Ranking: Every Disney Song From Worst to Best

on November 29, 2016, 7:30am
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This feature originally ran in April 2016. We’re updating our list to include songs from the recent release of Disney’s Moana.

Rank and File finds us sorting through an exhaustive, comprehensive body of work or collection of pop-culture artifacts. This time, we whistled while we sifted through every song from the Disney Animated Canon.

Things make a real, lasting mark on your brain when you’re a kid. That encompasses the fears, loves, insecurities, dreams, and other things one will likely describe to a therapist as an adult, but other things stick, too. Songs, especially. The impulse children have to press “play” over and over and over again can leave all kinds of wonderful and sometimes useless things stuck in your head. It’s part of why creating entertainment for children can be so meaningful, because with some talent and skill, it’s possible to give a young person a song they’ll carry with them for decade after decade. Well after they’ve stopped thinking about the works of A.A. Milne as anything but some stories they liked when they were young, one can hear the phrase “Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood” and know immediately what comes next, and what comes after that. That stuff lingers. It lasts. It matters.

That’s all a big part of why, for reasons beyond its massive size and reach and bank accounts, Disney matters. That’s not to diminish the very real cultural significance of the films in the Disney animated canon (that’s films released by Walt Disney Feature Animation, beginning with Snow White in 1937), many of which can (and do) appeal to adults as well as children. Beauty and the Beast is a stunning achievement in filmmaking, no matter the audience demographic. But because so many of us were introduced to many of their 55 films at a young age, those movies, and the songs they contain, have the potential to stay with a person for a lifetime. The relationship one has to those songs and movies may change — spoiler: not all of them have aged well — but they’re far from easily forgotten.

Why dig into this catalog? Well, because lists are fun, of course. But it’s also worthwhile to take a spin on the carousel and head back in time, revisiting characters and melodies first encountered at a young age. It’s valuable to then, while your mind remembers what it’s like to love something so unabashedly, explore some other stories and songs you missed. Writing a list like this one can be a hell of an experience, as can reading one — and given the number of YouTube videos awaiting you, dear reader, it could also be a hell of an experience for your browser, so you might want to let the poor thing load a page at a time.

Beyond all that stuff, they also write some damn good songs, and great music is never a waste of time. Disney has employed some legendary composers and lyricists, from the powerhouse team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, to the Sherman Brothers, who wrote many, many songs that millions of people know by heart. It can’t be said that every single film has at least one musical gem, if only because a few have no songs at all. But most of them do. Remember Home on the Range? Neither did we. That thing’s got a few great, little tunes hidden away.

It’s also important to explore the stuff that helped to shape us as people, and our society as a whole. There’s some really racist shit in this list — some of those songs are still great songs; some are the kind of garbage it’s easy to dismiss. There are a lot of really restrictive ideas about gender — do you have any idea how many songs in the Disney catalog romanticize housework? — and some extremely unrealistic depictions of love and romance (again, see your therapist). But there are also songs that inspire, challenge, and provoke thought. On reflection, that one scary song from Beauty and the Beast isn’t just scary, but illustrates the danger of a mob mentality and was written by a man dying of AIDS just as the ‘80s were being ushered out the door. Yes, it’s frightening, and it serves the plot. But it does more, because art can be both things. To a child, one story. To an adult, perhaps many stories in one. One thing’s for sure: There may be 55 films, but the stories are countless.

So here they are, all the songs in the Disney animated canon, from Aladdin to Zootopia and including several new tunes from Moana. If Disney transformed a song in any way, from giving an old melody new lyrics (The Lion King’s “The Hula Song”) to creating a whole new work, it’s included. Here’s hoping there’s at least one new gem waiting for you in here or one priceless tune you didn’t even realize you remembered. It’s OK to sing along. No one’s watching. Just follow the bouncing ball.

–Allison Shoemaker
Staff Writer

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