After this weekend, it’s safe to say that there is something there that wasn’t there before—or at least not so blatantly at the top of our culture’s public consciousness. Disney nostalgia, and specifically Disney Renaissance nostalgia, is roaring back into focus in a thunderous way with Beauty and the Beast grossing a magical $174 million at the U.S. box office in its first weekend. That’s got to be worth at least several dozen enchanted roses.
And like any Mouse House devotees who also grew up during the period of Disney’s greatest animation streak—a time when lions could sing and ballroom waltzes with furry dog-men ended on the Oscar stage—we too are getting swept up in the movie memories of days gone by. Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about the Disney Renaissance is how it rekindled a love for musicals in a whole new generation after the genre’s ostensible big screen demise. We documented this turnaround here, but it also got us thinking… just what were the best Disney songs from the Renaissance? Which ones made us spend childhood afternoons at the beach trying to swim beneath waves and get to under the sea? What song cause a crazed obsession with French cutlery, or simply made Robin Williams an entire generation’s unofficial eccentric uncle?
With so many classic films (and a few not-so-great-ones too) featuring sweeping melodies that could have easily passed for Broadway earworms, it’s hard to distill it down to a definitive list. But that is exactly what our Kayti Burt and David Crow tried to do in the incredibly scientific method of arguing over which Gen-Y touchstones are the most enduring.
Actually, we came up with this list by creating preferential ballots that allocated points accordingly. But our collective taste is so good that you can just go ahead and consider this ranking to be definitive.
25. “My Reflection” – Mulan
For our money, Mulan was the last great film in the Disney Renaissance. While the Renaissance would continue for another year in 1999’s Tarzan, this picture achieved far more with what was deliberately less. Indeed, it was literally animated and produced at the short-lived satellite branch of Walt Disney Animation Studios in Orlando, and after songwriter Stephen Schwartz had a painful break with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, its music writing duties were passed on with relative corporate disinterest to Matthew Wilder and David Zippel.
This is bully for us since like the movie Mulan itself, which broke genre conventions and forged what is arguably Disney’s first truly feminist princess, the songwriters playfully subverted expectations. Technically, “My Reflection” is another Disney Renaissance “I Want” song about identity and growing up into self-discovery, which sums up most of the Act One solos by Disney protagonists. However, the tune also aches with poignancy by not gilding the lily. This is entirely about a young woman who does not like what she sees when she looks into a mirror, and how that inability to recognize her own strength due to social pressures is the greatest conflict of all in a young person’s life. Particularly for girls trying to grow up while playing by the rules of gender expectations.
She’s not looking for love or adventure, but understanding of self. Cutting out the pretense made this an anthem for younger viewers, and today it still evokes yearning with beautiful animation while in the shade of Cherry Blossom trees.
– David Crow
24. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” – The Lion King
Reunited after years apart, childhood friends Simba and Nala rekindle their love as Timon and Pumbaa worry about the potential departure of their friend.
Written by Elton John and Tim Rice, and performed by Joseph Williams (Simba), Kristie Edwards (Nala), Sally Dworsky, Nathan Lane (Timon), and Erie Sabella (Pumbaa), there’s so much going on character-wise in this number. Simba is happy to see Nala, but doesn’t want her to know the truth about his presumed role in Mufasa’s death; Nala is happy to see Simba, but wants to know where the heck he’s been; Timon and Pumbaa don’t want to lose the third member of their little hakuna matata family.
This is a real turning point for the film and for Simba in particular—the moment when Simba starts to realize he must return home again, as well as the moment Simba and Nala’s relationship changes. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet, necessary sequence about the transition from childhood to adulthood that remains one of the most memorable parts of the film and of any Disney animated musical.
23. “The Bells of Notre Dame” – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
It’s fair to say that The Hunchback of Notre Dame may have peaked early during this ambitious and sweeping opening musical number. Technically a massive exposition dump of set-up that is being delivered by supporting character Clopin to the audience, the framing device is nonetheless an achievement as Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz bury audiences in six feet of orchestral melodrama and then sprinkle a liberal dose of booming cathedral bells on top.
The song tells the story of how Disney’s Quasimodo wound up in Paris’ Gothic architectural wonder, and introduces Frollo as a monster who’d kill a baby, as well as spare it in hopes of getting brownie points from Jesus. With a swelling chorus worthy of an opera house, the song is about as ominous as a Disney movie can ever get. (DC)
22. “One Jump Ahead” / Reprise – Aladdin
Written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, and performed by Brad Kane, Aladdin’s introductory song is one for the ages. Much like “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, we learn everything we need to know about our central protagonist and his connection to the setting in this opening. Long story short? Aladdin is a kind-hearted thief, constantly on the run from the law. He steals not out of malice, but as a way to eat. By the end of the song, we’re already rooting for this over-confident teen urchin with a chip on his shoulder and a dream of a better life.
As great as “One Jump” is, its short reprise is even better. The reprise takes on a more melancholic tone, as Aladdin sings of his desire to be seen as more than a “street rat.” The sun has set on Agrabah, and Aladdin dreams of a life in the palace where he would have no problems whatsoever. Classic example of be careful what you wish for. (KB)
21. “Just Around the Riverbend” – Pocahontas
By no means is Pocahontas a perfect movie. Ironically designated by Jeffrey Katzenberg to be a higher priority for the studio than The Lion King, the movie’s treatment of Native Americans and real historical figures as noble fairy tale savages who can literally talk to sentient trees is troubling to say the least. Yet, the music and animation in the picture is absolutely jaw-dropping. When both elements combine for the musical numbers, they can be goosebump-inducing.
For instance, “Just Around the Riverbend,” which almost didn’t make it into the movie, features a triumphant swell of strings and symphonic magnificence. This transcendent quality is compliments of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, the former of whom was also embarking into the unknown as Pocahontas was his first Disney production without the late-great Howard Ashman as his writing partner for at least some of hte songs. While technically an “I Want” song, there is nothing wistful or aspirational about this tune. It’s physically and aurally about actually partaking in that great wide somewhere, which is breathtakingly realized in hand-drawn vista of white water rapids flying through the protagonist’s raven hair and living raccoon cap sidekick. For a moment the movie quickens to life with infectious joy. (DC)
20. “Go the Distance” – Hercules
Fact: If Broadway’s Wicked and the Superman: The Movie soundtrack had a baby, it would be “Go the Distance.”
Hercules is the most underrated of Disney Renaissance movies, and this “I want” song from the beginning of the film is just one example of the great soundtrack. Written by Alan Menken and David Zippel, and performed by Roger Bart (Hercules), “Go the Distance” sees gawky 15-year-old Hercules praying to the gods to find out where he belongs. The gods deliver a swift answer, and Hercules is soon on his journey to gospel glory. Emo teens are usually far less endearing.
The animation that goes along with the song is gorgeous: the orange-red of the sunset as Hercules sings from a cliff that looks suspiciously like the one from Lion King. Stars paint the sky as Hercules, again, looks off into the distance. Much of Hercules’ soundtrack is delivered in fast-paced, witty animation. It’s easy to forget that the film does slow, evocative ballads just as well. (KB)
19. “Hellfire” – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s more conflicted films. Clearly intended for greatness as a kind of spiritual sequel to Beauty and the Beast, the newer picture had a booming score by the returning Alan Menken, and was directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the team behind Beauty. Nevertheless, transforming a work of adult literature and tragedy like Victor Hugo’s original novel into a family friendly adventure beholden to the then trenchant Disney formula proved problematic.
In that vein, “Hellfire” should’ve been another one of the film’s many issues since it centers on Claude Frollo, a piously hypocritical archdeacon in Hugo’s novel who’d been transformed into a more sanitized corrupt judge in the Disney film. And yet, this song, written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz, absolutely soars with operatic terror and lustful foreboding. Likely inspired in part by another evil judge’s lecherous desires from Sweeney Todd, this even more bombastic tidal wave about self-righteous hypocrisy and the men who hide behind authority overwhelms the viewer with a gorgeous melody of hymnal undertones being drowned out by discordant malevolence.
The lyrics being enlivened by Shakespearian thesp Tony Jay only adds to its triumphant grandeur, and the disquieting notion that a Disney character is burning with sexual frenzy for a girl young enough to be his granddaughter—literally fantasizing about her dancing in the flames of Hell. His fear of perdition, and his ability to project his perversions on a gypsy woman because of her gender and the color of her skin, are incredibly nuanced motivations for a film aimed at children, and remains a disturbing highlight from the whole Renaissance period. (DC)
18. “Strangers Like Me” – Tarzan
Written and performed by the great Phil Collins, Tarzan’s “Strangers Like Me” is interesting because none of the characters sing in it. It is literally just Phil Collins telling us about Tarzan’s (and, to a lesser extent, Jane’s) inner motivations. And what a storyteller he is!
Performed over a montage of Jane teaching Tarzan about human (western) civilization that slowly transforms into Tarzan showing Jane how his jungle world works, “Strangers Like Me” is refreshing for the way it frames Tarzan and Jane’s relationship. Yes, they are inevitably stuffed into the Disney Love Story, but, for much of this song, their dynamic is one of shared curiosity more than anything else. Well done, Phil. (KB)
17. “A Friend Like Me” – Aladdin
There will never be a more perfect union between animation and voice actor than that of Robin Williams as the exceedingly quick-witted Genie in Aladdin. One of the great comedic actors with boundless pools of dramatic sorrow bubbling just beneath the surface, Williams could make anyone laugh or cry at the drop of a hat. But despite getting his start as the family-friendly Mork on television, kids and even casual moviegoers were not allowed to see Williams fully unleashed as a manic force of nature for years. Flesh and blood simply could never keep up with the rapidity of his fairly foul-mouthed mind. Until 1992, this could only be gleaned in very R-rated stand-up comedy routines.
Aladdin changed that by allowing animators, and their poor carpal tunnel-inflicted hands to keep up with Williams’ madness. This included him breaking the fourth wall constantly for anachronistic gags, but it also applied to his music numbers. “A Friend Like Me” is one such tour de force moment where Williams, working from some of the final lyrics and melodies Howard Ashman ever contributed to, flies at a million miles a minute for a big, jazzy, brassy, and swinging showcase that is so glitzy, even Vegas city planners might gawk. It’s also the moment where Williams became every millennial’s onscreen BFF. (DC)
16. “Prince Ali” – Aladdin
Written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, “Prince Ali” shows Aladdin’s entrance as alter ego Prince Ali Ababwa into Agrabah while Genie works overtime to convince the populace that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread (or whatever the contemporary equivalent of sliced bread is in a fictionalized imagining of the medieval Middle East).
As we also see on this list with “Friend Like Me,” Robin Williams’ Genie is one of the absolute best parts of Aladdin. Williams really gets to shine in “Prince Ali” too. While “Friend Like Me” is very much about introducing Genie’s powers to Aladdin, “Prince Ali” is what they look like when they are unleashed on the population to fulfill one of Aladdin’s wishes.
As Genie pretends to be a variety of everymen/women in the streets of Agrabah, we get to see Williams’ skill at character and caricature. A highlight? His impressions of two Thanksgiving Day parade commentators. Agrabah never stood a chance. (KB)
15. “Hakuna Matata” – The Lion King
The Timon-Pumbaa relationship is the most entertaining in The Lion King, and this upbeat number, which shows the dynamic duo teaching Simba to have “no worries,” is exactly what the audience needs following the deeply upsetting death of Mufasa.
We know Simba won’t be able to run away from his problems (or emotions) forever, but there are far worse places to end up than in the familial company of Pumbaa and Timon.
Written by Tim Rice and Elton John, and performed by Nathan Lane (Timon), Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), Jason Weaver (Young Simba), and Joseph Williams (Adult Simba), “Hakuna Matata” is so diverting that it keeps the audience and Simba’s attention away from the responsibilities of his previous life. You barely notice the time jump that comes in the middle of the song—not an easy cinematic move to pull off. (KB)
14. “Gaston” – Beauty and the Beast
Before 1991, Disney villains tended to be as blatantly evil as their physical deformities. Always depicted as grotesque or plainly sinister, the only Mouse House Big Bad with any ambiguity was “Man” in Bambi. So it only makes sense that when this hunting fellow was finally given a face in Beauty and the Beast, he should at a glance appear to be the best of us.
Aye, Disney animators long mused that Gaston is the man who killed Bambi’s mama, and he likely got a round of drinks from his neighbors after doing so. Proving to young audiences that even with a chiseled jaw worthy of a superhero, friendly smiles can be deceptive, this alpha male town hunk turned out to be one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ nastiest and most honest depictions of evil. At first benignly arrogant as a proud jerk, small sins and vanities give way to bigger ones as he expects he is entitled to anything, adoration, sycophantic praise, and any woman he lays his eyes (or hands) on. No doubt if he were alive in the 21st century, he would have gotten along famously in an Access Hollywood bus.
At least at first, this fawning egomania takes on a comical effect in the grandly ridiculous “Gaston,” a song in which Gaston and his toady LeFou verge on consummating their bromance into something more. It’s all so over-the-top and drenched in exaggerated braggadocio that it’s even kind of charming. Of course, when this type of narcissism goes unchecked, it can lead to truly heinous results, as the film’s third act reveals. (DC)
13. “Beauty and the Beast” – Beauty and the Beast
Rumor has it that Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts) didn’t think she should sing this most-recognized of Beauty and the Beast ballads because of her aging singing voice, then got it down in one take. Now, it’s hard to imagine the in-movie version being sung by anyone else. (Although the Celine Dion version is also a classic.) Lansbury’s voice lends an authority and softness to the “tale as old as time.” If she believes that Belle and Beast love one another and should be together, who are we to argue?
Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, “Beauty and the Beast” is more than just the film’s theme song; it is arguably the most cinematically recognizable scene in the entire film. Belle in her yellow dress, the Beast in his matching suit, which matches both Belle’s gown and the night sky. This has got to be the most visually stunning first date ever. (KB)
12. “Be Prepared” – The Lion King
Perhaps the greatest villain song of all time, “Be Prepared” is as sinister as it is seductive. Sung in part by Jeremy Irons’ distinctly wonderful gravel, the melody is written with the same poppy infections that Elton John and Tim Rice brought to all the ditties in this picture. But this one veers closer to the insidious musical score composed by Hans Zimmer, embracing full-bore the inherent darkness of a brother plotting the murder of his sibling.
In broad cartoon parameters, the song presents an overview of a pliable population being convinced to consign themselves to the rule of a fascist or tyrant. Irons’ Scar practically purrs his false promises of greatness while pushing comically boneheaded hyenas toward what is essentially a military coup with cloak and dagger secrecy. The humor with which the hyenas act couches the true nefariousness of this plot, which doesn’t come to the foreground until the following scene. And yet, any adult can capture the visual chills as Scar stands high with his German Expressionist shadows above now militant, marching hyenas. They’re practically goose stepping.
The song crescendos into ambition and infectious cackling, proving evil can be quite persuasive, even in harmonic, animated form. (DC)
11. “Kiss the Girl” – The Little Mermaid
Though many people count “Under the Sea” as their favorite Little Mermaid ballad, I’m all about “Kiss the Girl.” Written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and performed by Samuel Wright (Sebastian), it is a calypso ballad (a style of Afro-Caribbean music) that sees the entire swamp working overtime to set the mood for Ariel and Eric to kiss.
Spoiler: they fail. Which is kind of the best part of the song in some ways. It only adds to create tension in this (let’s face it: problematic) relationship going forward. If Ariel has to get true love’s kiss in order to escape the awful repercussions of her foolish deal with Ursula, then it’s going to take more than some musically-adept swamp creatures to make it happen. (KB)
10. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” – The Lion King
Another great “I Want” song, The Lion King’s “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” was a mainstay in my eighth grade class. My classmates and I would literally start singing it when things got dull. If there’s any greater proof that a song has effectively tapped into that adolescent feeling of just wanting to be an adult so no one can tell you what to do (or so you think), then I don’t know what it is.
Written by Elton John and Tim Rice, and performed by Jason Weaver (Simba), Laura Williams (Nala), and Rowan Atkinson (Zazu), “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” sees Simba and Nala fantasizing about their future as rulers while they try to “ditch the dodo,” aka Zazu.
With the inclusion of the other animals that Simba is one day meant to rule here basically bowing to his wishes in a lively animated number, it is almost easy to forget about the scene’s unspoken, ominous message: For Simba to rule, his father must die. (KB)
9. “Under the Sea” – The Little Mermaid
Here at last is the first definitive musical hit from the Disney Renaissance, a song so catchy and giddy that it danced its way onto radio airwaves and into Disney’s first animated “Best Song” Oscar win in over 40 years. The direct result of Howard Ashman insisting on animators changing the titular mermaid’s crab sidekick from a dutiful butler to a grumpy, loudmouthed Rastafarian crustacean named Sebastian, this Calypso-themed extravaganza from Ashman and Alan Menken has burrowed its way deep into the permanent subconscious of pop culture.
It is also a brilliantly funny scene where the crab, in a departure from the fawning dwarves, fairies, and mice that tagged along for previous Disney princess adventures, tries to knock some sense into the young Ariel’s head by putting on a joyous and colorful block party. The multitude of creatures, and Samuel E. Wright’s gregarious vocals, makes the spectacle irresistible to children (and perhaps a prison sentence to the parents who thus must listen to it again and again). It also features some gnarly lyrics that get subversive jokes in about why life is a non-stop celebration down where it’s wetter, as opposed to the human world, which is a mess. Indeed, it is, Sebastian. Indeed, it is. (DC)
8. “Something There” – Beauty and the Beast
“Something There” is another example of Beauty and the Beast doing a lot of work in a relatively short period of time (two and a half minutes). Belle and the Beast’s inner monologue singing is the closest we will get to these two in a duet, and it’s where their love story really takes flight.
Written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, and performed by Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), and David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), it’s the part of the movie when Belle and the Beast begin to fall for one another through a sweet, hesitant montage.
But “Something There” isn’t just about Belle and the Beast’s journey. It also has cameos from Lumière, Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth and Chip, as they debate the romance they see unfurling in front of them, a relationship that could spell the end of the spell that has kept them in “inanimate” object form for so long. There’s a lot more going on in this simple song than meets the eye. (KB)
7. “The Circle of Life” – The Lion King
There are likely fewer parodied or referenced songs in the Disney canon, and that is for a reason. “The Circle of Life” is a ponderous opening salvo, a clarion call for monumental ambition from both the songwriters and filmmakers. It is essentially The Lion King attempting to cause legions of children and their parents to gasp at the majesty of nature, as well as the film they’re about to bear witness to. It is so grand in its aspirations that it only succeeds because what follows is the best animated film of all time.
Mixing choral Zulu vocalizations by Lebo M. and strong English ones by Carmen Twillie, “The Circle of Life” attempts to explain with the simplicity of a child’s imagination concepts of coming of age, parenthood, and even mortality. Its aims are lofty, but it succeeds in ascertaining audience surrender to the wonder of an animal kingdom animated with an epic flair.
It also culminates in one of the most striking movie images of all time, a noble lion king and queen allowing a baboon to lift their newborn and sleepy cub into the christening light of divinity above a rock-face. Below, every animal of the African Sahara is represented in biblical pairings as they bend the knee to a tiny cat that, in all likelihood, will one day feast on their flesh. If it wasn’t so earnest in its dignified splendor, it might be laughable. Instead, it’s glorious. (DC)
6. “Be Our Guest” – Beauty and the Beast
“Under the Sea” might have set the standard for sidekick musical numbers, but for sheer pomp and circumstance, “Be Our Guest” is probably the gold standard. Knowing that they’re refining a template they already kind of perfected, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman knock it out of the park in a song performed with masterful showmanship by Jerry Orbach, a Broadway vet who here revels in his hammy French accent. More than a bit inspired by Maurice Chevalier, Orbach’s Lumière is an inviting MC that convinces Belle and moviegoers to forget about that whole kidnapping and imprisoning her against her will business. Let’s have fun! After all ma chérie, we are French, non?
Also the visual wizardry with which Disney artists evoke a Busby Berkley musical number as silverware splashes in synchronization into a pool of soup, or dishes form the Eiffel Tower while recreating the Age of Wonders in the 1990s, is just the perfect glazing atop this cinematic confection. (DC)
5. “Belle”/ Reprise – Beauty and the Beast
The best Disney songs are not just sing-along-able, but do a lot of narrative work. Enter “Belle,” the opening tune in Beauty and the Beast. (You likely remember it as the one when Belle says “Good morning”/”Bonjour” to all of her neighbors while they gossip about how weird she is.)
Written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, and performed by Paige O’Hara (Belle) and Richard White (Gaston), “Belle” tells you everything you need to know about Belle, Gaston, and the setting of this provincial village. And all in the opening musical number of the film!
The reprise, however, belongs to Belle completely, as she takes to the green fields in a Sound of Music moment to clarify her “I Want” moment: She wants adventure in the “great wide somewhere,” outside of the life the townspeople imagine for her. What girl (or human… or, um, beast) can’t relate to the simple, yet powerful message of wanting to be something other than what the rigid construct of gender expects of us? (KB)
4. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan
“Let’s get down to business, to defeat — crash, crash —the Huns!” If there’s any better call-to-singing-arms in the Disney repertoire than “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” then I don’t know it.
Written by composer Matthew Wilder and lyricist David Zippel, and performed by Donny Osmond (Captain Li Shang), there’s so much to unpack in this toe-tapping training montage, which is the moment when Mulan really kicks into high gear. By the end of this song, Mulan is a proper warrior.
“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” works on many levels: emotional, thematic, musical, cinematic, plot-wise. It is one of the best training montages of modern cinema—live-action or animated—and it’s impossible not to sing along with. (Go ahead and try not to… we’ll wait.)
Ostensibly, the musical number is about Mulan and her fellow recruits becoming viable soldiers through weeks of practice with Mulan getting her very own underdog hero moment (reminiscent of Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger) in the song’s final moments as she climbs to the top of the pole to retrieve an arrow.
However, there’s so much more going on here. Captain Li Shang is singing about making his recruits into “men,” or rather a culturally constructed idea of what a “man” is meant to be. When Mulan becomes the best soldier of the group, it throws this entire cultural construct into question—which is what this gender-flipping movie is really about. (KB)
3. “A Whole New World” – Aladdin
There is no ballad in the Disney catalogue, nor perhaps many in the whole American songbook, as romantic as “A Whole New World,” Aladdin and Jasmine’s moonlit duet aboard a magic carpet. Written late in the production of Aladdin after Howard Ashman’s tragic passing, Tim Rice came in as the lyricist for Alan Menken’s compositions and knocked it out of the park with this unabashedly sentimental and transporting enticement.
Performed with deceptive simplicity by Brad Kane and burgeoning stage legend Lea Salonga, the melody endures with a gentle wish fulfillment quality as two teenage characters go on a genuinely enchanted first date. But it is the animation spearheaded by directors Ron Clements and John Musker that really makes this an out of this world experience. Unencumbered by physics or verisimilitude, the animators are emboldened to let the characters fly from street level to clouds within an instant, pick a flower or pet a horse, and ascend into an endless dazzling sky of bejeweled stars.
In the span of a few minutes, the lovebirds are in Egypt, apparently causing the Sphinx’s iconic deformity, and a moment later they’re in Greece. Logic need not apply, this may well be a trip to the moon. It’s certainly just as enticing a proposition. (DC)
2. “The Colors of the Wind” – Pocahontas
Pocahontas may not be the best of the Disney Renaissance film collection, but “Colors of the Wind” remains one of its most accomplished songs. Written by lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Alan Menken, and performed by Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas), “Colors of the Wind” sees Pocahontas trying to show John Smith another way of looking at the world.
Though appropriating and misidentifying Native American cultures (“blue corn moon”? — not a thing), “Colors of the Wind” has a valuable message unlike any other Disney “Princess” song, starting with the ultimate mansplaining and/or privilege-checking opening: “You think I’m an ignorant savage, and you’ve been so many places, I guess it must be so. But still I cannot see, if the savage one is me. How can there be so much that you don’t know?”
Truly an anthem for the ages.
From an animation stand point, “Colors of the Wind” is also a treasure, literally imbuing the wind with color to get Pocahontas’ point across. By the end of the song, it’s still hard to believe the Pocahontas/John Smith romance, but you’re totally onboard with the movie’s deeper (if not culturally problematic and historically inaccurate) themes. (KB)
1. “Part of Your World” / Reprise – The Little Mermaid
In a certain sense, no other song could be in the top spot than the one that truly ushered in the Disney Renaissance. As the scene that Howard Ashman had to fight Jeffrey Katzenberg tooth and nail to leave in this movie, “Part of Your World” was the heart and soul of The Little Mermaid, and defined the Disney formula to come. Taking a page out of many of the great Broadway musicals of theater history, Ashman and Alan Menken injected into Disney the idea of defining an entire film around the “I Want” song, in which an earnest protagonist belts their endearing dream during the first 30 minutes.
And so Ariel does with angelic purity in the pristine vocals of Jodi Benson. Benson too was an Ashman sticking point, and she brings a bright sweetness and intelligence to Ariel’s otherwise potentially crushing naiveté. Also in both “Part of Your World” and its seashore reprise, it brings out better than any “I Want” song that came afterward the sense of pained and potent adolescent longing, with a bittersweetness worthy of Eliza Doolittle. The animation in the original sequence especially, executed by Glen Keane, wallows in that charming wistfulness. It doesn’t hurt either that her underwater hair essentially becomes a third silent, scarlet sidekick.
Yet, it’s in the reprise that she sings with a distinction of sudden purpose that made Ariel and the Renaissance she represented a departure from all previous animated movies, particularly animated Disney princess movies. It’s the lucid moment where audiences were invited not only to cheer a mermaid’s dreams, but also to be cast into this new style of Disney movie’s spell. With conviction, Ariel convinces viewers that she’ll get exactly what she wants, and with equal determination Disney’s animated films also were announcing their new resonance in our pop culture. They became a part of your world, as they will always remain. (DC)
So there’s our list of the 25 Best Disney Renaissance songs! Agree? Disagree? Did we leave something off? Let us know in the comment section below.