When you’re a child, you’re told of magical adventures of faraway worlds where even your wildest dreams are always within reach. Growing up, the miraculous tales of princesses, warriors, and anthropomorphic animals build inside us. We believe that anything is attainable if we have the right mindset. And while our parents are partially to blame, the truth for many of us is that it was Disney who truly instilled us with that magical sense of wonder.
Apart from all the fantasy worlds, historical epics, and grand adventures we’ll carry with us for a lifetime, there’s also a bombardment of catchy tunes which kept us coming back to our favorite Disney films. They’re the reason we bought all the soundtracks and memorized the lyrics. Every song was catchy, and every one was part of a critical moment for the characters singing in unison.
We’ve searched through Disney’s catalog of hits, looking for those numbers which resonated the most with audiences. For each reader, the answers will be different. There’s no clear-cut winner, but there are those songs which we feel will always be sung. So sing along if you know them as we count down the 20 Best Disney Songs Of All Time.
Before we begin, let’s first address all those toe-tapping, heart-wrenching and smile-inducing numbers which barely missed the cut. With such an exhaustive list of possibilities, we couldn’t include every single song from Disney’s vault. So as a last resort, we’ve included a few extras which deserve some recognition for staying so memorable — even if they didn’t quite crack our top 20.
“Be Our Guest” – Beauty and the Beast
Although it’s not the only song from this 1991 feature to appear on our list, “Be Our Guest” is a Broadway-inspired show-stopper that stands on its own.
“Friend Like Me” – Aladdin
Performed by the late Robin Williams in his widely acclaimed role as the Genie, “Friend Like Me” is a comedy song unlike any other, infused with pop culture references and sung in a way only Williams could pull off.
“Go the Distance” – Hercules
One boy’s plea to find his inner strength and his place in the world became a mantra for all. “Go the Distance” isn’t only a motivational anthem, it shows that deep inside, we’re all destined for greater things.
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
The newest song to get a shout-out on our list, “How Far I’ll Go” is a call to exploration for the adventurers in us all, showcasing one girl’s desires to see the world as her desires compete with the love she has for her family.
“I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” – The Lion King
A comical take on youthful arrogance and impatience, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is an upbeat dance number about one young cub’s naive desire to grow up before he has the chance to learn his craft.
20. “Baby Mine” – Dumbo
An endearing tale of an outcast shunned for being different, Dumbo emerged as a tearful story of one small elephant’s perseverance in the face of great ridicule. Born with unusually large ears for his size, Dumbo is teased by the other elephants of the travelling circus where he lives. After an incident involving Dumbo’s mother gets out of hand, she is deemed mad and locked away, leaving the titular character to fend for himself. Befriended by Timothy Q. Mouse, Dumbo becomes an overnight sensation despite his overwhelming distaste for his job as the newest circus attraction.
After being turned into a clown in his latest act, Dumbo expresses great sorrow about his new position. In an attempt to cheer him up, Timothy Q. Mouse takes him to see his mother, who’s locked inside a nearby circus trailer. Once there, his mother cradles him inside her trunk where she comforts him with a lullaby. Recorded by Betty Noyes with lyrics by Ned Washington, “Baby Mine” is a cheerful reminder of a mother’s nurturing love for her son. Despite the melancholy moments that precede the song, the ballad reminds Dumbo that nothing can come between him and those he truly cares about.
19. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – Mary Poppins
The only live-action song to crack our list, the fun to say and harder to spell “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” had children singing along as they tripped over the pronunciation of the titular word. Although Mary Poppins would describe it as “something to say when you have nothing to say,” its origins date as far back as the 1940s and can be roughly translated as an expression of excited approval. Written by brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, the two explained the song as a nonsense form of slang from their childhoods intended to sound obnoxious.
In the film, Mary Poppins uses her magic to transport the Banks children and her friend Bert into a drawing. Once inside, she enchants a group of carousel horses and participates in a horse race. After her victory, she’s surrounded with reporters who suggest that there are no words to describe how she must feel after the win. She breaks out into dance as she tells the crowd of the only word which can explain her overwhelming emotions. Popularized by the polysyllabic rhythm and utter ridiculousness of the tune, the song has stuck with audiences more than fifty years later and sounds just as precocious as ever.
18. “Cruella De Vil” – 101 Dalmatians
Disney has a long lineage of evil movie characters, but perhaps none are as sinister as Cruella De Vil. A pun on the words ‘cruel’ and ‘devil,’ she was a character without remorse who appeared manic underneath her false glamour. Becoming rich off her extensive collection of fur coats, she sets her sights on the Radcliffe family, whose dalmatians will soon give birth to more puppies. When the family rejects her offer to purchase the puppies, she vows to exact vengeance on the songwriting couple and steal the dogs from underneath their noses.
A rather short song with a memorable hook, “Cruella De Vil” is sung by Roger Radcliffe to his wife to paint a portrait of the menacing nature of the movie’s antagonist. Comparing the deviously extravagant De Vil to a vampire bat and an inhuman beast, Roger’s description of the cigarette-smoking, black and white haired villain is playful but fair. As a former school friend of De Vil, Roger makes light of his wife’s relationship with the character, but when two thieves manage to successful steal the puppies from their dogs Pongo and Perdita, the words prove to be an accurate depiction of the evil heiress (who we can’t w
17. “Kiss the Girl” – The Little Mermaid
When it comes to romance, it can take a lot to get everything just right. Like any successful first date, the end goal is to seal the night with a kiss. Delivered in a calypso style, “Kiss the Girl” is The Little Mermaid‘s ballad of encouragement, a song calling for Prince Eric to kiss the red-headed Ariel before it’s too late. In the film, the young princess makes a deal with the wicked sea witch Ursula to be transformed into a human. Only with true love’s kiss will Ariel be able to stay human and escape the tediousness of her everyday life.
Performed by actor Samuel Wright as the Jamaican crab Sebastian, “Kiss the Girl” begins with a moonlit boat ride. As Eric rows, Ariel is distracted by various swamp animals failing to set the mood. With a little percussion from a group of turtles and a symphony of strings from some grasshoppers, Sebastian gets the song going. Tempted by the words echoing in his ears, Eric is reminded that there’s something special about Ariel. As he leans in to break Ursula’s spell, the boat tilts over, ending the song, but not before igniting a spark between the couple.
16. “You’ll Be In My Heart” – Tarzan
Taking home the golden statuette for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, Phil Collins provided a touching moment of unconditional love in 1999’s Tarzan. Following one young boy’s journey into adulthood living among the apes of the forest, Tarzan is shown as a young baby being comforted by his adoptive gorilla mother Kala as she sings to him and tells him not to cry. As he is calmed by her soothing words, Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” reverberates her sentiments. The moment signals the beginning of Tarzan’s upbringing into the family he would call his own, and it shows that home is where the unbreakable bonds of the heart lie.
Although he was originally contacted due to his history as a drummer for the band Genesis, Collins’ most memorable contribution to the Tarzan soundtrack would lie outside of the film’s strong jungle beats. A celebration of two very different backgrounds coming together to coalesce, the up-tempo ballad shows that Tarzan’s love for his mother has nothing to do with his species as a human being. There is no divide when it comes to compassion, and no song has ever been more heartfelt in its meaning.
15. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan
Released during the final years of the ’90s Disney Renaissance, Mulan was a display of female empowerment that flipped traditional gender roles on their heads. Based on the legendary woman warrior who took her aging father’s place in the Imperial Army, Mulan trains to battle the Huns and their ruthless leader, Shan Yu. The song performed during the training montage, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” serves as the turning point of Mulan’s transition, establishing the character as a soldier capable of facing the challenge ahead.
Performed by Donny Osmond, the song is sung by Captain Li Shang during a seemingly futile attempt to sculpt his clumsy fighters into men. Unbeknownst to him, his top recruit (and later love interest) is a woman in disguise. As Mulan fails to complete her tasks, she’s shown to slowly excel over time, besting everyone in her class. In the climactic end to the song, she scales a tall pole to retrieve an arrow lodged into the top, becoming the only one to do so. With the force of a great typhoon and the strength of a raging fire, she overcomes the odds to bring honor to her father and to women everywhere. If there’s a Disney film more deserving of a live-action movie adaptation than this, we’re unaware of it.
14. “Hakuna Matata” – The Lion King
A Swahili phrase commonly spoken in the countries of Zanzibar and Kenya, “Hakuna Matata” roughly translates to “no worries”, and for Timon and Pumbaa, it’s a way of life. Written by Tim Rice with a musical score by Elton John, the song provides an upbeat moment shortly after the passing of Simba’s father Mufasa. At the behest of his sinister uncle, Simba flees the kingdom and narrowly escapes the pack of hyenas on his tail before passing out from exhaustion. Waking up to the singing meerkat and warthog, the two comical characters teach the young cub to leave his troubles behind.
Without a family to turn to, Simba starts his life anew under the tutelage of his newfound friends. Through song, he learns of how Pumbaa was ostracized from the rest of society because of his excessive flatulence. He acquires a taste for grubs, though it takes some getting used to. But first and foremost, he evolves from a young cub to a stalwart lion who hasn’t lost touch with his heritage. The song serves as the moral backbone for the film as the philosophy rings true throughout, following the titular character as he restores life to the Pride Lands.
13. “Belle” – Beauty and the Beast
The first song to be featured in Beauty and the Beast, “Belle” incorporates elements of Broadway and musical theater into a large scale, operetta-style production number to introduce the audience to the film’s first central protagonist, a book smart young woman who values knowledge over love. As the quintessential ingenue at the start of the picture, Belle is a nonconformist who sings about growing bored of the everyday provincial life to which she’s grown accustomed. Desiring something exciting like in the books she’s read, she wanders the town square, where everyone balks at her willingness to change.
Accompanied by a mid-tempo score, Paige O’Hara sings as Belle while American actor Richard White makes an appearance as the conceited villain Gaston, who hopes to marry the Disney princess. Cleverly casting Belle as the yearning, independent heroine next to the obnoxious Gaston who fawns over her, the song foreshadows the story ahead as all the villagers chime in with a show of warning about departing the idyllic life inside the town. Soon, Belle will believe she should have heeded their advice, but it will be her own grand sense of adventure that wins out in the end.
12. “Under the Sea” – The Little Mermaid
No goals worth achieving come easily. For every dream, there is a person imploring you to take the easy way out. Like Pinocchio before her, Ariel wanted to live within the human world. She wanted to dance upon the shores and experience all the stories that came with the artifacts she collected from the life above. But most of all, she want to know true love. She refused to submit to a mundane existence, but before she could walk on land, someone would have something to say about it.
The second song sung by King Triton’s loyal servant Sebastian, “Under the Sea” is a cheerful ode to life in the ocean. Singing of a newt that plays the flute and a carp that plays the harp, the frivolity of the lyrics shines beneath the Afro-Caribbean sounds as the well-intentioned red crab tries to squash the hopes of the film’s protagonist. Erring on the side of caution, the song is Sebastian’s plea to prevent Ariel from traveling outside the familiarity of her home. The music does little to dissuade the heroine, whose heart is already set on exploring the outside world, but the tune provides a satisfyingly upbeat moment nonetheless.
11. “I Wan’na Be Like You” – The Jungle Book
A lively adventure in the style of Disney’s earliest films, The Jungle Book was a lighthearted adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same name. Following the orphaned Mowgli in the jungles of India, the story shows him grow from an infant to a young boy while being raised as a young cub in a pack of wolves. When the bengal tiger Shere Khan threatens his safety, Mowgli sets out to find the man-village from which he came.
The first number from this 1967 film to appear on our list, “I Wan’na Be Like You” is a jazz-inspired melody performed by the Italian-American singer Louis Prima. When Mowgli is kidnapped by a group of monkeys, he’s taken to their leader, King Louie. As the king of the swingers, Louie has reached his peak in the monkey kingdom and recruits Mowgli to help him become more human. Using scat singing to voice his desires in a Dixieland-like style, Louie tells Mowgli he wants to walk and talk like him. He asks for his assistance in making fire like the men of the village, and plays out the song in a typical high-swinging, toe-tapping fashion.
10. “Colors of the Wind” – Pocahontas
Although it’s recognized today as one of the most aesthetically pleasing Disney animations from the studio’s Renaissance period, Pocahontas quickly developed a reputation as one of the studio’s most controversial films as well. Distorting the history of its characters for a more child-friendly adaptation, the story received backlash from the Powhatan Renape Nation, which accused the titular Disney princess of relying too heavily on the kindness of her male companions, including that of her love interest, John Smith.
Despite the negativity surrounding some of the movie’s thematic elements, the film gained popularity due to its startling depiction of nature and its comments on Native American culture and its near-extinction after the birth of American colonialism. During a critical moment of the movie, Pocahontas sings to John Smith about the wonders of nature, including the spirits which reside in all living things. “Colors of the Wind” became an anthem about the harmonious nature of the shared world which embraces all races of people. Sharing in the riches of their surroundings, Pocahontas teaches Smith all the things he doesn’t yet know about the world, including the things we rarely take the time to stop and appreciate.
9. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” – The Lion King
The most romantic song of Disney’s 1994 box office sensation, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” shot to the top of the music charts, topping off at number four in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Another collaboration between composer Elton John (who sang his own version of the song) and lyricist Tim Rice, the love ballad was first intended to be performed entirely by Simba and Nala, but was later changed when the directors thought the couple hadn’t earned the moment yet. Instead, singer Kristle Edwards took over singing duties off-screen while Simba, Nala, Timon, and Pumbaa all shared brief lines throughout.
Reunited with Nala years after his departure, Simba rescues Timon and Pumbaa from the hungry lioness. Urging him to return home, the two share an intimate embrace while drinking at a nearby pond. The music plays overhead in a sensual harmony as Simba playfully jumps into the water, dragging Nala in with him. For Timon and Pumbaa, the relationship means the end of their carefree trio, but for Simba, it’s a return to a destiny not yet fulfilled. The young cub has crossed the threshold into adulthood, and the next step in his journey begins with a love story.
8. “Let It Go” – Frozen
Taking over the airwaves and permeating the minds of every small child across the globe, American actress and singer Idina Menzel went from a well-regarded Broadway actress to an overnight sensation thanks to her high-pitched vocals in Disney’s Frozen. Performing as the ostracized Queen Elsa, Menzel brought a heaping dose of empowerment to viewers with her liberating hit, “Let It Go.” Written by husband-and-wife duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the song became a call for independence for adolescent girls coping with familial pressures to act under traditional gender roles.
In the film, “Let It Go” is Elsa’s moment of departure from the societal expectations placed on her by her parents. From a young age, she’s had powers no one understood, the ability to control snow and ice. Now, in her climactic escape, she flees her home after spending many years locked away in a room. Deciding to live in solitude, she builds an ice castle for herself, and as the chorus rises with a booming emphasis, the message becomes clear: no one will dictate her future but her. With a resounding confidence, Elsa transforms into the best version of herself, and there’s no one to hold her back.
7. “The Bare Necessities” – The Jungle Book
The 2016 remake of The Jungle Book may have ditched the world of animation for a live-action fantasy complete with state of the art CGI, but the studio couldn’t resist the chance to pull out the old musical numbers for a modern day set of covers. While Bill Murray’s deadpan delivery and mellow voice would prove to be a perfect match for the jungle bum Baloo, no one could top the jazzy stylings of the singing bear from the original film.
Originally written for an earlier draft of the movie which was never produced, “The Bare Necessities” was the only song that carried over from the previous version of the script. Speaking to the character’s knack for letting his worries slip away, Baloo’s sentiments would later be reverberated in the Disney hit “Hakuna Matata.” A quintessential lesson in the Disney wheelhouse, this tune emphasizes the lifelong message that no one can search for something that isn’t there. Only when you learn to appreciate the simple things in life will you truly begin to accept the life you have. It may be an easy idea to follow, but it’s one people rarely take the time to admire.
6. “Part of Your World” – The Little Mermaid
The chef d’oeuvre of Disney “I want” songs, lyricist Howard Ashman came up with the concept of “Part of Your World” when reflecting on the story’s heroine. Like all good musicals before it, Ashman believed that The Little Mermaid should have at least one song which would serve as an inner diary of thoughts from the movie’s princess. The song was almost cut entirely from the finished film after a disastrous showing where kids were reportedly bored by the number, but after a second screening resulted in children mouthing the words and adults clapping in approval, the melody was saved from being scrapped.
Fueled by a powerhouse performance by Jodi Benson, “Part of Your World” is a down-tempo ballad that builds to a showstopping finish. As the sixteen-year-old daughter of King Triton looks upon her collection of human artifacts, she sings with her eyes fixed on the world above. Longing to be human, she wishes to live where the people are. A strikingly real portrait of a young girl, Benson’s voice adds a rawness to the song, giving a depth of eagerness to Ariel’s voice that makes for a genuine performance unlike any other.
5. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” – Toy Story
A technical leap in animation, the first all-CGI cartoon in history also happens to be the only Pixar film to crack our list. Written as a buddy comedy, Disney originally envisioned Toy Story as a musical where Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s bedroom would bust out into song. Instead, a compromise was struck, and Randy Newman was tapped to write all the film’s numbers which would play over the scenes.
Heard during the opening credits of the first film and later played throughout the rest of the series, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” would not only establish the relationship between Andy and his toys, but it would later be used to signify the end to their relationship as Andy entered early adulthood. Known for his satirical pop songs, Randy Newman’s deeply hoarse voice gets to the root of our childhood, looking back to a simpler time when a rag-doll cowboy was the only thing a young boy needed to have fun. Sadly, the song also serves as an epiphany for the toys that youth isn’t everlasting, and that in time, the child-like wonder of the imagination eventually fades away.
4. “A Whole New World” – Aladdin
Based on a Middle Eastern folk tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin came during Disney’s period of resurgence at the box office. Thanks to a wildly comical voiceover performance from Robin Williams, the film set a precedent for big name stars to lend their talents to animated pictures. With so many musical numbers to remember, the movie would also break ground with “A Whole New World,” becoming the first Disney song to win a Grammy for Song of the Year.
Befriending a blue genie after freeing him from a lamp, Aladdin uses his first of three wishes to become a prince in order to impress the alluring Princess Jasmine. Parading into the city as Prince Ali Ababwa, Jasmine isn’t amused by his boastful performance. In an attempt to make up for his bravado, he offers her a flight on his magic carpet. As the city shrinks beneath them, the stars above grow brighter. They sing together about the new world they’ll discover, echoing sentiments of love and adventure and overlapping each other’s vocals in perfect harmony. In their first touching moment, the two come together to coalesce as their unlikely relationship begins to blossom.
The recreation of the beloved duet will likely prove to be a make-or-break moment for the upcoming live-action adaptation.
3. “Beauty and the Beast” – Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale as old as time: love conquers all. Originally performed by Angela Lansbury in her role as Mrs. Potts, “Beauty and the Beast” would also be covered in a duet sung by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. The song would go on to receive many accolades, including an Academy Award nomination as well as nominations from the Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, but for the fans who remember their childhoods, it was the sweepingly poetic ballroom sequence that remained the most memorable.
Describing the relationship between Belle and the Beast in a hauntingly beautiful Broadway ballad, the theme comes to life in a colorfully constructed musical sequence. Serving as the centerpiece of the film, Belle appears in a lavish yellow ball gown where she meets the Beast, dressed in a royal blue and gold suit, at the center of the stairs. As Mrs. Potts serenades them, they waltz through the room as the camera sweeps through the space. In an intimate moment, the night sky is visible from the windows that surround them as the two get lost in the soaring blend of chord changes that capture the essence of their story.
2. “When You Wish Upon a Star” – Pinocchio
More than just another musical moment in an animated classic, “When You Wish Upon a Star” has become as iconic as Disney itself, becoming the central musical accompaniment to promote the studio’s cross-promotional platform. Although it was first popularized by Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio, the song would appear again in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the opening sequences for all the editions of the Walt Disney anthology television series. Today, the song continues to be used to promote the company’s many resorts and attractions, including the ships of the Disney Cruise Line and the many rides at various Disney theme parks.
Considered a crowning achievement in animated illustration, Pinocchio is a technical marvel which works its magic by expertly balancing its whimsy with thrilling displays of frightening perils that are as hypnotic as they are groundbreaking. “When You Wish Upon a Star” not only echoes the overarching theme of the film, but continues to embody the long-lasting belief that Walt Disney established when he first started his animation studio. No matter your ethnicity, creed or gender, wishes can come true — even if you’re a wooden puppet with hopes of someday becoming a real boy.
1. “Circle of Life” – The Lion King
Few opening scenes are as visually dazzling as the first frames of The Lion King. Beginning with a wonderfully hypnotic shot of the sun rising over the Pride Lands as a Zulu chant falls over the kingdom, the camera focuses in on the surplus of animals as they make their pilgrimage to Pride Rock, where Mufasa will soon present his newborn son to the world. In a celebration of life, both predator and prey alike march as a community to convene underneath the mountainous structure to witness the new heir of the land.
While the visuals are worthy of praise on their own, it was the opening music that struck the biggest chord. Composed by Elton John with lyrics by Tim Rice, “Circle of Life” mixes traditional African sounds with the uplifting voice of singer Carmen Twillie. Singing about the nature of all living animals, the song adheres to the ideology that all life must run its course and be treated with respect. As the words call out from above, the audience sees a new life begin, and as Simba learns the ways of his kingship, he too will adopt the philosophy handed down to him from all the lives which came before.
What do you think is the greatest Disney song of all time? Did your favorite make the cut? Sound off in the comments!
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