After almost a century of filmmaking, numerous Disney songs have embedded themselves into our collective consciousness. Following endless deliberation, we’ve handpicked the 20 greatest.
Since its inception in the 1920s, The Walt Disney Company has created more culturally penetrative icons than almost any other brand. Producing hit film after hit film, Mickey Mouse and his motley collection of Disney songs have been singing all the way to the bank for quite some time.
Although Disney is a monopoly with a murky history, fortunately, most of its tunes retain a timeless quality. This in turn begs the question, which Disney songs are the most deserving of our humming and whistling? After some office debates, not to mention group singalongs, we believe we’ve identified the finest twenty, from oldest to newest. With something for everyone, a Disney song for girls, and Disney songs for boys, these sweet numbers are timeless classics. Take a look.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Someday My Prince Will Come (1937)
Make no mistake, Snow White has aged terribly. The original film is laden with stereotypes and to quote Peter Dinklage, “fucking backwards”. That being said, Someday My Prince Will Come remains a jazz standard.
Miles Davis even named one of his albums after the track. Lyrically? Financial Times said it best: the song “spelt out the tantalising promise of love and nurture”.
Pinocchio – When You Wish Upon a Star (1940)
When You Wish Upon A Star was released to massive popular acclaim in the early ’40s and quickly became a jazz standard. The most notable versions of the track are performed by Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, The Manhattan Transfer, and lots of really bad X Factor contestants.
The song is also thought to have inspired the melody to The Beach Boys hit, Surfer Girl. In fact, When You Wish Upon a Star has become so iconic that it has been used to accompany the Disney logo before films since the ’80s. No song epitomises the Disney values of imagination, creativity, and dreams more than this one.
The Jungle Book – I Wanna Be Like You (1967)
Songwriters Robert and Richard Sherman faced a challenge when composing the music for The Jungle Book. What do monkeys sound like? According to flawless bop, I Wanna Be Like You, they sound like a healthy dose of jazz, a sliver of Dixieland, and a spot of scat-singing.
50 years on, this track still puts a skip in my step.
The Jungle Book – The Bare Necessities (1967)
When I googled The Bare Necessities, a website selling bras came up. Bouncy, supportive and enduring, this song has all the characteristics of a good bra, while also having a god-tier pun in its title.
The Bare Necessities has been re-recorded by music legends including Harry Connick Jr, Brian Wilson, and Los Lobos, otherwise known as the band who recorded The Macarena. Unfortunately, the latter of these versions is very difficult to track down, but yes, you can dance to The Macarena in sync with The Bare Necessities. I tried.
The Little Mermaid – Under The Sea (1989)
Calypso vibes and Sebastian going full rasta, Under The Sea is the best. It’s just another cracker that The Simpsons couldn’t help parodying.
Beauty and the Beast – Be Our Guest (1991)
Beauty and The Beast was the final film which Howard Ashman wrote the complete lyrics before his untimely passing in 1991. Tragically, Ashman was too ill to attend the film’s premiere, but the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of this song and its upbeat positivity are surviving reminders of the talent of one of Disney’s best-loved contributors.
The song has also been immortalised by The Simpsons’ parody, See My Vest.
Beauty and the Beast – Gaston (1991)
The man who ate four dozen eggs a day didn’t disappoint with his main number in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, a bombastic and showy tune that exemplifies Gaston’s cockiness in hilarious fashion.
“And I’m roughly the size of a BARGE!”
Aladdin – A Whole New World (1992)
Probably the most optimistic tune ever written, A Whole New World also cracked the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 (and #10 on the ARIA charts).
A testament to Disney’s knack for blurring the lines between show tunes and legitimate pop music in their film soundtracks.
Aladdin – Friend Like Me (1992)
The Genie’s iconic Friend Like Me from Aladdin was at first conceived as a Cab Calloway-style romp. While the track’s jazzy sass and muted trumpets are reminiscent of Calloway’s trademark moxie, the track was spruced up when Robin Williams was cast as the Genie.
Williams, who signed on to work on the film for just $75,000, is in full flight on the track. Now, years since his passing, the track is as bittersweet and nostalgic as ever, as we continue to mourn the loss of one of the all-time greats.
The Lion King – Can You Feel The Love Tonight? (1994)
When lyricist Sir Tim Rice suggested that Sir Elton John should be hired to write the music for an upcoming Disney film about lions feeling the love tonight, perhaps it was only inevitable that the result of the pair’s collaboration would be iconic.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight? is the most soulful song in The Lion King, and was originally envisaged by John as building on Disney’s tradition of powerfully emotional love songs. John and Rice certainly delivered on that hope.
The Lion King – Hakuna Matata (1994)
It means no worries… following the darkest part of The Lion King, this tune serves as the pick-me-up audiences desperately need. Try not to feel elated after listening to Hakuna Matata.
The Lion King – I Just Can’t Wait To Be King (1994)
Ridiculously catchy and buoyant, I Just Can’t Wait To Be King can pull even the most cynical of listeners out of their gloomy headspace. With Elton John and Tim Rice on composing duties, it’s another approachable track from Disney that roars with relatability.
Toy Story – You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995)
Randy Newman’s You’ve Got a Friend in Me is the ultimate ode to mateship. While the song’s warmth is infectious, the lyrics are also a gut-punch for anyone that’s lost a companion to the seasons of time. There’s just something haunting about an old man jotting such a reminiscent tune alone at the piano.
You’ve Got A Friend in Me is a masterful balance of joy and sadness, making it one of Disney’s most enduring songs to date.
Hercules – One Last Hope (1997)
If It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia never hit the airwaves, this would have remained Danny Devito’s greatest acting role. The staunch, raggedy little half-breed named Phil was a highlight of the film next to James Woods’ Hades, and this track has a surprisingly Rocky-esque motivational feel to it.
Mulan – I’ll Make a Man Out of You (1998)
Mulan was a treasure, a groundbreaking action drama that preached the values of family and honour while providing the world with a truly badass female lead. The defining song of the film, I’ll Make a Man Out of You works a treat every time. It’s a humorous and inspiring work that easily carries the tone of the film across its shoulders.
While Captain Li Shang was voiced by actor BD Wong, it was actually American singer Donny Osmond who lent his pipes to this song, impersonating Wong’s speaking voice with total flair.
Tarzan – You’ll Be In My Heart (1999)
Phil Collins really was the perfect choice for composing the Tarzan soundtrack. With a uniquely percussive style and knack for soulful songwriting, Collin’s brought heart and rhythm to the jungle.
With You’ll Be In My Heart, Collin’s didn’t have to go that hard, but he did. And we’re stoked he did.
Toy Story 2 – When She Loved Me (Jessie’s Song) (1999)
Warning! Warning! Do not listen to this song right after a breakup. Once again, Randy Newman hones life experience, chordal knowledge and dynamics to create an achingly tender ballad, emotionally boosted by Sarah McLachlan’s vulnerable vocals.
There’s a reason critics always bring up the scene where this song plays when discussing the beloved franchise.
Frozen – Let It Go (2013)
A guilty pleasure of the highest caliber. When Frozen came out, it had been years since I’d bothered with a new Disney release. Call it getting old, getting busier, or cluing into the usual tropes, but I went into this film with no real expectations.
Obviously, I’d forgotten the magic of Disney, because there’s a reason this film was so successful; strong leads and a rejection of so many Disney stereotypes put Frozen on another level, and this standout tune will probably be stuck in my head for the rest of my life.
Moana – You’re Welcome (2016)
The Rock himself sings on just one track from Moana. It also happens to be the best track from the film, by a long shot. Apparently, the A-lister was sharpening his vocals for months, at the gym, in the car, wherever, in preparation for the studio recording.
Turns out hard work pays off, with the ’60s sunshine-esque track going 4x platinum.
Coco – Remember Me (2017)
It should surprise nobody that Disney opted to give their nylon-string-wielding protagonist a lullaby to sing. The finger-picked heartwarmer is as sweet as it is subtle, teaching audiences of all ages that you don’t need always need fanfare to create an emotional pull.