Going to quite the Disney Top Tens with this one, and one of the most damnably difficult lists I’ve ever put together, it is. The ten best musical numbers in any Disney feature, as defined by the quality of the song, the visual, the performance, and so on and so forth. I have elected to limit myself to one per feature; the film that would have otherwise dominated the list is probably pretty obvious, if you’ve been following my Disneython along at home.
EDITED: burying it below the jump. It’s making the front page take way too long to load.
(The following are all taken from non-English dubs; Disney is for the world, after all)
10. “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin
It was almost a three-way tie for tenth, but I’ll have to tip it to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s huge showstopper on account of, well, Disney showstoppers in the 1990s were a pretty damn special thing. And this might be the showiest of them all: bombastic music and one crazy, cock-eyed visual burst after another. Not for nothing is this the moment at which the moribund film kicks into high gear and becomes a minor comic masterpiece.
9. “Little April Showers” from Bambi
Disney’s frequent pre-war songwriters, Frank Churchill and Larry Morey, provided an exceedingly delicate water-based chorale that forms the backdrop for one of the most profoundly beautiful passages of animation in American history – maybe even the best moment in Bambi. So good was the realistic animal animation in this sequence that future animators were still stealing it almost 40 years later, in The Fox and the Hound.
8. “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Churchill and Morey wrote a stunning number of songs for Disney’s first animated feature (many of them cut), the most famous of which is surely “Heigh-Ho”. And a great song, but much shorter than you might recall. I much prefer the fairy-tale charm of having an exiled princess convincing woodland creatures to help her out just by singing sweetly. Corny as all hell, yes, but this is a fantasy, and Disney’s gagmen obviously had fun coming up with things for all the animals to do, combining naturalism and slapstick caricature with abandon.
7. “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp
The most outstandingly romantic moment in Disney – hell, in all animation. Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee’s achingly sincere ’50s-style ballad is paired with one of the most indelible images in the studios’s canon, as two dogs eat spaghetti and, oh look, they’re eating the same strand they just kissed isn’t that sweet? Hard to say if the music, or supervising animator Frank Thomas has more to do with this all working so well, but the fact that it does work well is what matters. Why isn’t real life like this?
6. “The Three Caballeros” from The Three Caballeros
Give Ward Kimball carte blanche to direct this adaptation of the Mexican folk song “Ay, Jalisco, No Te Rajes”, and this is what you get: an insane, cartoon-logic orgasm of shape and color. Nothing I can say could possibly augment the experience of just watching the thing.
5. “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins
Did I say they all had to be animated? No, I absolutely did not, and it would be a sin to ignore the Sherman Brothers’ finest contribution to Disney, a heartbreaking lullaby that supposedly made Walt himself cry every time he heard it. It is a simple number, visually and musically – probably the least showy thing on this list – but when a piece of music is that soaring and haunting, you don’t need pyrotechnics.
4. “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid
The most dangerous moment in Disney: how many people my age, myself included, have been so damnably messed-up by wanting love to be a matter of singing fish and boat rides and all? But it couldn’t be so evil if it weren’t so beautiful: Alan Menken’s best-ever melody, full-stop, spins around one of the most impeccably-choreographed of all animated dance numbers (dig that one tadpole who spins around as he jumps). I also have particular affection for the moment when the “camera” breaches the water and rocks unsteadily for an instant: my favorite example of simulated cinematography in Disney.
3. “I’ve Got No Strings” from Pinocchio
(For some reason, every non-English dub of this song I could find has its embedding disabled. But you can see it in Swedish here)
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s set of five immaculate songs for this film is arguably the strongest soundtrack in Disney history. But my favorite has always been this silly little spin through international stereotypes as seen by 1940, because in some way it encapsulates the whole movie’s story: the profoundly innocent little puppet keeps meeting people much smarter than he is who want something from him that he doesn’t understand, and it’s all just a wee bit upsetting and confusing for him and us. That the song is insanely catchy helps; the number also includes one of my favorite bits of animation in the whole film, with the spinning Cossacks – proof that even the most cartoonish visual cue, the movement line, can look like graphic art if you do it right.
2. “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo
An acid trip before people knew what acid was. An uncanny piece of music by Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington, made far more terrifying by just about the most surreal animation in the Disney canon. “Baby Mine” is much more emotionally wrenching, “When I See an Elephant Fly” far more fun to listen to, but this is the moment that I always think about when Dumbo comes up: a howl of G-rated nightmare imagery that has lost none of its prickly otherworldliness in more than 60 years.
1. “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast
The perfect start to an essentially perfect movie: we are introduced to the character and her world in quick strokes, all set to a coruscating song in which Alan Menken’s skill with motif and counter-melody matches with Howard Ashman’s gift for naturalistic lyrics like nowhere else; and if that weren’t all enough, it’s spectacular to look at, with Belle’s blue dress popping against the rich earth tones of the rest of the town.
And just for the hell of it, because the song was already about Nazis: