The Magic of Music: My Favorite Disney Songs

Is "The Circle of Life" one of your favorite Disney songs?

Is “Circle of Life” one of your favorite Disney songs?

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?

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8 thoughts on “The Magic of Music: My Favorite Disney Songs

  1. Oh, my gosh, I was JUST TELLING someone how much I *love* the reprise of “Belle.” I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell… Perfection. And my family still refers to me sometimes as having “a dreamy, far off look with her nose stuck in a book.” 🙂

    Okay, off the top of my head:
    Belle and the Belle Reprise (Beauty and the Beast)
    Gaston (Beauty and the Beast) (Almost entirely for the line “I’m especially good at expectorating”)
    Kiss the Girl (The Little Mermaid)
    You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly! (Peter Pan)
    ChimChim-Chi-ree (Mary Poppins)
    Feed the Birds (Mary Poppins)
    Bare Necessities (The Jungle Book)
    I’ll Make a Man Out of You (Mulan)
    I Just Can’t Wait to Be King (The Lion King)
    Oo-De-Lally (Robin Hood)

    If we’re stick with animation only, replace the two Mary Poppins songs with Baby Mine (Dumbo) and Once Upon a Dream (Sleeping Beauty).

  2. Great list! Love how you included “Go the Distance.” For me, I don’t know if I would rank “Let It Go” as high, but I would also include “Just Around the Riverbend” and “Under the Sea.” Those always put me in a good mood 🙂

  3. Great picks!

    I am also a huge fan of ‘ill make a man out of you’. Its just has such a fun melody.

    And while not one of the more mainstream disney animated films, I LOVE ‘A Goofy Movie’ and pretty much all the songs in it, but ‘Eye 2 Eye’ is probably my favorite (although you mentioned how much you loved a good opening song, and ‘after today’ is a great one too). And no, my love for eye 2 eye has nothing to do with the fact that it totally reminds me of something “If a wall should come between us / To high to climb, to hard to break through / I know that love will lead us / And find a way to bring me to you”. Not at all…

  4. As a band geek this warms my heart. I like your picks and some others mentioned here, in particular “Poor Unfortunate Souls” which to me is one of the best villain songs ever. But for my money I would rank the following among my favorites. Some for nostalgia and some because I think they are beautiful orchestrations. So in no particular order:

    1) Step in Time – Mary Poppins. It is my favorite sequence in the movie and probably one of the best choreographed. The painting sequence gets more attention but this moment makes me smile every time.

    2) Chim Chimmery – Mary Poppins Dick VanDyke is haunting in this melody. I loved it as a child and like a fine wine it has only gotten better with age.

    3) Out There -Hunchback of Notre Dame this opening number from the lesser of the movie canon is worth it’s weight in gold. Beautiful lyrics soaring orchestration and an innocence in the voice work from Tom Hulce.

    4) Human Again – Beauty & the Beast. I am among those who were thrilled when this number was given a second life not merely on stage but in the remastered film.

    5)just Around the Riverbend – Pocahontas. I love everything about his song and of the Disney canon of girl breaks out in song declaring her independence this one is my favorite.

    6) Poor Unfortunate Souls as stated above

    7) Baby Mine – Dumbo. I can’t stand this movie but I love this song. It is the perfect parent child melody.

    8) I Won’t Say I’m in Love -Hercules. I adore the syncopated undertone of this song love Susan Egans voice on it and the whole doo wop feel.

    9) beauty & the Beast It is the quintessential song it stands the test of time and is the gold standard for musical storytelling.

  5. I’m finally getting around to commenting on this now that I’m not so busy!

    I love so many Disney songs that it’s always hard to choose just a few! I love all the ones you’ve listed here. Beauty and the Beast, A Whole New World, Circle of Life, I’ll Make a Man Out of You, Go the Distance, and Belle all make me think of my childhood and are some of my absolute favorites. Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast were some of my favorite movies as a kid so those songs naturally have stuck with me through time as ones that I will probably always love.

    Some other Disney songs that I really enjoy are Friend Like Me [Aladdin], I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) [Hercules], I See the Light [Tangled], I Just Can’t Wait to Be King [Lion King], Be Our Guest [Beauty and the Beast], and Colors of the Wind [Pocahontas].

    Also, I feel like Disney movies have so many good things and bad things about them, and that often these days people focus only on the bad, but right now I kind of want to write about the amazing wonderful things Disney movies have taught me. So thanks for putting me in a positive mood!

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  7. I don’t know how I never commented on this. But I’m listening to my Disney playlist right now so better late then never, right? Disney songs were a staple of my childhood and teenage years, thanks to the Sing-A-Long video series and then the pop covers through the Disneymania series.

    1) When You Wish Upon a Star – This song is the quintessential Disney song to me. I love every version of it (though I admit I’m partial to NSYNC’s)

    2) Reflection – If Let It Go is all about embracing who you are, Reflection is the song before you get to that point. It was a song that I related to so much as a teenage girl who could never quite open up about who she was.

    3) I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) – This is just a fun song. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and the Jaime x Brienne video set to the song is one of my all time favorites.

    4) One Jump Ahead (reprise) – My favorite reprise from any Disney movie. It’s wistful and full of promise that Aladdin is more than the street rat everyone things he is.

    5) Can You Feel The Love Tonight – Both the movie version and Elton John’s full version have been favorites of mine forever.

    6) Let It Go – I loved this song before I ever saw Frozen. Idina Menzel’s voice is magnificent as always and the song has such a powerful message about accepting and being who you are. It’s a theme touched on in a lot of Disney movies (and is highly represented in this list of favorites) and I love that it became such a hit.

    7) Part of Your World – You’re exactly right, this is the perfect song for teenage girls who can’t wait to get out and experience everything that life has to offer. The “bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand” line has always made me so emotional because of the power and longing behind the words.

    8) Something There – This is such a cute scene in the movie and the song feels so hopeful to me. It’s the start of their feelings for each other and the recognition that there is so much more than meets the eye.

    9) Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride – This is another one that just makes me smile. I have fun trying to pronounce the Hawaiian words and it just fits with the movie really well.

    10) A Whole New World – This is probably my favorite Disney song to sing. The scene that it is paired with and the composition are beautiful.

    And bonus favorites that come from other Disney-related sources:
    – Grim Grinning Ghosts
    – We’re All In This Together
    – Cinderella (The Cheetah Girls)
    – I 2 I
    – What Dreams Are Made Of

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