PART XII: THE DREADED TOP TEN LISTS
So here’s where I summarize my thoughts on the Disney Official Animated Canon. Originally these lists could include non-Canon, Pixar and sequels, but after some tweaking I’ve reordered these lists to just stick to the Canon. The entries that were not part of the DAC are instead included as Honourable Mentions.
I’ll do the usual ranking of opinions – favourite films, least favourite films, favourite songs, least favourite songs, favourite characters, least favourite characters, favourite villain songs, etc. My (usually very quiet) audience is welcome to suggest things I can rank numerically, for nothing is so important as numerical ranking.
Top 10 Favourite Disney Films | Bottom 10 Least Favourite Disney Films | Top 20 Favourite Disney Songs
- #1: Beauty and the Beast
- If you’re read all of the reviews of the Renaissance era, you’ll know that my favourite Disney film is Beauty and the Beast. It’s the first film I can remember seeing in theatres, and it’s a cherished memory of spending time with my mother when I was a little girl. Every time I watch it, I’m awed by its near-perfection. The opening scene with the forest, castle, and waterfall is breathtaking. The prologue’s use of stained glass as a way to explain the Beast’s curse is brilliant. Belle is a fantastic heroine, Gaston is a hilarious villain. The score and the songs are so catchy and so beautiful. I love Beauty and the Beast to pieces.
- #2: The Little Mermaid
- If Beauty and the Beast wakes up my artistic side, The Little Mermaid awakens my emotional side. Part of Your World is both an incredible character piece and an absolutely perfect leitmotif. We already got to know Ariel before her big number, but once she sings that song, you learn all there is to know about this wonderfully complex teenager. Ursula is probably one of the most fun villains Disney ever came up with, and she has equal character depth – she’s not a mindless cackling villain, she’s a master manipulator, a living dramatic irony device, and a big sexy…octopus thing. Just like Beauty and the Beast, the score and songs in this film are just perfect. I listen to my soundtrack album all the time.
- #3: Frozen
- If you’re a Twitter follower or a Facebook friend, you miiiiight have noticed I’m obsessed with a little film called Frozen. I was a fan of Idina Menzel for quite some time before she was cast as Elsa, and although the marketing for the film nearly put me off seeing it, once I knew she was involved, I went to see it on opening night. And let me tell you, I seriously felt like I was watching history as I saw the Let It Go sequence for the first time. And I knew the song would be a huge hit when I saw all the children in the audience singing along to the end credits version – remember, they’d NEVER HEARD IT BEFORE THAT DAY. I identify deeply with Elsa, as I’ve written in the past. The film’s message that the love between sisters is just as strong and just as important as any other kind of love was exactly the message I needed at that point in my life. And in that sense, I really appreciated how the film deliberately subverted the expectations we have of a Disney film.
- #4: Bambi
- Jumping waaaay back to the Golden Age, I have to mention my love for Bambi. Few films have captured its beauty and mood, even 70 years later. I can only imagine how the opening sequence might look in IMAX 3D, but of course, if it had been a modern film, it would have lost its sweetness and timelessness. Little April Showers is a lovely little song and a beautifully animated sequence. And there is something to be said about the mother’s death – it still stays with us, all of us, as one of those formative moments of childhood. Perhaps it is a signifier of a loss of innocence. But it could also be a signifier of coming of age, just like Bambi does.
- #5: Lilo and Stitch
- And then jumping back to the modern era, it’s Lilo and Stitch! This film has only grown on me over the years, and when I reviewed it, I realized it’s because I love the characters so much. They’re all incredibly well written – hilarious, multi-faceted, believable, all that good stuff. I also really like Chris Sanders’ rounded art style, since the 2nd Dark Age had way too many films that had exaggerated angular animation. Most of all though, I love the relationships Lilo has with Nani and with Stitch. Both are varying forms of sibling relationships, and how the love shines through even in the most difficult of circumstances. Like Elsa, I identify with Nani’s situation very profoundly. She’s doing the best she can for her little sister, but she knows she’s overwhelmed. Stitch eventually becomes something of a brother to Lilo, but in the meantime, he goes through some wonderful character development and recognizes how important family is. Lilo and Stitch is unlike any Disney film before or since, and that’s one of the best things about it.
- #6: Sleeping Beauty
- It’s got a lot of problems that concern me, but I rank Sleeping Beauty fairly high on my list of favourites for one reason and one reason alone, and you know what it is, MOTHAFUCKIN MALEFICENT. Once I get around to ranking favourite Disney characters, you know she’s going to be at the top (or near the top – haven’t quite worked that out yet). But in addition to Maleficent being one of the absolute greatest Disney characters ever, this film is stunningly beautiful, and one of the few films from either the Golden or Silver Age that transferred to Blu-Ray flawlessly. I also really love the use of Tchaikovsky in the soundtrack (he is my favourite classical composer) – they married his ballet to their new scenes flawlessly. But yeah. MALEFICENT, Y’ALL.
- #7: Fantasia
- While we’re discussing classical (and Tchaikovsky!), let’s throw a bone to Fantasia. As a child I enjoyed this film, and as an adult I was utterly awed by it. This was Disney at their artistic peak – never again would sound and image be married so perfectly. Although Disney has a reputation of producing bland, all-audience-encompassing entertainment, here Uncle Walt was aiming for a specific type of audience. Unfortunately, there really weren’t many animation enthusiasts around yet. But hey, here I am, and here is perhaps the medium’s greatest artistic achievement. Although The Nutcracker Suite is my favourite sequence thanks to my sheer Tchaikovsky bias, I also have to mention how much I love the Pastoral sequence. So colourful and fun!
- #8: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- I would be a terrible person if I did not include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s astounding just how well that film holds up, how important and influential it was, and just how it washes over you and gives you an emotional high you wish you could feel all the time. The art direction, which really does look like the illustrations of a fairy tale, is probably my favourite aspect of the film. I love all the little touches of Germanic culture. The songs are so iconic and are total earworms. Whenever I think of this film, I think of the finale sequence, with the choir beautifully harmonizing this triumphant reprise of Someday My Prince Will Come and the gorgeously animated, ethereal image of the Prince’s castle, backlit by the sunshine in the distance. And I have to give a special mention to the scene where the Queen becomes the Witch – it’s terrifying, colourful, beautiful, imaginative and eye-popping, all at once.
- #9: The Princess and the Frog
- I absolutely adore The Princess and the Frog. Tiana is a fantastic character, and I love how Anika Noni Rose voiced and sang her part with such passion and intelligence. The Jazz Age New Orleans setting is a lot of fun, and obviously let the directors have a little fun with the characters, art direction and cultural references. This also is probably the only film where a Randy Newman soundtrack wasn’t completely godawful. And I would be remiss not to mention how important it was that we finally got an African-American Princess after all these years. Finally, I have to give props to Dr. Facilier, an absolutely wonderful villain (voiced by the incredible Keith David) who has a great character design, a genuinely creepy set of powers (those voodoo…floating head things don’t screw around), and gets one of the best villain songs Disney ever had.
- #10: Aladdin
- I know my summation of its “Worst” quality makes it seem like I hate Aladdin, but be assured that I do not. Quite the opposite, in fact, my appreciation for the film’s greatness grows every year. It remains easily one of the funniest films Disney have ever produced, every scene is a triumphant visual spectacle, Ashman/Menken’s (and Rice’s) music remains just as wonderful as ever, and I thoroughly enjoy the characters. I also have to give a special mention to Eric Goldberg’s fabulous character animation for The Genie.
- Honorable Mention (originally placed at #4):
- “Okay, here’s the film pitch: A stop-motion animated feature with gallows humour that is a crossover between two holidays. We can market it for both!” Yup, I love the hell out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I personally consider it a Halloween movie, cause seriously, there are enough Christmas movies. I was a little girl with a rather sick sense of humour (not much has changed) and I remember seeing a trailer for TNBC on television that ended with the little boy pulling the severed head out of his Christmas present box. It was so irreverent and so outrageous that I had to see this film. And I never get tired of it. The characters are so original and refreshing, the music is catchy, the animation still holds up as mindblowingly cool, it’s still really friggin’ funny. My family loved this film so much that we had custom t-shirts made (Hot Topic was not a thing yet. Nor is it actually a thing in Canada, period.) and made our own Sally and Mayor costumes that year. This film is just special.
Time for your daily dose of Haterade! Oddly enough though, it was much harder for me to narrow down the Disney features I liked the least/hated the most than it was for me to do the opposite. Some of these points have been already made in the reviews of the films themselves, but there’s only so many ways to to describe “Why I Hate This.”
Edit on March 8th, 2015 – I changed my mind about one entry, and swapped it out for a different film.
- 10. The Jungle Book
This film isn’t really BAD (at least compared to the others on this list) but I do find it inexplicably popular. I’ve tried so many times to see what other Disney fans see in this movie, and I just can’t. I find it boring at best, irritating at worst. I’ve seen a few criticisms of The Jungle Book that I consider to be unfair (mostly the racism accusation thrown at the characterization of King Louie – this criticism might have had merit if Louis Prima was black, but he was Italian-American). I think most people cite this film’s music as its high point, but that unfortunately doesn’t work on me. Phil Harris has one of the worst singing styles I’ve ever heard, and yet he was used in three different Disney movies (another one of which is also on this list). The Bare Necessities is just not that good a song. At least, not so good that it warranted multiple reprises. The characters in general, Shere Khan excepted, are also very dull and don’t have much going for them. (I might have liked Kaa if he wasn’t goddamn Sterling Holloway again.)
- 9. Oliver and Company
Everything about this film is just so…dull and unremarkable. The animation is not even remotely close to the quality Disney was known for – it looks like it was made for television. The decision to make it a then-contemporary depiction of New York City in the late 1980s was a poor one, because it dates the film quite badly and the overall art direction/mise en scene is really unattractive as a result. The characters are forgettable (I honestly can’t remember most of their names), the adaptation of Oliver Twist is really weak, and the music skews from “Yeah, this is okay” (Why Should I Worry? and Once Upon A Time in New York City) to “Oh god make it stop” (You and Me (Good Company)). There’s just very little that Oliver and Company has going for it, it’s just so blah.
- 8. Fun and Fancy Free
The Mickey and the Beanstalk segment is, for the most part, quite entertaining. My problem is with everything else, especially Bongo. It’s such an awful story and so clumsily told, I really find it hard to believe that they couldn’t do better. The framing device, which is of Dinah Shore narrating the story on record, has the big problem that the writers forgot to keep the narration consistent – many scenes are just sound effects, which would have made no sense to someone who can’t see what’s going on. I almost have to wonder if Shore’s involvement was added after the fact rather than being planned from the beginning. The story itself is also a huge pile of cliches, and is rather nonsensical. See, Bears apparently show each other romantic affection by whacking each other across the face. Okaaaay. Bongo doesn’t really get it and thinks the whacking means the opposite of what the Bears intend it to mean, and therefore Bongo is sad. Okaaaay. And if you accidentally whack someone you’re not into, you’re stuck with that Bear and can’t explain that it was an accident. Okaaa…what? Why? Bongo now has to fight for his lady love’s honour or something. Siiigh.
- 7. Pocahontas
Most of the films on this list make me annoyed, angry, or disgusted. This one just makes me derisively giggle at how everything in it is handled with the subtlety of an anvil. It really thinks it is A Big Important Movie and it is so not. A movie that is puffed up with its own importance usually doesn’t come off as transcendent as the creators think it does. For one thing, the writers don’t ever bother to make the thing make sense. It’s obviously highly inaccurate historical fiction, but that still doesn’t explain how Pocahontas has a Magic Talking Tree and can Magic Talking English. It still doesn’t explain how Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics to Savages without any sense of irony. (Which I know the dude is capable of!) Pocahontas is not quite as big a failure at delivering a “Don’t be racist” message as The Fox and the Hound is, but it’s so clumsily earnest in delivering its message that I’m not sure it IS earnest. If that makes any sense.
- 6. Robin Hood
Most of the movies on my personal hate list are not going to be very controversial choices, but this is one that a lot of people are rather horrified to learn I hate. I just do. I find it a bizarre mish-mash of laziness and lack of care. I can’t stand the American accents randomly thrown into the movie (a similar problem I have with The Sword in the Stone), and I don’t like the music. I also really don’t get why all of the characters are anthropomorphized animals in the first place. With only one or two exceptions, they just act like fur/feather-covered humans. I am yet to find a defence for this movie that isn’t just expressed through Nostalgia Goggles (with the full disclosure that I often fall into that trap myself) and/or a Furry pointing to this film as their sexual awakening (and whatever floats your boat, man).
- 5. Brother Bear
What a terribly, terribly boring movie this is. A few months after I reviewed it, I have trouble remembering anything about it beyond the saccharine Phil Collins music (I really hate Phil Collins, you guys) and the pretty Canadian wilderness. It takes absolutely forever to get to the premise of the story (Native guy gets turned into a Bear cause he’s a dick), and even longer for the obvious emotional climax (Which they promptly ruined by fading out the dialogue into another Collins song for some unfathomable reason). Like Pocahontas, it also falls into that embarrassing trap of writing Native Americans/Canadians as literally magical people in tune with nature. I can’t really think of a way to make this movie work. It’s completely and utterly dull.
- 4. The Sword in the Stone
I would liked to have sat in the executive meeting that began the production of this film, and asked them why in the hell they thought that “Merlin educates awkward tween Arthur using anachronisms” was the best way to adapt the Arthurian legends. There’s a reason the stories of King Arthur have endured for hundreds of years, and it’s not the stories about his awkward tween years, for Chrissakes! I can see wanting to avoid the religious connotations of the Holy Grail, and the tragic infidelity of Guinevere/Lancelot. But that still leaves the Morgan & Mordred Le Fay conflicts, that still leaves Camelot as a concept, and that still leaves the Knights of the Round Table. I find it so endlessly frustrating that they chose such a boring and pointless use of the character. And leaving aside my frustrations with the story, Wart’s voice acting is such an embarrassing mess, I can’t believe they let the film be released like that. Three different actors for the same character, and one particular voice clip is used SEVEN TIMES.
- 3. The Three Caballeros
This film will always strike me as such a huge amount of wasted potential. Although there are some fun and interesting aspects to the film (particularly the animation), I cannot think about it without thinking of how much I hated how they characterized Donald in this. Why, oh why, did they repeatedly show him throwing himself at the Live Action Latina women? They are excessively sexualized in this film, to the point where I felt like I was watching some shitty Bob Hope comedy instead of a feature-length Donald Duck cartoon. He doesn’t even talk to the women, he just starts smooching them, and he does it over and over and over again. I actually have to wonder if any of them (Aurora Miranda aside) even knew how their footage was going to be used in The Three Caballeros, they’re given so little personality and agency. It’s really very disappointing.
- 2. The Black Cauldron
This film is the Disney Canon Black Sheep. Very few people have seen it, and even fewer like it. Although the Chronicles of Prydain series is quite beloved amongst fantasy fans, this film has little resemblance to its source material. The characters are written and voiced in the most obnoxious way possible, and wither in comparison to the incredibly cool Horned King villain. The animation is distracting – constant motion and exaggerated expressions instead of concentrating on realistic movement (which is a thing Disney is known for!). The Black Cauldron is also painfully derivative, giving it little reason to exist. The costs for the production of this film were hilariously bloated, which made me wonder where the hell they poured all that money into. Worst of all, though, this film actually made me agree with Jeffrey Katzenberg (he hated it and took a machete to scenes that already had complete animation). The horror!
- 1. The Fox and the Hound – and – Chicken Little
- Chicken Little
The toughest decision for me when I made this list was deciding which film I hated more: The Fox and the Hound or Chicken Little. TFatH has had many decades to fester with loathing inside me, whereas I only saw CL for the first time a few months ago. I decided that I hated both of them equally. That said though, CL is a cynical, sloppy, disaster of a film. It has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. The writing is godawful. The characters are godawful. The animation is godawful. The music is godawful. The messages, such as they are, are godawful (particularly the “punishment” of Foxy Loxy where she is basically turned into a docile vegetable – she’s still the equivalent of a little girl!). I hope to see this film fall into the endless pit of obscurity that was the fate of The Black Cauldron. And I hope to never again see Disney so shamelessly ape the things I hate about most Dreamworks movies. There’s a reason Dreamworks is now in financial trouble, and it was near-miraculous that the Disney management changed right after this film came out. More awful films like Chicken Little would have bankrupted Disney, without a doubt.
- The Fox and the Hound
It was a nice thought, really, making a film where animals are used as an allegory for racism. It was also nice to see Disney attempt something that didn’t have an uplifting ending. The major difference between this film and Chicken Little is that while CL shows a complete lack of effort, TFatH shows what happens when lots of effort is wasted on something that just doesn’t work. Regardless of the good “Don’t be racist” intentions of the staff, the fact remains is that the message of this film is that there is no way to overcome fundamental differences and that it’s better to live apart rather than to try to force harmony. Or, in other words, Segregation is Better. It might have worked if Copper had at least tried to overcome the (for lack of a better word) social conditioning his owner put him through, and it might have worked if Tod was not written as 100% sympathetic (but subject to the same moral ambiguities that Copper was written with). It was also very clumsy writing for Big Mama to first sing a song about how cute it was that little Copper and Tod were the best of friends, and then to be the one to give Tod The Talk about the dangers of hunters. What, couldn’t she see what was going to happen before?
- Chicken Little
As requested, I will be ranking my favourite Disney songs! I’ve always been a person who is a total sucker for musicals, and the songs written for Disney films are amongst the best that I’ve heard. I basically worship the ground Alan Menken and Howard Ashman walk(ed) on. For inspiration, I’ve got this ridiculously long YouTube playlist of Disney songs playing in the background, so the titles for each song will also link to it on YouTube. There are so many great Disney songs, I’m expanding this ~NUMERICAL RANKING~ to 20. Double the fun, double the things you can disagree with!
- 20. When Will My Life Begin? from Tangled
This is a lovely little opener for the film, and one of many Disney songs that is masterful at establishing a character’s traits immediately. The acoustic guitar matches Rapunzel’s earthy and artistic qualities very well. I like that through the course of the song, Rapunzel demonstrates herself to be an entirely self-taught Renaissance Woman, who has mastered so many different talents and fields. Despite being controlled by an abusive “parent,” she hasn’t sat around feeling forlorn, but has used all this time to improve herself and demonstrate just how special she is. Unlike some of the other Disney Princesses, Rapunzel’s “want” is both clearly defined and completely understandable. I also really like Mandy Moore’s vocals, but she was a professional singer before becoming an actress, so that’s not too surprising.
- 19. Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride from Lilo & Stitch
This song is very unlike any other Disney songs, which works, because Lilo & Stitch is very unlike any other Disney movies. It’s a rush of joy, a very easy transportation into the modern Hawaiian setting, and it’s just so catchy. I like that they used a children’s choir for the vocals for this film, as it helps to establish the youthful mood/tone that the movie has. I also kind of like that the song is a mish-mash of cultures/lived experiences, just like how Lilo’s family ends up. The instrumentation is also really great at evoking a tropical setting. Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride just makes me want to pack up and move to Hawaii immediately.
- 18. Pink Elephants On Parade from Dumbo
This song is a bizarre nightmare, an acid trip, a feast for the eyes, and an absurdist comedy all rolled into one. The implications that this is what a baby elephant sees when he’s drunk are pretty disturbing, but I’ll leave that aside. I love the practically neon use of colour, and how the elephants seem to be made of jello, they squish and wiggle around so much. The singers are all clearly having fun, and being as hammy as possible (especially that one who does the falsetto). It’s really catchy, and yet it’s such an unnerving dream. I also rather like that the movie never actually tells you what Dumbo was up to that night (beyond flying into a tree somehow) – it’s more interesting to leave it as a mystery.
- 17. Main Title (The Second Star To The Right) from Peter Pan
This is another fantastic use of a choir to set a mood. The main titles for Peter Pan are absolutely perfect at bringing you into this world where you’re about to experience a fairy tale full of imagination. It incorporates Peter Pan’s leitmotif very well. I also like that there’s a specific thanks given to the London Hospital For Sick Children – it shows a reverence for the source material and a careful accordance with James Barrie’s dying wishes. I also like that the imagery of Neverland is woven into the credits so that you know exactly what to expect.
- 16. Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag) from Mary Poppins
One of these things is not like the others (this is the only non-Canon film I’m making an exception for)! Anyway, this is my favourite of the Sherman Brothers’ compositions – as I mentioned in my review of the movie, it’s my favourite thing about it. Simply as a song, it’s lovely, bittersweet, and thoughtful. As a leitmotif and metaphorical character arc for Mr. Banks, it makes the movie so special. I really love Julie Andrews’ vocals, the visuals of St. Paul’s cathedral, and the (for lack of a better word) Englishness of the piece. I’m not so sure it works as a lullaby, but it does work well at teaching Jane and Michael (and eventually their father) to choose to be kind.
- 15. Heaven’s Light/Hellfire from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This would probably rank higher, except that I’m not much of a fan of the Heaven’s Light part. I suppose I find blasphemous lust to be more interesting/compelling than somewhat pathetic adulation. Anyway, Hellfire is easily the darkest and most “adult” of Disney’s songs – as I mentioned, it’s about lust that has completely gone out of control. Frollo lashes out with misogyny and possessiveness over Esmeralda simply for the sin of HIM finding HER attractive. Many of the villains are incredibly evil, but Frollo’s lust-charged fury is somehow even more frightening. He wants to force Esmeralda to choose between being his sexual slave or being executed. I still can’t believe how much the directors got away with when it comes to this movie.
- 14. Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid
Oddly enough, this song is playing on the YouTube playlist right now. I love its calypso sound and beat. It’s just this really fun sequence where Sebastian lays several million puns (while trying to tell Ariel that humans will apparently eat her…) and there’s just so much imagination here. All this crazy stuff that the ocean creatures do to create music really does make you wonder why Ariel doesn’t appreciate *anything* about her home. I also have to laugh at how Sebastian just gets so into his performance that he doesn’t notice that Ariel’s slipped off. Also: Somewhat unrelated, but I can’t listen to this song without thinking of the filthy lyrics I wrote for it back when I was like…12. (No, I’m not reproducing them here.)
- 13. Little April Shower from Bambi
I don’t know how this song does it, but it really does evoke the sounds, feelings and moods of rainfall. The choir’s vocals are lovely, soft and gentle at first, and at the climax of the song, reproduce the sound of a howling wind. Although this is one of those songs that doesn’t advance the plot, it’s one that adds a lot to the forest setting. It invites you into its idyllic world of nature, where you can follow the rain’s progress as how an animal would see and experience it.
- 12. Friends On The Other Side from The Princess and the Frog
Although Almost There is my favourite sequence from this film, Friends On The Other Side is my favourite song. I hope that makes sense. Keith David is a justifiably legendary voice actor, who injects both a sinister and affable air into the fantastically named Doctor Facilier. He sounds very authentically like he comes from New Orleans. The instrumentation sets the sinister mood perfectly, and the use of colour and Voodoo imagery really helps to make this sequence eye-popping. The lyrics are great too, with a very clever use of double meanings for everything. Facilier is a pretty damn scary villain, and his “Friends” strongly establish just how dangerous he is.
- 11. Belle from Beauty and the Beast
This song is about as Broadway-style as Disney’s ever going to get. The whole sequence of each of the notable characters introducing themselves, who they are, what they want, etc is very effective. Belle immediately demonstrates that she’s an intellectual bookworm uninterested/unable to connect to the mundane things that the townspeople enjoy. (She’s quite comparable with Ariel in terms of this “outsider” aspect) Gaston shows himself to be very handsome and a fantastic hunter, but desperately vain and possessive of Belle simply because she’s beautiful. Lefou basically just shows what a kissass he is. I also like how in between the singing, the characters stop to talk to each other – this is another song that furthers the plot rather than pausing it. The chorus of the townspeople all getting together to gossip about Belle is a very Broadway touch as well.
- 10. Friend Like Me from Aladdin
This song is just pure excitement. The dearly missed Robin Williams gives a hell of a performance here, injecting every note and impression with energy and a great sense of fun. My favourite animator, Eric Goldberg, does some absolute masterwork of transforming Genie into so many shapes, looks, sizes, etc and still effectively makes the Genie recognizable. The lyrics have such great wordplay and rhyming, and really conveys that whole possibility of “All your dreams can come true right here and now” that Genie offers. I also really like that Genie describes himself as Aladdin’s friend – that is SO crucial to how both of them develop as characters and as partners. He’s only just met Aladdin, but doesn’t consider himself to be Aladdin’s slave, but his FRIEND.
- 9. For The First Time In Forever (Reprise) from Frozen
Oddly enough, although I listen to Let It Go A HELL OF A LOT, this song is the one that is a complete earworm for me. I prefer the Reprise because it’s got more emotional resonance – not that the earlier version isn’t great in its own way. The Reprise reverses everything Anna thought she wanted – she no longer especially cares about partying and meeting people…it’s finding and reconnecting with Elsa that she truly wants. She only mentions the, er, frozen Arendelle as an afterthought after Elsa has already rejected her pleas to come home with her. Elsa’s reaction to finding out that she’s endangered her entire kingdom is heartwrenching. Here’s where the dramatic irony of Let It Go has its payoff – as much as Elsa wants to escape her emotional turmoil, it will follow her no matter where she goes. And that final note, her cry of fear and despair and helplessness, is piercing, both literally and metaphorically. See, the thing I love so much about Frozen is how it makes me feel.
- 8. Part Of Your World (& Reprise) from The Little Mermaid
This track is the best example of “Musical number providing direct character development” that Disney has in their catalogue. Through the lyrics of the song, Ariel demonstrates that she’s rebellious, curious, a dreamer, ambitious, an outsider, a scholar, an explorer, a collector/hobbyist, dissatisfied with her lot in life, and someone who has a wish so strong that it’s almost painful for her to be denied it. The reprise builds on this by establishing that Eric is just a continuation/catalyst for her dream – that he wasn’t the sole reason she wanted to leave Atlantica.
- 7. Circle of Life from The Lion King
This is another song for me where I don’t like the movie all that much, but the song just on its own is just wonderful. As the opener for the film, it sets the mood and setting perfectly, and introduces an overarching theme for Simba’s Hero’s Journey. The song begins perfectly – this powerful voice bursts in with some Swahili lyrics that immediately grab your attention. The lyrics “There’s more to see / Than can ever be seen / More to do / Than can ever be done” are at once joyous and bittersweet. The lyrics for the entire song have this interesting duality to them. Despair and hope, the beginning of life and the end of life, the possibilities of life being overwhelming in both positive and negative ways, and the mystery of knowing that we all have a purpose in life but haven’t found it yet.
- 6. When You Wish Upon A Star from Pinocchio
I’m not really a fan of the movie, but by god is this song powerful. I’m rather sorry they’re no longer using it for the Vanity Plate they play just before the movie starts. For a very long time now, Disney has used this song as a symbol for what they (supposedly) stand for. And I like its message. The “wishing on a star” part is metaphorical – of course it won’t actually grant your wish, but the idea that it might is a very happy dream. Dreams and aspirations are wonderful, and if given the dedication the dream deserves, anyone can potentially be, or have, anything. Unlike many of the other songs on this list, I prefer cover versions to the one used in the movie. The song lends itself very well to covers, since it’s one of the few that make perfect sense outside of context.
- 5. I’ll Make A Man Out Of You from Mulan
This is one of those songs where once it starts, you have to listen to all of it. The opening lines “LET’S / Get Down / To BUSiness / To De-FEAT / The Huns…” are just so catchy and have this military-march like rhythm to it. By its very nature, this song is a commentary on gender. What Li Shang thinks makes someone a man is actually demonstrating that bravery and skill are a matter of dedication and tenacity, and have nothing to do with gender. The qualities of a man that Li Shang intends to instruct people on are not actually gendered skills at all – swift as a coursing river, strength of a great typhoon, etc. “Did they send me daughters / When I asked for sons?” is another interesting line, since it foreshadows that soon he will be very glad that a daughter was sent to him. Another aspect of this song that I like is that the plot doesn’t stop while the song is going on, but very quickly gives character development to everyone who has a line in it. Also: Donny Osmond sounds pretty awesome, really.
- 4. Poor Unfortunate Souls from The Little Mermaid
This song is an absolutely perfect example of how lyrics can be used to convey dramatic irony. Every word that Ursula says is a lie, and in the case of her trying to convince Ariel that men don’t care what she has to say, is explicitly the opposite of the truth. (Note the subtle feminist rant in those lyrics!) Ursula comes off as so affable and casual in her line delivery too, it’s fantastic. The animation in particular really adds something to the song. Ursula swims in every direction (taking advantage of the setting), flipping in and out of the frame. At the climax of the song, the scene becomes this explosion of dark colours (blues, reds, greens) that just look incredible. One final thing: The “BOOODYYYY LAAANGUAAAGE” scene never ceases to crack me up, and I love it because this is a plus-size woman affirming that she’s sexy as hell in her own way.
- 3. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
Perhaps the most hilarious, and most homoerotic, song in the Disney catalogue. Like, you’re not going to convince me that Howard Ashman wasn’t subtly sneaking in gay jokes into this number. (You can substitute “No one’s dick is as incredibly thick as Gaston’s” into the lyrics perfectly.) That is one of the reasons I love it. The lyrics are absurd, the song is catchy, and in contrast to other villain songs, the antagonist is basically just boasting about how great he is. The irreverence of Gaston appeals to me so much, and it’s so quotable.
- 2. I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) from Hercules
I have a funny little history with this song. The Disney stores in malls used to play clips of their latest home video release, which was often those sing-along compilations with the “Follow the bouncing Mickey head” thing. (Remember those?) In this case, the sing-along was based off of the new songs from Hercules, and as I walked in, I heard this song and froze in my tracks, transfixed. It was unlike any Disney song I’d heard before, as it had a distinct Motown/Girl Group sound, which is one of the musical styles I grew up with. I just love singing along to this song (and unlike Let It Go, I can hit all of the notes without any difficulty). It’s also unlike a lot of other Disney love songs in that Meg is explicitly trying to reject that she loves Hercules in order to prevent her heart from being broken again. It’s a lovely, catchy little song, and I wish there were more like it. (Not that I don’t like the bombastic Broadway-style stuff.)
- 1. Let It Go from Frozen
OH, WHAT A SHOCKER. So yeah, this song is incredibly special to me, and well over a year after Frozen’s premiere, it’s still my ringtone, and I feel like I can never, ever get tired of it. Much of my affinity with this song is tied to its performer Idina Menzel, who originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked. The big showstopping number, Defying Gravity, makes my heart soar. Let It Go is very much in the same spirit as Defying Gravity. I love its lyrics of self-affirmation, I love how it uses dramatic irony, I absolutely love the animation of the ice castle forming, I love the utter defiance Elsa expresses, and I love that incredible high note at the end. There’s a reason little girls are obsessed with this song! I was once a little girl, you know.
Well then…shall we start again at the beginning?