was drawn Native American poetry, music and folklore, with an emphasis on the beauty of nature, and the special relationship that Pocahontas and her people had with it. The song is also in part a confrontation with John Smith regarding his Eurocentrism. It is philosophical rather than humourous, which was quite a departure for Disney at the time (1995) but it went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, the Grammy for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, and the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating out Bruce Springsteen’s Dead Man Walkin, Bryan Adams’ Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman, and Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend In Me from Toy Story.
You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew
6. He Mele No Lilo, Lilo & Stitch. Lilo & Stitch has an absurdly fun soundtrack, brimming with great Elvis tunes. But this song, written by Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu and Alan Silvestri, and performed by Ho’omalu and the Kamehameha Schools children’s chorus, has a distinct Hawaiian flavour that needs and deserves to be savoured.
5. Why Should I Worry, Oliver & Company. I swear my tail is wagging already. Written by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight, and performed by Billy Joel, it’s sung by a street-wise dog to a kitten named Oliver who’s recently joined his gang of merry thieves (the movie is based on Oliver Twist). It’s got a bluesy feel to it, and it sounds exactly like the kind of song Billy Joel would sing if he was a dog. Or even if he wasn’t. Which he’s not.
4. A Whole New World, Aladdin. Truly I could have just as easily picked Friend Like Me, which is such an excellent use of Robin Williams’ many talents, but honestly, this ballad is the stuff Disney dreams are made of. I love that it’s a duet between Aladdin and Jasmine; it sounds like a musical discovery, full of wonder and awe. You can hear and taste the freedom. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice, Disney had another insta-, mega-hit on their hands. Performed by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga in the film, and by Peobo Bryson and Regina Belle on the radio cover, it went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, and earned a Grammy for Song of Year. Song of the whole freaking Year! – the first and only time a Disney song has done that. It also went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, bumping Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You out of its 14 week stranglehold.
3. I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, The Lion King. 3 out of 5 songs nominated for Best Original Song at the 1994 Academy Awards were from The Lion King. This isn’t one of them. Oh sure, Elton John can belt out a ballad, but this song sounds so joyous to me. Simba is still a naive little cub, and he can only think of the perks of the job, like when a kid imagines that as an adult, he’ll eat ice cream for dinner every night, and doesn’t realize that it’s really about the bills, bills, bills. With music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, the song is performed by Jason Weaver, Laura Williams and Rowan Atkinson in the film. This may be The Lion King’s underdog song, but it’s catchy, bouncy, festive, goddammit, it’s happy. Simba’s dad is still alive, his uncle is only just plotting murder, he doesn’t yet have a flatulent roommate, and he’s still living the bachelor lifestyle. Life is good.
2. Kiss The Girl, The Little Mermaid. It was nearly impossible for me not to pick Part of Your World; my sisters had mermaid choreography to this song that they performed daily, hourly, in our pool. But Kiss The Girl is so interestingly atmospheric in unexpected ways. It’s definitely the only ballad on this list performed by a calypso crab deeply, oddly invested in a smooch between a mute and an oblivious prince. Written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman and performed by Samuel Wright, it was nominated for both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Original Song but lost both to another song from the movie, Under The Sea.
1.Be Our Guest, Beauty and the Beast. Once again, Beauty and The Beast managed 3 Oscar nominations for Best Original Song from a single film, and though this one was nominated, it lost to the titular enchanting ballad sung by Celine Dion. But Academy voters were wrong. Be Our Guest is superior is every conceivable way. Beauty and the Beast is a super magical movie that is way problematic if you stop and think about it for even a millisecond so DON’T. Do not. Hang on to your whimsy and just enjoy. An anthropomorphic candelabra is a fine dining advocate, and an entire dinner service comes alive just to get some hot soup into a waif. It’s magnificent.
Sean and I are at Disney this week, so stay tuned to be inundated with the happiest place on Earth.