Music has a way of moving us like little else on Earth. The right song—heck, the right note of the right song—can instantly bring tears to our eyes and goose bumps to our skin. Music has a magic that’s all its own.
Combining the magic of music with the magic of Disney only seems to amplify that ability to move people. The greatest Disney movies are made great by their soundtracks, and great Disney songs live on in pop culture forever. Hearing a specific song from a Disney film can transport you back to the movie theater where you had your first movie-going experience, or it can remind you of a time when you first watched a child fall in love with the magic of Disney. Disney music calls to mind Disney memories, and those are magical experiences for all of us.
While I’m enjoying my own magical experience in Disney World, I wanted to start a conversation here about your favorite classic and contemporary Disney tunes. Here are my 10 favorite songs from Disney films, and I hope you share yours in the comments!
1. Circle of Life (The Lion King)
The best Disney songs resonate on a level deeper than just their relevance to the film they’re in, and that’s certainly true of this song. Its poignant lyrics are matched by a sweeping score, which builds to a soaring crescendo that is guaranteed to give you the best kind of chills. There has never been a better song for introducing the spirit of a Disney film. The stirringly unique beginning of this song, coupled with the image of that rising red sun, created a truly iconic Disney moment.
2. Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid)
Every Disney princess has a moment when she sings about her longing for a different life than the one she’s living. But none are as stunning as “Part of Your World.” The lyrics turn a mermaid’s lament into the lament of every teenage girl wanting to start her own life on her own terms. This song has a fierce vulnerability to it that reminds all who listen to it what it’s like to be young and looking for a life that has meaning. And the incredible reprise is perhaps even better and more memorable than the first time this song is sung in the film.
3. Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
This is a sentimental favorite for me. Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater, and I can still remember being three years old and feeling completely awestruck during the ballroom scene. Over 22 years later, I’m still left awestruck by this scene because of its simple beauty. This song isn’t flashy; it simply tells a tale as old as time, and that’s why it works. It’s the epitome of fairytale romance without ever trying to be more than it is—a song about finding you can change, learning you were wrong.
4. A Whole New World (Aladdin)
When I think of what Disney song is the most quintessentially magical, I think of “A Whole New World.” The lyrics, the score, and the vocal harmonies all combined to produce a musical version of a magic carpet ride—soaring, romantic, and carefree. The lyrics are perfect for this song’s place in the film, but they’re also a beautiful analogy for the paths traveled by any romantic partnerships.
5. Let It Go (Frozen)
I teach at a dance studio, and on Saturday mornings, I have a front-row seat for a weekly Frozen revue starring my group of preschool-age dancers. Every one of them knows every word to “Let It Go” and sings it with such passion that I can only hope the message of the song is working its way into their little minds already. Because this song may have soaring vocals unlike any other Disney song, but it’s the theme of the song—embracing your true self and leaving fear behind as you do so—that makes it so special.
6. When You Wish Upon a Star (Pinocchio)
“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you…” If you’re looking for Disney’s mission statement summed up in a song, look no further than “When You Wish Upon a Star.” This is a song for dreamers, for those who never give up hope. Its simple melody allows the lyrics to take center stage, and those lyrics are perhaps the most heartfelt of any Disney song.
7. Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
Beauty and the Beast wasn’t just a movie with music; it was a musical. And all great musicals have a killer opening number, which is exactly what “Belle” was. It established the characters, set the scene, and immersed the audience in the magic of the movie immediately. But the real reason this song is on my list is because of its perfect reprise. Disney movies have a history of great reprises, but nothing can match this stirring one, which turned a fun opening song into an anthem for anyone who wants “so much more than they’ve got planned.”
8. Poor Unfortunate Souls (The Little Mermaid)
No list of Disney songs would be complete without a villain’s song, and there’s no better one than Ursula’s introduction to Ariel. A villain’s monologue is always better when sung, and this one is no exception. It captures the campy, larger than life spirit of Ursula perfectly. And the way it provides crucial exposition through music is brilliant.
9. Go the Distance (Hercules)
There is perhaps no more inspiring Disney song than “Go the Distance.” Whenever I hear it, I instantly feel like I can take on the world. Disney is all about hope, and this song is about the hope that you can do something truly special with your life, which is a wonderful message. And like many of the best Disney songs, this one also has a wonderfully stirring reprise.
10. I’ll Make a Man Out of You (Mulan)
This is one of those songs you have to sing along to every time you hear it. It has such a powerful, memorable melody, and the verses allow the movie’s supporting characters to show their personalities. The montage of Mulan finally succeeding at her training as the final chorus of this song plays is one of this great film’s greatest moments.
What’s on your ultimate Disney music playlist?