The Pop Break’s Favorite Disney Songs

With this week’s release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, we at The Pop Break got together and took up the extremely difficult task of selecting our favorite Disney songs. After a period of intense deliberation, twelve writers came up with their favorites and a small piece on what makes them so special. You’re welcome.

“The Circle of Life” The Lion King (Aaron Sarnecky)

I already talked about a candidate for my favorite Disney song in our Top 10 Movies of 1996 (“Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and I love a lot of the songs others have picked (Hercules FTW). If I have to pick another, I’d go with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King.
Its African background vocals are not dissimilar to the Latin ones that “Hellfire” uses. They were the idea of composer Hans Zimmer, who won his first and somehow only Oscar for this movie. Add them to the stirring lyrics about discovery and life’s never-ending cycle, and you’ve got a song that’s appropriately majestic. The song itself and the beautiful animation make this easily one of the greatest openings in cinematic history. I well up with emotion watching it.
Sir Elton John and Tim Rice knock it out of the park with this one.

“You’re Welcome” Moana (Nick Porcaro)

The biggest crime of this Oscar season wasn’t the La La LandMoonlight fiasco, or Amy Adams’ snub in the Best Actress category, or even Denzel Washington losing Best Actor to Casey Affleck. No, it was Disney’s insistence on pushing the pleasantly predictable Moana ballad “How Far I’ll Go” for consideration instead of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s show-stopping humblebrag “You’re Welcome” from the same film.

The Rock’s performance is revelatory—equally at ease and outsized, his lounge lizard croon meshes perfectly with demigod Maui’s island bro bravado. If that weren’t enough, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s writing chops shine through a dizzying mid-song rap. What’s not to love about the line “I killed an eel, I buried its guts! Sprouted a tree, now you’ve got coconuts!” making its way into a Disney flick?

“Be Our Guest” Beauty and The Beast (Anthony Toto)

The following words are dedicated to my fellow cast members and Disney family.  I have eagerly awaited this upcoming weekend since Beauty and the Beast holds a special place in my life. For nearly four years, I worked in the Magic Kingdom and my primary location was in the heart of Fantasyland. From start to finish, I witnessed the full reconstruction of Fantasyland and took great pride in having seen Beast’s Castle come to life.

A few of my restaurants were themed around Beauty and The Beast – Gaston’s Tavern and Mrs. Potts’ Cupboard. My favorite work outfit in Disney: I rocked a Gaston inspired costume and always felt in character. I frequently heard the melody for “Be Our Guest” whenever I walked around Fantasyland. Truth be told, I never felt sick of hearing it and its incredible hook would always get stuck in my head. Jerry Orbach who voiced “Lumiere” is my personal favorite character in 1991’s Beauty and The Beast. He truly gave the performance of a lifetime and there is such a charming broadway aesthetic in “Be Our Guest” that heightens the heart of this film. Even as the resident metalhead of The Pop Break, I could sing this song word for word and I am so excited to hear Ewan McGregor’s interpretation over this upcoming weekend.

“Part of Your World” The Little Mermaid (Sheena Fisher)

Everyone has their favorite Disney movie and soundtrack. But, what’s your favorite Disney song? In order to decide I started by choosing my favorite Disney film, The Little Mermaid. From there it got difficult to choose which to write about. The soundtrack has so many great songs. But, in the end I chose “Part of Your World.”

The song “Part of Your World” brings back fond memories of watching The Little Mermaid as a 6 year old. I was terribly shy and had no idea how to start conversations with people. Because of that, this song spoke to me. All I wanted was to be part of a group of friends. The song and story of Little Mermaid really helped me break out of that shy streak and talk to people to make friends. That’s why this song will always be the best to me.

“God Help the Outcasts” The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Josh Sarnecky)

The 90s are often considered the golden era of animated Disney movies, but there is one film that always seemed underappreciated to me.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably the darkest Disney movie out there (which is surprisingly saying something), but Hunchback has much more going for it than darkness.  The film contains a number of beautiful songs and moments that reveal the importance of resilient hope and combatting prejudice.  No song captures these elements better than “God Help the Outcasts.”

While there are many Disney songs I would consider beautiful and touching, Esmeralda’s major number is truly powerful.  Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics stand as a powerful indictment of xenophobia and racism (a rather fitting subject for our time), especially when they twist the institutions we rely on.  The song illustrates the fact that faith is truly a means of giving hope, strength, and assistance to the powerless, even though individuals like Judge Frollo may try to pervert religion for their own selfish desires.  Didn’t expect a Disney song to get so deep, did you?  Coupled with Heidi Mollenhauer’s moving vocals and Alan Menken’s typically fantastic score, “God Help the Outcasts” is an emotional experience that should speak to all viewers that believe in the need for social justice, regardless of their religiosity.

“Hakuna Matata” The Lion King (Anastasia Altomari)

Disney’s great stories are tales of heroes and heroines who always defeat the villain in the end, despite their trials along the way. Hakuna Matata represents this perfectly. “It means no worries for the rest of your days…” A meerkat and a warthog dance through their problems and craft a convincing argument that everything will be okay. Singing along to Timon and Pumbaa’s “problem-free philosophy” is the fastest way to better your next bad day. The smile-inducing melody and positive message make Hakuna Matata one of Disney’s best.

“Belle” Beauty and the Beast (Lisa Pikaard)

Picking a single Disney song to claim as the best is extremely difficult. While my heart was pulling me towards a Mary Poppins song, I decided to stick with animated and pick a song that is not only musically pleasing but literally sets the scene for an ENTIRE movie. From Beauty and the Beast, “Belle” is by and far the most well-crafted animated Disney tune.
“Belle” literally tells you what’s going to happen! It sets the scene of the judgemental town. Everyone sings about their opinions on Belle. Then, you find out that the most egomaniacal man has his “sights set” on Belle. You can tell by the lyrics that she’s completely in her own world, a world of intellect and fantasy. But there’s more! She tells the story of the prince in disguise and how she loves that story. Foreshadowing much? There are fun harmonies, storytelling, foreshadowing and more. How can this NOT be the best Disney song there is?!

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” The Little Mermaid (Chris Diggins)

It wouldn’t be a proper Disney song list without at least one villain song, and there are few better than Ursula’s ballad about her “charitable” work on behalf of the sea’s poor unfortunate souls. Like Ursula herself, the song is a delightfully over-the-top spectacle. Ursula’s voice actress Pat Carroll is clearly having a ton of fun hamming up Ursula’s declarations of innocence, and you can practically hear her salivate as she gets closer and closer to convincing Ariel to make a deal. It ramps up in intensity beautifully, starting out soft and slow before building up to a climax of Ursula belting out a

It ramps up in intensity beautifully, starting out soft and slow before building up to a climax of Ursula belting out a rapid-fire series of arguments to win Ariel over. Most importantly, this lyrical Faustian bargain perfectly represents exactly what a darker side of Disney should be: a fantastical promise to make all your dreams come true…for a price. With everything working together to make such a fun and incredible song, it’s not hard to see why Ariel fell for Ursula’s trap.

“I’ve Got a Dream” Tangled (Matt Nando Kelly)

Tangled sits at a weird place in the new animated Disney timeline. The Princess and The Frog was the first new one. Wreck it Ralph was the one for nerds. Frozen is the one that made a bazillion dollars. Zootopia is the one with the sloth. And Tangled’s lack of novelty, nerdiness, bazillions of dollars, and sloth often lead people to forget about Tangled altogether. It doesn’t help that it has some pretty forgettable music. The songs feel like they came out a very by-the-books musical. It is hard to remember the words or even tune to any of the Tangled songs.

Except one.

I’ve Got a Dream is Tangled’s saving grace and one of the best Disney songs since those waiters sang Happy Happy Birthday to Yzma all those years ago. It has an energy that’s lacking in the rest of Tangled’s music. The accordion helps set the song in a specific genre, which in my opinion is the key to great Disney music. But more than anything else, I’ve Got a Dream has heart. The best Disney/Pixar movies are about a character with an impossible dream. A doll that wants to be a real boy. A daughter that wants to fight for China. A rat that wants to be a chef. I’ve Got a Dream shows us that every hero, rogue, villain, and even every unnamed character in the background has a dream.

Also Gunter does interior design. Go Gunter.

“I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)”  Hercules (Melissa Jouben)

It’s no surprise to me that one of the most underrated songs in Disney’s entire catalog is from one of their most underrated films, Hercules. Sung from Meg’s point of view, it’s a song about the slow realization that you’re developing feelings for someone – and the bitter rejection of fact – that just about any girl can relate to. Meg’s realization that she is in love with Hercules mid-song is what pushes her away from being a servant of the film’s villain, Hades, and towards being a hero in her own right. What really helps this song transcend are the performances that continue to blow me away twenty years later. Susan Egan (who previously played Belle in the original Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast) is great, and the girl-group style backing vocals from the Muses are arguably even better.

Hercules chose a gospel route for a lot of the soundtrack, and this song takes a bit of that genre while infusing it with some 1950’s Motown. It’s a weird gamble to take in a children’s movie from the 90’s to throw in a song that sounds inspired by The Supremes, but it really pays off and the result is a song with more dimension and excitement that I’ve heard in some of the other songs that might make your top 10 lists. Plus it’s really fun to sing along to, which is one of the most important requirements of a good Disney song.

“Theme from Ducktales” Ducktales (Bill Bodkin)

This is not your typical Disney song. It’s not an iconic showstopper like “Circle of Life,” or “A Whole New World,” or an anthem like “Hakuna Mattatta” or “Hi Ho (It’s Off to Work We Go).” However, I truly believe the Ducktales Theme Song is the best song of all-time. You know why? Because you know every word to it. You know the music. You know the rhythm, the cadence. It evokes memories of the childhood joy and exuberance — of the times after school when you parked yourself in front of The Disney Afternoon. The song’s resonance never struck me until the brand new trailer for the Disney XD reboot with David Tennant as Scrooge McDuck. I literally found myself singing the entire song from start to finish, nearly jumping out of my desk chair to dance to it. I legitimately have not heard this song in 20 years. Yet, I still know it by heart. It’s perfect.

“Poor Jack” The Nightmare Before Christmas (Rachel Freeman)

Deciding on the best Disney song was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I mean, look at their track record. They have SO MANY amazing songs. But I finally decided on “Poor Jack” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Many people don’t realize that The Nightmare Before Christmas is, in fact, a Disney movie. It was produced and distributed by Touchstone, a company owned by Disney, because Disney was worried the movie was going to be too dark for kids. However, following its success, the movie was re-issued under the Disney brand and has been included in Disney marketing and other media (like Kingdom Hearts!).

Anyway, so people are probably wondering why I picked this song. It’s not the most famous song of the movie, it’s not super up-beat and catchy like “What’s This”, it’s not romantic like “Sally’s Song”, it’s different from pretty much every song in the movie. And that’s what makes it so great. “Poor Jack” takes place near the end of the movie, when Jack has basically ruined Christmas and was shot down in a firey explosion. Here we see Jack, in a graveyard, sprawled in the arms of an angel statue, his Santa suit torn to shreds. And here is when we see Jack lament over what he has done and the pain he has caused for himself and others. Here we see Jack broken, defeated. In an instant he goes from feeling sad for himself, to angry at the world, and then finally, he accepts that what happened, happened. He realizes that he made a mistake, but as he says, “I went and did my best, and by God, I really tasted something swell. And for a moment, why, I even touched the sky. And at least I left some stories they can tell”, he realizes that he gained from this tragedy. That is what makes this song special.

In my opinion, this is the only Disney song that truly captures this feeling of regret and then overcoming it. As lame as it may make me sound, I listened to this song on repeat following an event that happened in my own life. I felt lost, like I had wasted so much time and ended up failing. But this song reminded me that it was ok. I learned. I experienced this thing and even though it ended poorly, there was good that came from it. I learned more about myself and grew as a person. That is what this song teaches us. And it’s the only Disney song that does that. And that. to me, is what makes it the best.

“And for the first time since, I don’t remember when, I felt just like my old bony self again. And I Jack, the Pumpkin King – That’s right! I am the Pumpkin King!”  That’s right. You are you. You are stronger now.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.