Everyone loves Disney, and there’s an entire spectrum of reason why. From busting out Oscar-worthy films on a regular basis to remaking classics that are (usually) well received, Disney is not just a giant in the filmmaking industry ⏤ it’s the king. One of the many things that make the company’s films so memorable and just plain fantastic is the music that comes along with them. It’s impossible, after all, to separate “Bibbide-Bobbide-Boo” from Cinderella, “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas, and “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book.
One of the reasons why Disney music has been so well-received is because of the star power backing so many of the animated films the company has produced. From Phil Collins (Tarzan, Brother Bear) to Elton John (The Lion King), there’s no question why these movies are so successful. Of course, you can’t talk about the success of Disney music without mentioning the icon that is Alan Menken. Menken has written songs for over 16 Disney feature films, including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, and Tangled. It’s safe to say that without Menken, Disney wouldn’t be where it is today.
Disney continues to break down barriers and records when it comes to its animated films, and most recently, Lin Manuel-Miranda has proven that with the success of Encanto and his chart-topping song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” From The Lion King to Frozen, the House of Mouse has given us some of the best songs in film history, so without further ado, let’s dive into the best of all time.
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” – Encanto (2021)
Even though this song is only a few months old at the time of this writing, it’s already breaking Disney records. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is the entertaining song sung by the family members at Encanto’s center about the all-seeing but currently missing Uncle Bruno. No one will talk about him, but they’ll certainly sing about him. The verses each character sings ⏤ all of which reveal something about how Bruno affected their lives while also furthering their various subplots ⏤ fits them to a T and humorously reveals more about the complete mystery that is Bruno Madrigal.
The best part of the song comes at the end, when all of the family members sing their various verses at the same time. Each character repeats their previous verse, and while the mashup of all of them together is chaotic, it’s also amazing (and ironic) to hear them collectively sing about Bruno when they’re not supposed to be. Since the song is still so new, it’s hard to say whether “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is really THAT good or if it’s just at the forefront of our minds, but the fact that it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 ⏤ not to mention the fact that we still can’t get it out of our heads ⏤ makes it an easy choice for this list.
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” – The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King is a Disney classic, and with a collection of unforgettable songs by Sir Elton John, it would be a crime not to have at least one of his contributions on here. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” has a fun-loving and adventurous undertone that sets up the entire film even if Simba’s definition of what it means to be a king is far from what he ultimately learns about his destiny. Zazu, Mufasa’s right-hand hornbill, is in charge of Simba and Nala for the day, but the two want no part of his plans (what kid would?). From the two cubs jumping around and dancing shamelessly on the backs of other animals to finally ditching Zazu and making a break for the Elephant Graveyard, there’s plenty of stimuli for the eyes and ears alike in this catchiest of tunes this side of “Hakuna Matata.”
“Friend Like Me” – Aladdin (1992)
Disney’s Aladdin is a classic fan-favorite with many memorable songs on its soundtrack. “Friend Like Me” is an obvious standout, largely because of the inimitable talent who brought the Genie to life in the film. Robin Williams added his signature comedic flair to every inch of the song, making it not only unmistakably his, but one that’s still as funny to watch as it is a joy to hear. He capitalized on his ability to do impressions of other characters and celebrities by incorporating them into every verse, which makes the song humorous throughout and moves it along to the point that it feels shorter than most show-stopping numbers. Its good-natured humor and flashy presentation make us instantly love the Genie, and the song also does a tremendous job of setting up what both Aladdin and the Genie ultimately need in their lives: a friend.
“Why Should I Worry?” – Oliver & Company (1988)
One of Disney’s most underrated movies of all time is undoubtedly Oliver & Company, the 1988 film about an orphaned kitten who winds up having to choose between living life on the streets or in a gorgeous apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City (decisions, decisions). It features adorable animals, excellent music, and Billy Joel as the voice of Dodger, a streetwise mutt who tricks the title kitten into helping him get food. In his song “Why Should I Worry?,” Dodger explains the streets of NYC to young Oliver, who is still new to the harsh realities of the city.
Joel naturally sang the song, which is as much of an ode to NYC as it is an explanation of who Dodger is as a character. He’s street smart as opposed to book smart, unlike Jenny, the young rich girl who ultimately meets Oliver and wants to keep him as her own. Dodger’s song is one of survival and also shows how his positive and carefree outlook on life helps him navigate life on the streets. It’s the beginning of a string of lessons Dodger teaches Oliver that ultimately help him get out of some sticky situations and decide which life is the one for him.
“Show Yourself” – Frozen II (2019)
The Frozen hype began in 2013 and continued six years later when Frozen II was released. Though many fans consider the first film to be the superior of the two, there’s no way to make a list of the best Disney songs of all time without including one of the most emotional ones on its epic roster. We’re not talking about “Let it Go,” which is another obvious classic and a true show-stopper in every sense of the word, but rather “Show Yourself,” a heartfelt song that shows Elsa finally coming to terms with herself after the events of both films.
While “Let it Go” finds Elsa throwing her gloves away and letting her powers soar for the first time in years, “Show Yourself” concludes the emotional journey that Elsa found herself on the moment she decided to be who she was despite whatever everyone else in Arendelle thought. The song is stunning both visually and audibly, and the lyrics are gorgeous, particularly when Elsa and her mother harmonize upon seeing each other again. From Elsa riding the horse across the water to the huge projection of her mother and all of their memories along the wall, it’s a spectacle to behold and a true testament to Disney’s powerful storytelling.
“Out There” – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of Quasimodo, a deformed man who has been trapped inside the bell tower of the Notre Dame Cathedral his whole life by the evil Claude Frollo. All Quasimodo dreams of is a life among the other French citizens, and his song “Out There” is a beautiful and uplifting ode to finally realizing that dream, even if only for a day. With lyrics like, “Old and bent, I won’t care. I’ll have spent one day out there,” how can you not root for Quasimodo to get the chance to spend some time amongst the people he’s spent his whole life watching? It’s hopeful, not only for him, but for anyone who dreams of doing something that, to some, might seem small, but to others would be an absolute dream come true. That’s what Disney is, after all ⏤ the unapologetic granter of dreams.
“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan (1998)
Mulan is an absolute fan-favorite and understandably so. It of course follows Mulan, a young woman who dresses like a man in order to take her ailing father’s place in the war against the invading Huns. While the movie boasts many wonderful songs ⏤ “Reflection,” anyone? ⏤ the best one has to be “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” Sung by Shang, Mulan’s eventual love interest and the leader of the soldiers, the song is about whipping the new group of soldiers into shape so that they can defeat the enemy once and for all. Initially in the song, Mulan can’t keep up with the men ⏤ who aren’t exactly in the greatest of shape themselves ⏤ and Shang begins to fear that they won’t be able to defend China. He even tells Mulan to pack up and go home at one point! Rude! However, we soon see Mulan find smarter ways to do things, like ingeniously tying heavy weights together and using them to help her climb a tall pole and retrieve the arrow that Shang shot up there just before he burst into song.
By the end of the number, every soldier-in-training has become a better version of themselves. It’s an inspirational song with an amazing chorus and stellar vocals from Donny Osmond, who provided the singing voice for Shang. The irony of the song, of course, lies in the fact that Mulan is training to become “a man” when she is, in fact, a woman. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that she’s able to do everything the rest of the men can do just as well, nay, better. It’s just one of the many reasons why we continue to watch her story and listen to its incredible soundtrack.
“I Won’t Say I’m in Love” – Hercules (1997)
Hercules has seen a recent spike in popularity and, honestly, it’s about time. The music is quite simply extraordinary, as are the characters and the colorful animation that brings them to life. One of the most memorable characters in the film is Megara, Hercules’ love interest who is secretly working for Hades against her will. Unlike most female characters before her, Meg is an independent woman who has no interest in falling in love after already having her heart broken once, and the song she sings about it has been a fan-favorite for over two decades. As she finds herself beginning to fall in love with Hercules, she laments her history with wrong guys, claiming that Hercules can’t possibly be any different.
Thanks to the five Muses who sing backup to Meg for the duration of the song (which totally makes it soar), she slowly begins to realize that maybe Hercules actually is a decent guy and that she does deserve to fall in love again. The juxtaposition of Meg singing about how she won’t fall in love again and the Muses trying to convince her that she already has makes it one worth playing on repeat and is easily one of Menken’s best.
“I See the Light” – Tangled (2010)
Tangled was ahead of its time for both its 3D animation style and fresh take on the “princess” love story. In many fans’ opinions, Tangled should’ve gotten the same hype Frozen did as well as a sequel. That said, Tangled wasn’t completely unsuccessful. Rapunzel is one of Disney’s most popular princesses and it’s the first movie to get a spinoff TV series since the ’90s. “I See the Light” is a spectacle of sight and sound not only because it’s beautiful and magical, but because the sight of the glowing lanterns and the flowers perfectly placed in Rapunzel’s braid are absolutely breathtaking.
The scene itself is just as amazing as the song the two lovers sing when they realize that they’ve found a new dream in each other. It’s filled with blossoming love, the feeling of dreams coming true, and newfound happiness ⏤ everything a Disney song should have. We’re once again thankful to Alan Menken for writing a song that we ultimately watch the entire movie all over again for, one that makes us long for boat rides on calm lakes in front of gorgeous lantern shows beside our soulmate, even if he is a bit of a thief.
“Strangers Like Me” – Tarzan (1999)
While the story of Tarzan is a little suspicious (the guy was raised by monkeys), Disney did a good job of not making it too weird by at least giving him the ability to communicate with them. Regardless of the plot, though, Phil Collins was in charge of the soundtrack and absolutely crushed it. Every song on the Tarzan soundtrack is a hit, but the best has to be “Strangers Like Me.” It plays when Jane is first teaching Tarzan about humans and quickly transitions into Tarzan showing Jane the beautiful jungle that he has always called his home.
The song’s lyrics are beautiful, albeit in a slightly tragic way. “Something’s familiar ’bout these strangers like me” reminds us that Tarzan is a human who doesn’t know it quite yet and that he’s never known about his biological parents’ deaths as a result of spending his youth in the jungle. The pinnacle song finds both characters learning new things through each other, and Disney’s groundbreaking animation style in the film ⏤ which often finds Tarzan gliding around on tree branches like a professional surfer ⏤ makes it a pleasure to watch and listen to.
“Be Our Guest” – Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast was a triumph for Disney and really stepped up the game for the brand’s music. It was also the first Disney movie to be adapted into a Broadway musical because of how beloved it was, which is largely thanks to its music. The show-stopping number “Be Our Guest” obviously earns a place on this list simply because of how awestruck it leaves the audience the first time they witness it. Plates and cups dancing in joyful unison? A suave candelabra leading a kickline? Much like Belle, whose jaw drops when the cutlery begins dancing, the audience experiences a thrill when this scene plays. It’s the first thing to make Belle smile after she gets trapped by the Beast in his dark castle, and what a way to be cheered up!
It even reminds the audience that all of these magical objects are actually humans who have been stuck in their current forms thanks to a spell that they hope Belle will ultimately break by falling in love with the Beast. Even if the odds of that happening are unlikely at this point in the story, “Be Our Guest” shows Belle how far a little kindness can go, a kindness that she ultimately extends to the Beast after he’s viciously attacked by wolves in the woods.
“A Whole New World” – Aladdin (1992)
Another of Disney’s absolute classics is Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World.” It’s the moment when Jasmine and Aladdin really fall for each other, and the fact that they’re flying on a magic carpet against the starry backdrop of Agrabah when they discover their love for each other is stunning. Not only that, but the lyrics and harmonies in the song are gorgeous ⏤ instantly memorable and poignantly written. Not only are Jasmine and Aladdin physically discovering a whole new world all around them, but they’re also finding it in each other despite their very different backgrounds. Jasmine wants a life of adventure outside of the palace walls and Aladdin wants to rise above his street-rat status, hence why he wished to become a prince. It’s a gorgeous song all-around and one of the most memorable Disney has ever produced. Alan Menken continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.
“Almost There” – The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Tiana is one of the most underrated Disney princesses of all time, as is her movie, The Princess and the Frog. A huge step in the right direction for Disney, Tiana was the first Black princess to grace our screens and we loved her instantly. She’s charming, hardworking, and knows what she wants in life, which is a refreshing stance for any “princess” story to take. In “Almost There,” Tiana tells her mother about her dream of owning a restaurant and becoming successful all on her own before worrying about things like meeting a man and starting a family. She has big dreams and knows that all of the hard work she’s put in over the course of her life is helping her get that much closer to reaching them.
While Tiana does ultimately have to learn to take some time to enjoy the fruits of her labors, her fierce work ethic is what makes her the most admirable Disney princess of all. Not only that, but she’s not actually a princess! Even though her best friend Charlotte lives in a gorgeous New Orleans mansion, Tiana lives in a small house in a tiny community filled with other hard workers. It’s only after she meets Prince Naveen and they go on the biggest ⏤ smallest? ⏤ adventure of their lives that she broaches possible “princess” territory. Basically, there’s so much to love about Tiana and her story, and we’re thrilled that she’s getting her own show on Disney Plus because we are not done with her greatness just yet.
“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” – Toy Story (1995)
Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story and its many sequels were phenomenal successes for both companies. Randy Newman’s hit song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” has become a staple of the franchise as well as at the Disney parks. It’s a song almost everyone has heard at least once, and the chorus is so memorable and nostalgic that depending on when and where you hear it, it might make you shed a tear or two (or many). The song is about friendship, plain and simple, which is arguably the biggest theme that the Toy Story films explore. There aren’t many songs that focus on sincere friendships like the one Buzz and Woody cultivate throughout the series, but this one makes you want your bestie right there with you when you’re listening to it.
The song is also strongly associated with the character of Andy, who is best friends with Woody until Buzz comes along. Anyone who’s seen Toy Story 3 ⏤ sob ⏤ knows exactly what kind of ugly cries this song ultimately leads us to as the series progresses. In many ways, the Newman theme is the heart and soul of Toy Story, appearing whenever the characters take that thoughtful look around at their lives and know that even though things will inevitably change more and more as time goes on, at least they’ve always got friends in each other.
“Part of Your World” – The Little Mermaid (1989)
Last but certainly not least, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include one of Disney’s best heroine songs on the list. Written by ⏤ surprise! ⏤ Alan Menken, “Part of Your World” was an instant hit with Disney fans and kids alike. It perfectly illustrates Ariel’s desire to have human things and to be able to walk among them above water, simultaneously showcasing her naïveté regarding her father’s warnings and headstrong nature when it comes to her dreams. It’s also fun, as non-merfolk, to see how in awe Ariel is of all of the human “treasures” she’s collected over time. Her cavern of wonders is something that might seem silly to us, but to her it catalogues every inch of her dream. Ariel is one of the most relatable Disney princesses and her most memorable song is as inspiring as it is hopeful, making us wish that one day she’ll finally learn how to properly use a dinglehopper.
As much as we wanted to, we couldn’t include every Disney song on this list. That said, there were some that were so close to being a part of its world that we just had to include them as honorable mentions:
- “Friends on the Other Side” – The Princess and the Frog
- “A Star is Born” – Hercules
- “When Will My Life Begin?” – Tangled
- “Be Prepared” – The Lion King
- “Let it Go” – Frozen
- “Perfect Isn’t Easy” – Oliver and Company
- “Reflection” – Mulan
- “One of Us” – The Lion King II
- “Colors of the Wind” – Pocahontas
- “Lost in the Woods” – Frozen II
No matter which Disney song is your favorite, one thing is clear: Disney’s music is king, and we’re beyond thankful for the many dazzling places each and every song has brought us to.