Best Disney Musical Numbers of All Time, Ranked

When you watch an animated movie from Disney, you aren’t just getting pretty pictures or absorbing something that can function as a handy babysitter. Chances are, you’re also experiencing a film that also delivered one of the most iconic musical numbers ever to grace the medium of filmmaking. Starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, projects from Walt Disney Animation Studios have regularly delivered grand musical numbers that wormed their way into people’s ears and hearts.

Such tunes have ranged from the simpler but emotionally potent ditties from the earliest works from Walt Disney to the more lyrically intricate works penned by artists like Howard Ashman and Lin Manuel-Miranda. Whatever era of the history of Walt Disney Animation Studios you’re looking at, you’re bound to discover enough remarkable songs to make the prospect of picking the greatest of these tunes an enormously challenging prospect. However, getting down to brass tacks and cracking the 15 best Disney Animation musical numbers allows one to appreciate how many details and much work goes into the toe-tapping set-pieces that have defined the reputation of Disney.

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15. “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” from The Great Mouse Detective

One doesn’t normally associate The Great Mouse Detective with Disney musical numbers because, well, it’s not a musical. But there are two parts in the film where characters do break into song. One is an inexplicable burlesque number (you read that right), and the other is a more fitting Disney villain song in the form of “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind.” A ditty about the nefarious Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), the song features all kinds of darkly humorous lines, including one referencing “the widows and orphans” Ratigan has drowned. The unabashedly ridiculous lines paint the villainy of this character so broadly that it’s no wonder he’s played by Vincent Price.

“The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” also gets an extra dash of oomph from how its final verse is preceded by Professor Ratigan dispatching one of his henchmen after they referred to him as a “rat”. Feeding this drunken mouse to a cat, Ratigan gets an opportunity to memorably cement the nefarious reputation that this song is an ode to. With this unabashedly wicked tune, it’s clear that the titular sleuth of The Great Mouse Detective has got an enormously imposing foe.


14. “Heigh-Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Compared to later Disney Animation musical numbers, “Heigh-Ho” is a relatively sparse affair. Serving as the introduction to the titular dwarfs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there isn’t much variety in either its lyrics nor is there an immediate sense of the distinct personalities of each of the dwarfs in the tune. However, though it may be simplified, “Heigh-Ho” was the first example of Disney Animation providing a musical number that was guaranteed to get stuck inside your head.

Best of all in this tune is its theatricality. The introduction of the titular phrase is given a grandiose entrance, with the dwarfs calling it out like a great ancient chant. There’s as much a sense of earned importance here as there is catchiness. Meanwhile, the visuals accompanying the musical number, especially the unforgettable shot of the dwarfs walking across a log high off the ground, are just as memorably maximalist as the best flourishes in the “Heigh-Ho” song. Though different from later Disney tunes by artists like Howard Ashman, “Heigh-Ho” set an early high bar for what kind of tunes you’d find in Disney cartoons.

13. “Friends on the Other Side” from The Princess and the Frog

If you ever need a reminder of why Keith David is an all-time great, just watch the “Friends on the Other Side” musical number from The Princess and the Frog. David’s vocals are the main ingredient that makes this song so special. His character, Dr. Facilier, is a charmer who needs to be convincing in his ability to lure people in from the streets to dabble in his voodoo magic. With David’s masterful delivery of lines like “It’ll allow me to anything I please,” he exudes the right confidence and charm.

In that final verse, though, David perfectly unleashes the unbridled evil side of Dr. Facilier, with the film’s hand-drawn animation also working overtime to accentuate this part of the character with an abundance of vibrant colors. A magnificent blend of visuals and vocals, “Friends on the Other Side” isn’t just a great Disney villain song, it’s a microcosm of David’s talents as a performer.

12. “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled

Motherly advice gets turned on its evil head in “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled. This tune features lyricist Glenn Slater and Mother Gothel’s voice actor, Donna Murphy, clearly having a ball wrapping up a Disney Villain song in the exterior of just some mom trying to give her daughter tips on how dangerous the outside world is. It’s a unique approach to this mold that helps set it immediately apart from similar other ditties like “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Plus, Murphy’s voice work is truly exceptional, especially whenever she turns up the menace in Gothel’s personality.

11. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” from Frozen

It’s true that “Let It Go” is the song from Frozen that became a pop-culture touchstone and just about cemented that movie’s reputation as a masterpiece in the same vein that “Circle of Life” did for The Lion King two decades prior. But the greatest track Frozen had to offer was one that came early on in its runtime in the form of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez deliver remarkable work crafting a song that, in its three verses, spans a trio of different parts of the lives of Anna and Elsa. The former character’s yearning for a companion serves as the one consistent across this length of time.

It’s a sharply written track that offers such thoughtful and occasionally amusing (like Anna’s friendship with a painting of Joan of Arc) insight into the mindset of Anna. Best of all, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” has the confidence to end on a downer note emphasizing the loneliness and isolation Anna and Elsa feel in the wake of their parent’s demise. In so many ways, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” proves to be Frozen’s most impressive contribution to the canon of Disney Animation musical numbers.

10. “Zero to Hero” from Hercules

Some of the songs in Hercules, like “Go the Distance” or “One Last Shot,” come off as obligatory. Neither their lyrics nor visuals suggest much in the way of innovation or entertainment, it’s like they exist solely to convey exposition. None of those issues plague “Zero to Hero,” a tune that suggests that all of the songs in here should’ve been performed by the Muses characters. Overflowing with energy, “Zero to Hero” conveys the ascent to stardom for Hercules with zippy energy and amusing visual gags, like the sight of a gigantic scary bird trapped in a similarly oversized cage.

The already peppy number gets even more toe-tapping once its final verse arrives and the tempo picks up speedy, culminating in the final chants of phrases “Now he’s a hero!’ so coursing with zest that they’re bound to get you filled up with energy. No need to worry about “Zero to Hero” succumbing to the flaws that plague some of the other Hercules tracks, this one’s a heroic feat of zippy songwriting.

9. “A Whole New World” from Aladdin

Just hum a few bars of the Aladdin song “A Whole New World” to some random stranger and they’ll immediately start joining along in picking up the next verse of this tune. Everybody knows “A Whole New World” and it’s not hard to see why. A musical number that sees Aladdin and Jasmine traveling around the world on a magic carpet somehow captures an intimate quality as these two people fall deeper in love, finally exploring a world that was previously off-limits to them both. If a Disney song like “Part of Your World” is all about yearning for something more, “A Whole New World” is the romantic and triumphant fulfillment of all that yearning. Stirring up such powerful emotions makes it easy to see why “A Whole New World” is still on people’s minds decades later.

8. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio

Some songs become enduringly popular for no good reason. But in the case of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio, well, the continued popularity is no mystery. Comprised of just 81 words, this simple tune gets a lot of mileage out of its poignant instrumental accompaniment. Those moving string instruments perfectly capture the sensation of wanting something so profoundly bad that you’ll even do something like wish upon a star for it. Such effective music works wonderfully at conveying the intensity of Geppetto’s desire for his puppet to become a real boy.

The tender emotional heart of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is perfectly conveyed in its concise lyrics and the vocals from Cliff Edwards. With all these qualities around, it’s no wonder “When You Wish Upon a Star” has become one of the most prolific Disney tunes ever, to the point that it’s the theme music for the Walt Disney Pictures logo.

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7. “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” from Moana

Trying to pick a favorite song from the Moana soundtrack can be a tricky task, there’s just so much goodness in there. With all apologies to “Shiny,” though, “I Am Moana (Song of Ancestors)” stands out as the most soaring and powerful tune in the film. Starting restrained, with just Rachel House’s vocals and minimal instrumental accompaniment, “I Am Moana” picks up speed and importance as it goes along and Moana’s confidence in herself increases. The careful pacing of the song makes the final crescendo, complete with a bellowing out of the track’s title, impossible to resist.

Some songs in Moana make you tap your toes, others make you want to grab a raft and explore the world. But what makes “I Am Moana (Song of Ancestors)” work so well is how it gets inside the head of its protagonist while being conscious of her family’s past and how that influences her. A blending of the intimate and the emotionally expansive, “I Am Moana (Song of Ancestors)” manages to stand tall both in the Moana soundtrack and in the pantheon of Disney musical numbers.

6. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan

Some Disney songs make you laugh, others warm your heart. But how many make you want to stand up and just accomplish every big task on your to-do list? That’s what “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan accomplishes. In a stroke of genius, this movie decided that a classic training montage would be the perfect spot for a rousing musical number. Thus, we get to see Mulan and company go from being klutzes to deftly defying the odds, all with lyrics and an accompanying beat guaranteed to get your blood pumping. Having lines in the chorus like “Be a man!” be uttered through a deep-voiced choir especially heightens the grandeur of the piece. To put it simply, in every respect, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is as swift as a coursing river and has all the force of a great typhoon.

5. “Be Prepared” from The Lion King

For much of the first act of The Lion King, Scar has been a quiet character. He’s more prone to lurking in the background than being someone who gets in your face about his wickedness. But that all changes when he gets his big musical number “Be Prepared,” which sees Scar getting to drop his act of being a passive restive of Mufasa and embracing his scheming evil nature. This becomes apparent not only as the song reveals Scar’s murderous ambitions, but as he looms over an army of hyena henchmen that are marching in a manner reminiscent of SS soldiers.

There’s something so fun in getting to see a bottled-up character like Scar cut loose. This is especially true since Jeremy Irons (with some aid in the final verse by Jim Cummings) delivers each of the character’s words so that they’re dripping with decades of pent-up malice. Even better, the escalating scope and intensity of the song are extremely exciting to watch unfold. Culminating in Scar and his hyena comrades ascending to the sky on soaring rocks, it’s clear Scar has eschewed his toned-down personality in favor of something more overtly malicious. That’s bad news for the soon-to-be-deceased Mufasa, but good news for those who enjoy entertaining musical numbers like “Be Prepared.”

4. “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast

Gaston is not your normal Disney villain, so it only makes sense that he’d have a similarly unorthodox Disney villain tune. Midway through Beauty and the Beast, this foe gets a congratulatory song named Gaston sung to him by Le Fou and his neighbors. Some Disney villains glower in an isolated secret lair. Gaston, meanwhile, gets serenaded by an entire town in a tavern. It’s a superb depiction of how Gaston reflects the normalized evils in society.

It isn’t just that Gaston is a departure from other Disney villain songs that makes it wonderful, though. Howard Ashman’s lyrics are also hysterical and take advantage of Gaston’s boast-worthy nature as a character to deliver outsized reflections of his strength. Who knew the phrase “Four dozen eggs” would be so much fun to sing? Ditto the declaration “I use antlers in all my decorating!” How fitting that an unforgettable baddie like Gaston would get an equally memorable tune.

3. “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“Out There,” one of the earliest songs in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, begins on a somber note, with the devious Judge Frollo instructing Quasimodo to stay in his bell tower home. “I am your only friend,” Frollo intones as he regales to Quasimodo how the world would view him only as a freak. Initially, “Out There” seems like a total downer of a song, but you have to get through the storm to see the rainbow. In this case, viewers have to experience Frollo’s cruelty before the second half of the song shifts to focus on Quasimodo’s hopes of spending just one day “out there”.

The tonal shift here is remarkable, with both disparate halves benefiting the other. Hearing the kind of words from Frollo that Quasimodo lives with daily makes his yearning for the larger world all the more emotionally powerful. Plus, the final few lines of this song, accompanied by appropriately bombastic clanging of drums and horns, register as downright triumphant as Quasimodo shouts the desires he’d never say around Frollo. “Out There’s” deft ability to glide across different emotional peaks and valleys instantly makes it a standout in the history of Disney Animation musical numbers.

2. “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid

The “I Want” song is a staple of the traditional musical, so it’s no surprise that it should also creep into so many animated Disney projects. However, in the domain of titles from the Mouse House, it’s rarely been as effective as “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. A remarkable feat of songwriting from Howard Ashman, part of what makes this song work so well is Ariel’s (Jodi Benson) lack of knowledge about the human world she wants to go to so much. On one level, this helps give the song unique lyrics you wouldn’t find in a typical “I want” song, like Ariel briefly contemplating what feet are called.

On another level, though, this element tugs at one’s heartstrings by reinforcing just how far Ariel is from her desired destination. She doesn’t even know what a fire is, yet she wants to go onto dry land so badly. The uncontainable passion for the world of land-dwelling humans is perfectly reinforced by Benson’s vocals and unforgettable images like Ariel reaching out to the sky from the top of her cove. We’ve all seen tons of “I Want” songs but they’re rarely been as moving or specific as “Part of Your World.”

1. “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book

Sometimes, all a song has to do to worm its way into your heart is be fun to listen to. So it is with “The Bare Necessities,” arguably the most iconic song from The Jungle Book. An easygoing melody that perfectly captures the nonchalant vibes of Baloo the Bear (Phil Harris), it’s hard not to listen to this track and not score a smile on your face. The words are just so fun to say (especially the tongue-twister in the middle of the song) and the instrumental accompaniment, complete with a wailing trumpet, is guaranteed to get stuck in your head.

The tune is even better in the context of the film, where it gets played out with lively animation depicting everything from Baloo taking care of a big itch to Mowgli obliviously avoiding getting crushed by a massive rock. Some Disney musical numbers are told through sweeping crowds of singers, but “The Bare Necessities” shows these performances can be just as effective with two people crooning and carrying out mundane activities. After all, to go bigger than that would betray the fun and heart of “The Bare Necessities” that carries this song above all others in the Disney Animation library.

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https://collider.com/best-disney-musical-numbers-ranked/ Best Disney Musical Numbers of All Time, Ranked

Bobby Allyn

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