In October 1923, brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney founded the Disney Brothers Studio, to have a place to produce the hybrid animated/live action shorts that Walt was then creating. In the century since, Disney has become as inextricable a part of American culture as baseball, barbecue and the blues — a cultural constant that has continued to define not only the shared experience of each generation, but a good deal of the connective tissue between people of all ages. And music has been at the center of all of it all.
From the studio’s breakthrough Steamboat Willie short (set to “Steamboat Bill” and “Turkey in the Straw”) in 1928, right up to this week’s release of the live-action The Little Mermaid remake (featuring new songs from legendary Disney scribes Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and with pop star Halle Bailey in the lead role), music has been the fuel for the entire Disney machine. It’s played an essential role in not only dozens of the studio’s most classic movies — animated, live-action or both — but also in the great majority of their signature Disney Channel TV shows, and even in most of the theme park rides that keep fans returning year after year.
So with that in mind, we’re celebrating the Disney Century with our list of the 100 greatest songs from the Wide World of Disney — any composition, from pop numbers to showtunes to instrumental scores, that was specifically written for a Disney property. That means no pre-existing songs that have come to be commonly associated with Disney works (sorry, Sorcerer’s Apprentice fans) and no songs written for properties later acquired by Disney (no early Simpsons or Star Wars) — but it still means there’s hundreds of unforgettable musical moments to choose from, spanning decades and genres and formats and carrying a lifetime’s worth of memories between them.
Thus, we present our 100 favorite songs from the entire Disneyverse: in other words, the happiest list on earth.
"Into the Unknown" (Frozen II, 2019)
Set the Scene: All is well in the kingdom of Arendelle following the events of the first Frozen film, but Elsa (Idina Menzel) remains restless. After all, she never did get answers as to why she has her snow-making superpowers in the first place. It’s a mystery she shies away from at first, but throughout this song, she rediscovers her power and decides to seek out her birthright after all.
Why It Works: Returning “Let It Go” songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez probably knew there was no way of matching the success of the first film’s showstopper, and were smart to let “Into the Unknown” exist as its own entity. It sounds less like an attempted recreation of its predecessor and more like an organic followup, which speaks to the dichotomy between Elsa’s headspace in the first film vs. the sequel.
Magic Moment: The icy high note motif that calls out to Elsa throughout the song, sung by featured artist Aurora. — HANNAH DAILEY
"Nothing Can Stop Us Now" (Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, 2020)
Set the Scene: Inside the attraction Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Fla.) you’re invited to the premiere of the new animated short film Perfect Picnic. It stars Mickey and Minnie (and their best dog pal Pluto) who warble “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” as they embark on a day where Minnie sings “absolutely nothing will go wrong.” Of course, everything absolutely goes wrong – mayhem ensues, and you become part of cartoon itself.
Why It Works: The jazzy, nostalgic ditty evokes Mickey and Minnie’s long legacy as the chief brand reps for the House of Mouse, while its sunny and optimistic lyrics set up misdirected expectations of the attraction’s action. What could possibly go wrong on “the open highway” where “everything is just so peachy keen?” (Bonus: The tune works independently of the ride, too, as a sort of poppy earworm cousin of Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine.”)
Magic Moment: (Spoiler alert!) If you experience the attraction, you’ll hear a version of the song at the conclusion of your frantic adventure, where Mickey and Minnie sweetly sing to one another (and you) “I knew somehow that we would finally make it… with you by my side…nothing can stop us now.” In the commercially released single version of the track, that concluding verse is absent, replaced by a swelling razzle-dazzle big finish where the duo sing of traveling “hand in hand, across this wonderland.” — KEITH CAULFIELD
"Best of Friends" (The Fox and the Hound, 1981)
Set the Scene: The all-knowing Big Mama, an owl who sees everything, happily narrates the first meeting of the titular relationship between a baby fox named Tod and a baby bloodhound named Copper. Though natural born enemies, the two become fast friends.
Why It Works: The track speaks to unlikely pairings, with Big Mama rooting for the two to make it through. But more so, “Best of Friends” establishes the tension of the entire film: “When these moments have passed, will that friendship last?/ Who can say if there’s a way?/ Oh I hope, I hope it never ends/ ‘Cause you’re the best of friends.”
Magic Moment: When Big Mama first notices what’s happening just below her and she crosses her feathered wings to say, “My my, look at that. A fox and a hound! Playing together,” before breaking into song. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
"He's a Tramp" (Lady and the Tramp, 1955)
Set the Scene: After landing herself in dog jail (or, in this case, the dog pound), the elegant Lady meets some new friends — including Peggy Lee’s sultry Peg, who sings this song. It’s at this moment that Lady learns (through Peg’s jazzy rendition) that the stray mutt she’s falling for is actually considered a heartbreaker.
Why It Works: While the lyrics describe him as a rogue, not-so-faithful pup, the song has a catchy jazz rhythm you can’t help but tap your feet along to. It’s also a more upbeat song, and when combined with the subtle howls of the neighboring dogs, it really transports you to the movie moment.
Magic Moment: After describing all of the title character’s negative qualities, Lee fades out admitting that regardless of his flaws, she still wishes she “could travel his way,” making clear the charm the Tramp has over people. — RYLEE JOHNSTON
"Golden Dream" (The American Adventure, 1982)
Set the Scene: There isn’t as much to see at EPCOT’s The American Adventure pavilion as the other 10 represented nations, but what it does boast is a half-hour jaunt into the history of America, soundtracked by “Golden Dream”: a fittingly bombastic anthem that drops multiple patriotic buzzwords (Freedom! Golden wings! New frontiers!) into its four-minute runtime.
Why It Works: There’s a fine line when writing American patriotism into song between reverence and sheer cringe. “Golden Dream,” with lyrics by Randy Bright and Lynn Hart and music by Robert Moline, avoids the latter thanks to remaining just broad enough in its themes while also delivering a grandiose chorus that gets better each time it’s repeated — especially when you’re five or six drinks deep on a drinking-around-the-world crawl.
Magic Moment: Depending on the version you’re listening to at home, you might only get the standard instrumentation and lyrics. But the in-ride version of “Golden Dream” adds audio of famed speeches from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. plus Neil Armstrong’s moon landing. The propaganda is real, and it is beautiful (and frankly, it’s not worth listening to a version without it). — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
"I'll Get You What You Want" (Cockatoo in Malibu)" (Muppets Most Wanted, 2014)
Set the Scene: A kidnapped Kermit the Frog has been replaced by Constantine, the world’s most wanted criminal and an uncanny copy of Kermit. The dubious doppelgänger takes Kermit’s place on the road with the rest of the Muppets (including Kermit’s No. 1 squeeze Miss Piggy) as cover for his international crime spree. For the “I’ll Get You What You Want” sequence, Constantine must get a peeved Piggy back on his good side – by apologizing and promising to give her anything and everything she wants, in song, of course.
Why It Works: The catchy track, written by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie and performed in the film by Matt Vogel, is an ‘80s disco-pop fever dream. Constantine lays on the ultra-slick charm, wooing Piggy into believing he just might give her the world. Among his memorable offerings: a unicorn, puppy dog, a diamond ring, a thingy-thing and a cockatoo (in Malibu).
Magic Moment: As Constantine rattles off one outrageous promise after another (“You want an armadillo, I’ll give it to you,” “You want a Hollywood star, I’ll give it to you”) he realizes he’s overextended his offer after asking “You want to go to the moon?” He pauses, and then recovers, singing “Oooh, I’ll see what I can do!” — K.C.
"On My Way" (Brother Bear, 2003)
Set the Scene: Shortly after magically transforming into a bear, a grumpy Kenai teams up with an exuberant young cub named Koda to find both of their ways home. Their alliance will eventually turn complicated once Koda discovers that his momma bear was hunted and killed by Kenai when he was still human — but for now, the two are at the official start of their essential and adorable brotherhood.
Why It Works: A song about talking bears could’ve easily become too cheesy to bear (pun intended), but Phil Collins’ simple, nonspecific lyrics and warm instrumentation keep “On My Way” classic enough to work both in and out of context of the film.
Magic Moment: When Koda’s excited little voice joins in at the very end to chime in, “Yes I’m on my way!” — H.D.
"A Place Called Slaughter Race" (Ralph Breaks the Internet, 2018)
Set the Scene: Bored of Sugar Rush (once home of her BFF Ralph), Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) feels unfulfilled — and in the wilds of the internet, meets the Disney Princesses (plus Frozen’s Anna and Elsa), who advise her to stare meaningfully at some water and sing her own “I Want” song to figure out what she really desires in a game. It turns out what she wants is to burn rubber alongside Gal Gadot’s drag racer Shank in the Ralphverse’s Grand Theft Auto-esque Slaughter Race — and maybe never leave its rubble-filled streets.
Why It Works: The hilarious preceding scene of Vanellope with the princesses couldn’t set up the song better: As she stares into a puddle and steps into a spotlight that literally finds her, she starts singing what’s essentially her “Part of Your World” about Slaughter Race. (No accident that Alan Menken happened to compose both songs, either.)
Magic Moment: The lyrical opening hits the Disney “I Want” song melodic tropes, even as its lyrics poke fun at them and hint at something more subversive to come: “Look, I’m rhyming; My spirit’s climbing/ As I’m called through this fog of mace/ To this place called Slaughter Race.” — REBECCA MILZOFF
"Promise" (IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, 1999)
Set The Scene: On Oct. 1, 1999, as night fell on the waters of the World Showcase Lagoon of EPCOT Center, the sky exploded with fireworks timed to a dramatic score, as images of nature, human works and world leaders were projected onto a 28-foot diameter “Earth Globe.” The spectacular production, created by longtime Disney show director Don Dorsey, debuted that night as part of the Florida resort’s millennium celebration, and continued playing for 20 years as llumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Amid the aural and visual drama came the voice of Kellie Ann Coffey singing “Promise,” composed by Gavin Greenaway with lyrics by Dorsey: “Every evening brings an ending/ Every day becomes a legacy…”
Why It Works: It is tempting to cite Disney’s statistics for the show containing “Promise:” the 67 computers, the 258 strobe lights, 180,000 light emitting diodes, the 37 nozzles shooting propane flames into the air. But what attendees remember most is the beauty of Greenaway’s soothing melody for “Promise,” the optimism of Dorsey’s lyric and the soaring charm of the vocals from Coffey, who went on to win the ACM Award for top new female vocalist in 2003.
Magic Moment: “Over the years I’ve had countless messages from fans using “Promise” as their wedding song,” Dorsey recently told Billboard. — THOM DUFFY
"Strut" (The Cheetah Girls 2, 2006)
Set the Scene: After trying to make it in Manhattan, Cheetah Girls Galleria (Raven-Symoné), Chanel (Adrienne Bailon), Aqua (Kiely Williams) and Dorothea (Sabrina Bryan) have touched down in Barcelona to take their dreams of superstardom to the next level. With the help of handsome, guitar-playing local Angel (Peter Vives), “Strut” is an infectiously groovy introduction to the lively Spanish city — for the fictional girl group and viewers at home alike.
Why It Works: It sets the tone for the DCOM as a whole, fusing Flamenco with several characteristics of a Destiny’s Child-era hit. Plus, “Strut” serves the purpose that its title implies — so yes, you won’t regret queueing it up during your next Hot Girl Walk.
Magic Moment: Angel’s vocal entrance at the song’s outro, atop the quartet’s final rendition of the hook, was all the enticement needed to want to book a trip to Barna: “Bienvenidos/ Esto es mi sueño/ Síganme y descubran mi Barcelona” (Welcome, this is my dream. Follow me and discover my Barcelona). — DANIELLE PASCUAL
"Wouldn't Change a Thing" (Camp Rock 2, 2010)
Set the Scene: Demi Lovato’s Mitchie and Joe Jonas’ Shane are on the rocks. This was supposed to be their first summer as an it-couple, but all Mitchie can focus on is defeating rivals Camp Star in an epic, nationally televised battle of bands, whereas Shane just wants to relax. Can their teenage love connection last through all this adversity? The two stars discover through power-belted harmonies – which only Lovato could’ve pulled off, in contrast with her fellow late 2000s Disney Channel starlets – that in spite of their differences, yes they can.
Why It Works: Viewers of the Camp Rock sequel instinctively knew that a duet between the film’s stars was inevitable. The only question was: would it compare to the delicious “This Is Me” / “Gotta Find You” mash-up performed by Lovato and Jonas at the end of the first film? “Wouldn’t Change a Thing” absolutely obliterates expectations, thanks to perfectly synced lyrics and melodies, and the real-life ex-couple’s intense vocal chemistry.
Magic Moment: When Lovato and Jonas trade lines back and forth during the bridge before unifying once more for a rapturous final chorus. Those two kids may not have worked out in real life, but this one-for-the-books duet makes us think that their characters are still happily in love, running their own rock ‘n’ roll summer camp somewhere. — H.D.
"Ultimate" (Freaky Friday, 2003)
Set the Scene: After a hilarious (and somewhat horrifying) body-swapping fiasco, Lindsey Lohan’s Anna Coleman has found a new respect for her mother Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) and soon-to-be-stepfather Ryan (Mark Harmon). To celebrate her mom’s wedding, she and her high school pop-punk band Pink Slip perform an ode to finding the perfect guy as the film’s credits roll.
Why It Works: Step-parents usually get the suffix of “evil” or “wicked” in your typical Disney film — just ask Snow White, Cinderella or Rapunzel about their relationships with their own malicious matriarchs. To see a Disney film where the new addition to the family not only gets a good rap, but gets a whole song dedicated to his existence is the kind of heart-warming plot twist we should have seen more often by now. It also helps that Pink Slip is an absolutely killer band.
Magic Moment: Did you think you were going to get an absolutely sick electric guitar solo in a Disney movie? Surprise! Anna’s big solo moment — complete with head-banging, rock posturing and landing from a jump on her knees in a pink silk dress, mind you — is the cherry on top of this delicious moment. — STEPHEN DAW
"Stand Out" (A Goofy Movie, 1995)
Set the Scene: Max, the son of classic Disney character Goofy, is about to end another school year feeling like an outcast at school. The young Goof is coming of age and his nightmares are filled with the image of him becoming his very uncool father. So, in an effort to “stand out,” he and his friends come up with an elaborate prank where Max pretends to be the biggest pop star in the Goofy movie cinematic universe: Powerline.
Why It Works: Powerline feels somewhere between Michael Jackson in a space jumpsuit and overly produced boy bands, and somehow his single spikes your adrenaline and makes you want to Moonwalk across your high school stage, your living room or wherever you get the pleasure of hearing “Stand Out.”
Magic Moment: About two thirds through the track, Powerline slows everything down (which Max impersonates) for a flirtatious spoken-word verse stating, “There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do if it was getting you to notice I’m alive.” — TAYLOR MIMS
"Candle on the Water" (Pete's Dragon, 1977)
Set the Scene: While our protagonists Pete and the occasionally invisible dragon Elliott attempt to settle into life in the cape town of Passamaquoddy, Nora (Helen Reddy) — the daughter of the local lighthouse keeper — sings this stunning ballad to her beloved fiancé Paul, who has been lost at sea for the better part of a year. Despite her father’s insistence that Paul is dead, Nora refuses to give up hope that he is out there, trying to return home.
Why It Works: In a story as fantastical and often ridiculous as Pete’s Dragon, you need a healthy dose of dramatic, sentimental songwriting to set the stakes. Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn’s moving song does that in spades, with Reddy’s phenomenal vocal performance making “Candle on the Water” a torch song for the ages.
Magic Moment: If your heart doesn’t swell with the music as Reddy belts out “soon you’ll see a golden stream of liiiiiiight,” then enjoy being a robot, I guess. — S.D.
"One Little Spark" (Journey Into Imagination With Figment, 1983)
Set the Scene: You’ve just been blasted with essence of skunk, nearly run over by a “train of thought,” treated to a variety of wacky eye tricks. Now the purple dragon Figment is ready to really set your imagination free with “One Little Spark,” a bouncing earworm of a song that celebrates opening your mind to the sights, sounds and smells that can really add some zip to your creative side.
Why It Works: No matter its iteration – from the original Sherman Brothers-penned version to the 2000s update adding Eric Idle – “One Little Spark” contains the pure essence of what EPCOT was originally all about. It’s zany, catchy, illuminating and inspiring all at once – so much so that when it was removed from the ride in the late ‘90s, its absence did not last long.
Magic Moment: There are basically two major melodies in the latest edition – Figment’s repeated “Imagination! Imagination!” refrain and Dr. Nigel Channing’s (Idle) “One little spark/ of inspiration” theme that pulls from Figment’s earlier verses. They’re infernally catchy on their own, and by the end, both are heard concurrently. Doubly memorable. Good luck getting it out of your head. — K.R.
"The Three Caballeros" (The Three Caballeros, 1945)
Set the Scene: The prologue of the 1945 film features Donald Duck dancing in step with his two pals, the parrot Josè Carioca and the rooster Panchito Pistoles — meant to represent Brazil and Mexico, respectively. These avian buddies later give Donald a series of gifts that transport him to locales illustrating (often with somewhat unfortunately clichéd cultural stereotypes) Latin culture. Produced by Disney to create goodwill between the United States and Latin America, the film features an entirely Latinx cast and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
Why It Works: Because the robust tenor of Mexico-repping bird Panchito Pistoles, voiced by singer Joaquin Garay, pairs so well with the song‘s peppy string and brass section and the goofy camaraderie of this trio of sombrero-sporting heroes.
Magic Moment: Pistoles holds a 20 second note while Donald Duck and Josè Carioca pull major hijinks — cutting a hole in the floor around him, putting him in a coffin, growing a bush around him and then setting it on fire — to make him stop. But trust, it’s all in good fun. — KATIE BAIN
"Grim Grinning Ghosts" (The Haunted Mansion, 1969)
Set the Scene: In The Haunted Mansion attraction, guests take a tour of a spooky abode where an unseen ghost host says there are 999 happy haunts in the expansive Mansion. But, there’s “room for a thousand – any volunteers?!” Variations of the tune are heard throughout the ride in assorted humorously creepy settings, but perhaps most famously in the finale graveyard scene. There, nearly two dozen audio-animatronic “grim grinning ghosts,” engaged in amusing afterlife situations, cheerfully sing to passing guests.
Why It Works: The song, with music by Buddy Baker and lyrics by legendary Disney Imagineer X Atencio, succeeds as an atmospheric earworm. Depending on when you hear the song – and in what version — within the attraction, it can evoke chuckles or a bit of dread. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” is heard in iterations of The Haunted Mansion at Disney Parks around the world.
Magic Moment: As you exit the ride in most versions of the attraction, a haunting a cappella version of the song is heard playing, where the vocalists urge you to “hurry back, we would like your company.” — K.C.
"Portobello Road" (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971)
Set the Scene: David Tomlinson (who played Mary Poppins’ George Banks seven years earlier), meanders down the titular thoroughfare while singing the jaunty yet mysterious and accordion-accompanied song about the street’s vendors, offering “anything and everything a chap can unload.”
Why It Works: The moody, romantic song embodies the spirit of the road itself — a place with mystery, history and the possibility of danger. Indeed, the same spirit of the magic that will be unfurled by what the film’s heroes find here.
Magic Moment: As Tomlinson’s Emelius Browne unveils the knock-off nature of the road’s many “cheap imitations of heirlooms of old,” a swarthy figure piques at the mention of the book of spells Browne and crew are in search of, indicating that not everything on Portobello Road is a fake. — K.B.
"Surface Pressure" (Encanto, 2021)
Set the Scene: The Familia Madrigal’s sentient Casita appears to be cracking, and Mirabel worries the family miracle’s magic is dying — but no one else seems concerned. That is, until her older sister Luisa — whose magical gift is super-strength — betrays her own anxiety with an eye twitch and confesses (in song!) that she’s starting to feel overwhelmed by all the expectations placed on her.
Why It Works: Structurally, musically, lyrically, everything about the song‘s construction perfectly mirrors Luisa’s mental breakdown — from the pounding “I’m fine!” opening to the reggaetón-esque verse (all the “Under the surface….” revelations) to a chorus that literally sounds like a façade crumbling (“Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop/ Whoa-oh”), to a floating bridge imagining what an alternative, less-stressful life.
Magic Moment: The song is rife with the kind of internal rhyming and lyrical jujitsu that defines Lin-Manuel Miranda at his best, but “Diamonds and platinum/ I find’em, I flatten’em” and “Under the surface/ Was Hercules ever like ‘Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus?’” are consistent, every-time-you-hear-’em jaw-droppers. — R.M.
"Just Around the Riverbend" (Pocahontas, 1995)
Set the Scene: Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan of the Powhatan tribe, is fearing the “steady” life that her parents have plotted for her — but dreams of something yet-unseen that will come around and change her course forever. (Spoiler: It’s English settlers.)
Why It Works: Intended by lyricist Stephen Schwartz (semi-problematically, as was regrettably par for this whitewashed telling of the Pocahontas and John Smith story) to be “the Native American version of ‘Something’s Coming’ [from West Side Story],” the soaring “Riverbend” does an impressive job capturing the feeling of suspecting that a greater fate awaits you, but not having the clarity of vision to tell exactly what it is yet.
Magic Moment: When that four-word title, belted by Judy Kuhn over racing strings, sneaks up on you from the start of each chorus — confident but tremulous, excited but unmistakably anxious. Squint and you can almost see the outline for a really solid early Joni Mitchell cut. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
"Send It On" (Disney's Friends for Change, 2009)
Set the Scene: Disney recruited its hottest teen stars at the time – Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers – to record a song for Disney’s Friends for Change, a pro-social green initiative.
Why It Works: The superstar sextet set aside their interpersonal, headline-making drama for a good cause — and in doing so, delivered a satisfyingly schmaltzy “We Are the World”-like call to arms to help save the planet.
Magic Moment: Lovato breathlessly belts out the second-to-last “Shine a light, and send it on” as she and her Disney cohorts nestle on a couch in the middle of an open field à la Friends, and fans flock to the stars before everyone looks out to appreciate the nature they’re desperately trying to preserve together. — HERAN MAMO
"She's So Gone" (Lemonade Mouth, 2011)
Set the Scene: The hottest band in town is on the up-and-up after meeting and forming in high school detention, and has now snagged a residency at the local pizza joint. As Lemonade Mouth finds its voice through these sessions at the restaurant, so does bassist Mo – a girl shedding her skin and learning to live for herself, not for the men in her life, proving her newfound confidence while dancing on tables and countertops and sticking it to her ex-boyfriend watching from behind the hostess’ stand.
Why It Works: Not only is it one of the most memorable tracks from the Disney Channel film, but “She’s So Gone” also gave an inspiring anthem to young girls who otherwise may have waited several more years to find permission in music to reinvent themselves as many times as they like.
Magic Moment: When Naomi Scott, who plays Mo, takes a long pause before hitting that stunning chorus home one last time, capturing the attention of every Dante’s Pizzeria customer in the palm of her hand. — H.D.
"Man or Muppet" (The Muppets, 2011)
Set the Scene: The faux-dramatic ballad arrives in The Muppets as Gary (Jason Segel) and his brother Walter are each facing an identity crisis: are they men, bound to their everyday “human” priorities, or are they muppets, with their allegiances more clearly “felt”?
Why It Works: The song from The Muppets that won songwriter/co-producer Bret McKenzie an Oscar for best original song most resembles his Flight of the Conchords work: a loving spoof of a theatrically yearning, plot-advancing duet, that’s still just as clever and catchy as the best examples of that archetype.
Magic Moment: Seeing The Muppets in a crowded theater in 2011, Gary looking in a shop-window reflection and seeing a Muppet version of himself earned some hearty laughs; Walter staring at a human version of himself – played by The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, in an uncredited cameo – brought the house down. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
"We Are Here to Change the World" (Captain EO, 1986)
Set the Scene: With Michael Jackson starring as the titular freedom fighter, Captain EO touches down with his ragtag crew on a planet of filth led by the witchy Supreme Leader, with a mission to transform the Leader and her realm via the power of music: specifically, the nervy dance-pop of the rather literally titled “We Are Here to Change the World.”
Why It Works: I mean, having the King of Pop just years after he released the best-selling original album of all-time (and another year still before he’d drop its follow-up) is a pretty good start. “Change the World” might not exactly be Prime MJ — it’s a little lo-fi by his ’80s standards, albeit still very catchy — but it’s still got enough of the singular pizzazz that powered the greatest peak in pop history to be plausibly universe-transforming.
Magic Moment: Once he starts hitting those “eeee-heeee!!“s and “oooOOOO!!“s over the song’s climactic chorus… The Supreme Leader never really stood a chance, did she? — A.U.
"Bet on It" (High School Musical 2, 2007)
Set the Scene: Zac Efron’s Troy Bolton belts his true feelings in a moment of self-reflection during “Bet On It,” as he explores the concept of free will. Will he be able to win his friends back, or will he allow Sharpay to push them further away?
Why It Works: This was the first moment we got to hear Efron sing without the help of the talented Drew Seeley (who provided most of Troy’s singing voice in the original High School Musical). He doesn’t miss a beat as the drums kick in and the first verse begins. We can really hear his frustration and inner turmoil throughout the song showing how versatile the actor is.
Magic Moment: There’s a point towards the end of the song where it slows down and you hear Efron say, “Let me think for a moment,” shifting the entire tone of the song. What happens next is a sped-up, rap-like verse, showing the ranges of both the feelings of his character and his skills as a performer. — R.J.
"S.I.M.P. (Squirrels in My Pants)" (Phineas and Ferb, 2008)
Set the Scene: The long-running animated Disney show Phineas and Ferb featured the titular step brothers spending their summer break time traveling, building roller coasters and more unlikely adventures. The show’s music matched its chaos, pairing unthinkable scenarios with catchy production — including “S.I.M.P. (Squirrels in My Pants),” improvised by street performers 2 Guyz N the Parque as the protagonists’ older sister Candace struggles with the titular issue.
Why It Works: Because of the hilarity. Plus, the moves character Candace makes to try and shake them off might as well be a modern day TikTok challenge.
Magic Moment: When one of the 2 Guyz sings “S to the I to the M to the P, then maybe you can be moving like me,” thus giving this infectious song its abbreviated title. — L.H.
"Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit" (Kitchen Kabaret, 1982)
Set the Scene: An audio-animatronic show that ran at EPCOT from 1982 to 1994 (before being replaced by Food Rocks), Kitchen Kabaret preached the balanced-diet gospel to unsuspecting kids — with help from some very catchy musical numbers, including the climactic, Carmen Miranda-styled “Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit.”
Why It Works: Whether or not you go in for the nutritional propaganda at its core, there’s no resisting the delicious appeal of this cha-cha-cha-ing number, which will have you chanting its four-word title hook through every visit to your supermarket’s produce section for years after.
Magic Moment: Gotta be the pause before (and backing vocals underneath) each final word in the rhyming couplet of “I simply have to tell you that my friends who are singing are… delectable!/ Meals are divine as long as you can dine with fruit and… vegetables!” — A.U.
"Proud Family" (The Proud Family, 2001)
Set the Scene: Penny Proud is just a 14-year-old girl, figuring life out and surviving the antics of her endearingly wacky friends and family. The show’s theme song, sung by Solange Knowles and Destiny’s Child, captures the unconditional love of family, as a montage including each member of the Proud household rolls – including Penny’s intrusive pals – featuring playful pranks and loving moments.
Why It Works: This era of Y2K theme songs was particularly top-tier, with mainstream acts stepping into the world of kids’ television for a few memorable cameos and songs. While Solange Knowles limited her screen time to acting, she made a musical splash with the unforgettable R&B opening track.
Magic Moment: There’s something particularly satisfying about singing along to the very on-brand Destiny’s Child melody during the line, “you know I’m lovin’ every single thing you do-o-o.” — NEENA ROUHANI
"Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" (Lilo & Stitch, 2002)
Set the Scene: Surf’s up, sun’s out, and Stitch is here to stay. Lilo and her big sister Nani are able to put their troubles aside and enjoy a blissful day of sunshine with their found family, which includes Nani’s love interest David Kawena and the gang’s adorable new blue alien friend. Sure, evil extraterrestrials are trying to kidnap Stitch the whole time, but he’s safe with his ohana – because no one gets left behind.
Why It Works: With bilingual lyrics and instrumentation that sounds like pure sunshine, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” serves as a wonderful introductory bridge to the beauty of Hawaii that both young and old audiences can find accessible.
Magic Moment: The very beginning, before the instruments kick in, when it’s just composer Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu and The Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus singing a gorgeous, anticipatory Hawaiian call and response. — H.D.
"When Will My Life Begin" (Tangled, 2010)
Set the Scene: Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) takes us on a musical tour of her many hobbies – “pottery and ventriloquy, candle making,” to name a few – but despite her very packed schedule, and her BFF chameleon Pascal at her side, she desperately wonders what else might be outside the tower walls.
Why It Works: The bubbly song illustrates that Rapunzel has made the very most of her confined adolescence – painting every square inch of her walls and teaching herself new skills daily – but the three books she’s read over and over could never teach her everything that the world has in store.
Magic Moment: The audience knows what Rapunzel doesn’t – that the lights that glow in the sky every year on her birthday are no coincidence – and we also know that her “mother” isn’t going to set her free anytime soon. So this heartbreaking finale is especially poignant: “Tomorrow night, lights will appear/ Just like they do on my birthday each year/ What is it like out there where they glow?/ Now that I’m older, Mother might just let me go.” – KATIE ATKINSON
"Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat" (The Aristocats, 1970)
Set the Scene: Streetwise feline Thomas O’Malley (O’Malley the alley cat, as voiced by Phil Harris) introduces the refined, pampered Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her sheltered kittens to Paris’ vibrant bohemian underbelly via his pal Scat Cat’s (Scatman Crothers) sizzling jazz band.
Why It Works: Aside from being voice acting legends, Harris and Crothers both boasted serious musical bona fides; when the latter’s gravely cool digs its claws into this surprisingly legit slice of New Orleans jazz, he is inarguably the cat’s meow.
Magic Moment: The raucous finale, when the cookin’ jazz combo swings so hard they send a piano crashing down six floors, then proceeds to take their second line parade to the streets while the Eiffel Tower looms large in the distance. — JOE LYNCH
"Gotta Find You" (Camp Rock, 2008)
Set the Scene: Sent to Camp Rock to tone down his inflated ego, Shane Gray (Joe Jonas) begins shifting focus after he overhears a captivating voice, though unable to uncover the singer’s real identity. Backed by just an acoustic guitar and light harmonies, he shares “Gotta Find You” with Demi Lovato’s Mitchie Torres as a confession of his desire to find the “girl with the voice” — without realizing who he serenades is the mystery girl he’s been searching for all along.
Why It Works: The lyrics are simple yet heartfelt — exactly what you’d expect from a teenage boy’s first attempt at describing his true feelings. It’s a huge turning point for Shane, who eventually comes to realize that yes, there are things in the world that are more important than himself.
Magic Moment: When Shane finally finds “the reason that I’m singing,” as his song mashes up with Mitchie’s closing number, “This Is Me.” — D.P.
"The Ballad of Davy Crockett" (Disneyland, 1954)
Set the Scene: Originally appearing as part of a segment about the Old West folk hero on the Disneyland ABC anthology series in 1954 — as performed by Tess Parker, who also played the title role — “Davy Crockett” would go on to be a cultural sensation, starting fashion trends and influencing political campaigns and launching countless hit renditions of the country-folk theme.
Why It Works: You don’t exactly need a deep historical understanding of the frontiersman-turned-politician or his impact on the pre-Civil War South — admittedly it probably wasn’t quite as simple as him “fixin’ up the government/ and laws as well” — to get swept up in the song’s anthemic pull, particularly once it gets around to that banger of a refrain.
Magic Moment: Sing it with us now: “Davyyyyy… DAAAAAVY Crockett! KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER!” — A.U.
"That's How You Know" (Enchanted, 2007)
Set the Scene: A calypso singer, mariachi band, wedding bells and more assist Amy Adams’ Giselle as she sings and dances her way through Central Park for Enchanted’s centerpiece musical number. Though the once-animated but still starry-eyed princess from the kingdom of Andalasia has yet to uncover the realities of, well, the real world, she can’t help but melodically express her fairytale idea of love to Patrick Dempsey’s Robert, a practical New York City lawyer (and eventual love interest).
Why It Works: You could tell Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz had fun with “That’s How You Know.” The lively tune uniquely parodies and pays homage to past Disney works, as its poetic yet playful lyrics perfectly capture Giselle’s innocence and optimism.
Magic Moment: There’s a particular lyric in Marlon Saunders’ verse that serves as a reminder for anyone in a relationship. “You’ve got to show her you need her/ Don’t treat her like a mind reader,” he speak-sings over triumphant horns. — D.P.
"The Unbirthday Song" (Alice in Wonderland, 1951)
Set the Scene: Don’t call it a birthday bash: Alice stumbles onto the Mad Hatter and March Hare’s unbirthday tea party in Wonderland, eventually ingratiating herself as an invited guest.
Why It Works: Alice quickly learns to expect the unexpected in Wonderland, thanks to this nonsensical song, but it does contain one bit of logic: As the Mad Hatter says, “Statistics prove that you’ve one birthday … but there are 364 unbirthdays!” Hard to argue with that.
Magic Moment: Take it away, teapots! The perfect breakdown in the loopy lullaby is when the steaming-hot teapots have a whistling solo on the table. – K.A.
"Poor Unfortunate Souls" (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
Set the Scene: Pat Carroll’s delightfully devious Ursula sells herself as a reformed, selfless champion, convincing the lovestruck mermaid that the high price she’d have to pay for the sea witch’s help – Ariel’s gorgeous voice – would actually benefit the pretty mermaid in her quest for Prince Eric’s heart! As Ursula points out in her song (exactly as a villain would): “The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber!”
Why It Works: Carroll’s rich voice injects so much fun and wickedness, faux empathy and desire – all at the same time! — with the whispering of her reviling opinions to lackeys Flotsam and Jetsam being the shrimp on top. Take, for example, when she sings of her powers: “I use it on behalf/ Of the miserable, the lonely and depressed/ (Pathetic!)” It’s magically manipulative and catchy!
Magic Moment: All of it? Seriously, paired with the animation, the song is straight from the treasure chest, especially when the sea witch shakes her ample booty and tentacles to emphasize the “body language” lyric. But Ursula’s power of persuasion and villainy truly shine through when she declares – in a strong and ominously throaty voice — Ariel as the “poor unfortunate soul” as she throws the potion together, convincing the beauty to sign the dastardly contract. — ANNA CHAN
"The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" (Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, 1968)
Set the Scene: The legendary Sherman Brothers wrote one of the most bouncing-off-the-walls songs of the ’60s to allow Winnie the Pooh’s friend Tigger a chance to make his introduction — first in 1968’s Oscar-winning Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, then in many Poohverse installments to follow — with a gently braggy song about how great it is to be a one-of-one.
Why It Works: Like the character it trumpets, “Wonderful Thing” is also pretty singular within the Wide World of Disney, with an irrepressible energy that makes even the most hyperactive songs of Disney films and shows past feel in need of a sucrose injection by comparison.
Magic Moment: “They’re bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy-FUNFUNFUNFUNFUN!!!” Hard to argue with. — A.U.
"Rescue Rangers Theme" (Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers, 1989)
Set the Scene: After spending 40-some years as Donald and Pluto’s food-swiping adversaries in cartoon shorts, the chipmunk duo was reimagined as adventuring detectives for a TV series – and you couldn’t reinvent a franchise in the ‘80s/’90s without a bitchin’ theme song.
Why It Works: Composer Mark Mueller (a songwriter behind Hot 100 top 10s for Heart and Amy Grant) conjures up the mystery and danger of similar TV detective themes — think Magnum, P.I. and Miami Vice — while Jeff Pescetto belts these lyrics about gumshoe rodents as if the fate of the planet depends upon them.
Magic Moment: The rapid-fire “ch-ch-ch-Chip and Dale” start of the chorus, delivered as if Pescetto is so gripped by excitement that he can barely spit the words out. After that, no one is turning the channel to see what else is on. — J. Lynch
"Heigh-Ho" (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)
Set the Scene: As Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey and Doc leave Snow White to clock in at their jobs mining for diamonds and rubies, they sing-narrate and whistle the whole journey. Then they sing-narrate and whistle the workday away. Then same deal on the way home.
Why It Works: “Heigh-Ho” is basically the sound of achieving the ideal home-job life balance: Heading for work with a song in your heart, spending the day doing what you love, and then clocking out for the day with a smile on your face and going home to party for the rest of the night. (Though it also sounds like the Dwarfs are a little too content “dig-dig-digging” for jewels when they “don’t know what we dig ’em for”; if they started asking questions there they might end up whistling a slightly different tune.)
Magic Moment: A great whistle hook really does go a long way towards living in ignorant bliss. — A.U.
"Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" (Frozen, 2013)
Set the Scene: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?“ isn’t a song as much as an elliptical series of snapshots of a sibling relationship, deteriorating through neither party’s fault. As teenage Elsa struggles with the danger of her secret magical ice powers, she shuts out the rest of the world — particularly the younger Anna, who can’t understand why her sister has lost interest in sharing their former wintertime frivolities — while the pain on both sides is exacerbated by the accidental death of their parents.
Why It Works: You could read it on its surface as a story of two sisters whose relationship is irreparably damaged by youthful traumas, or as a metaphor for how puberty and different hormonal timelines can really screw with a sibling dynamic, or just as a lesson in the importance of communicating with the people you love, no matter how scary it feels. It’s absolutely devastating regardless.
Magic Moment: At the end, as a now-teenage and suddenly orphaned Anna’s final last-ditch posing of the title question at her sister’s door is left to linger unanswered — while on the other side, Elsa silently chokes on whatever words she wishes she could offer in response. – A.U.
"You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!" (Peter Pan, 1953)
Set the Scene: Peter Pan enters the bedroom of the Darling children and teaches them to fly by instructing them to think happy thoughts (“Like toys at Christmas, sleigh bells, snow”) then shaking a bit of the essential ingredient (Tinkerbell’s pixie dust) on them, then leading them in flight to Neverland.
Why It Works: Essentially a tutorial on the power of positive thought, the song is a literal and figurative uplift in two parts, with Peter and the children singing conversationally while learning to fly, and then a delightfully 1953-sounding chorus soundtracking their ascent through London.
Magic Moment: The euphoric joy of the moment the Darling children’s feet finally rise from the floor. “Oh my, we can fly!” “You can fly!” “We can flyyyyy!” — K.B.
"Oo-De-Lally" (Robin Hood, 1973)
Set the Scene: After “Whistle Stop,” a quick, whistled ditty over which the film’s title credits play, the titular character of Robin Hood and sidekick Little John are properly introduced with “Oo-De-Lally,” a plaintive folk tune detailing the duo’s general blasé attitudes and carefree lifestyles, even when they’re on the brink of getting hauled away by “a schemin’ sheriff and his posse.”
Why It Works: Much of the Robin Hood soundtrack was penned by country singer-songwriter Roger Miller, who by then had a pair of Hot Country Songs No. 1s to his name in “Dang Me” and “King of the Road.” Point is, the pedigree was there, and “Oo-De-Lally” in particular does well to immerse the viewer in the bucolic world of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws with nothing but Miller’s twangy vocals and acoustic guitar.
Magic Moment: At a tick under a minute long, “Oo-de-Lally” is practically one long moment in and of itself, and from the moment Roger Miller’s voice enters to tell the story of Robin Hood and Little John’s near-miss with the law, it’s clear this is not your average song from a Disney movie, eschewing layers of vocals, production and at-times lush orchestral arrangements for a simple voice-and-guitar scene setter. That only adds to its charm. — K.R.
"The Best of Both Worlds" (Hannah Montana, 2006)
Set the Scene: A California teen named Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) lives a double life as global pop star Hannah Montana, a balancing act best summarized by the show’s theme song “The Best of Both Worlds.”
Why It Works: As unrealistic as the scenario may be to pull off in real life, it’s a sentiment that likely feels very real for many pop stars – especially as performed by a young talent who would end up being one of the very biggest of the next couple decades.
Magic Moment: When Miley wonders, “Who would’ve thought that a girl like me/ Would double as a superstar?” before unleashing a rallying yelp that blends into the catchy chorus. — L.H.
"Lava" (Lava, 2014)
Set the Scene: Released as a Pixar short film alongside 2015’s Inside Out, Lava has a story told entirely through its eponymous song: a lonely volcano spends millions of years in the middle of the ocean, wishing for some lady volcano company. He nearly goes extinct (seemingly from heartbreak), until an underwater eruption creates a beautiful, blossoming new volcano, whose lava flow brings him back to life — and who finally joins him in song.
Why It Works: Lava director and songwriter James Ford Murphy has spoken of his own deep emotional connection to Hawaii, as well as how Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s beloved take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” inspired him — and both influences shine through on the gentle, ukelele-accompanied tune.
Magic Moment: The chorus — the only chunk of the song employing rhyme — with its lilting melody that feels a bit like floating on a bobbing wave, and its “awww”-inducing entreaty: “I wish that the earth, sea, and the sky up above-a/ Will send me someone to lava.” — R.M.
"King of New York" (Newsies, 1992)
Set the Scene: A wild pack of New York’s finest newspaper delivery boys (affectionally called Newsies) have collected in a diner to see that their strike over unfair price increases made the front page of a newspaper. It’s the first time the teenagers – many of whom struggle to make ends meet — have tasted any kind of prestige, and their minds daydream of where that fame could land them.
Why It Works: A thumping bassline draws the viewer in as the boys’ heavy New York accents build on bigger and bigger dreams (“a pair of new shows with matching laces” to “a permanent box at Sheepshead races”) until the group becomes a chorus dreaming of being the King of New York.
Magic Moment: When the Newsies all sing “Tomorrow they may wrap fishes in it/ But I was a star for one whole minute” before jumping onto lunch tables to tap and dance in unison — with a young Christian Bale at the forefront. — T.M.
"All I Want" (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, 2019)
Set the Scene: Nini, star of her high school’s musical production of High School Musical and a budding singer-songwriter herself, is feeling particularly angsty about the love triangle she finds herself as the middle point of — and composes a song on a keyboard in her bedroom about wishing love could just be a little bit simpler.
Why It Works: Did we happen to mention that Nini was played by a real-life singer-songwriter, who penned “All I Want” and would go on to write one of the biggest and angstiest teenage love triangle songs of all time on a keyboard in her own bedroom about a year later? Listening to the character, feeling and sophistication of “All I Want” — which also became a Hot 100 hit in its own right — it’s pretty unsurprising that Olivia Rodrigo was about to become Olivia Rodrigo.
Magic Moment: Nini starting the second verse, “And there’s one more boy, he’s from my past/ We fell in love but it didn’t last.” It’s stunningly economical and deeply felt songwriting, and the way Rodrigo leans into “past” gives it that little extra bit of second-hand hurt. — A.U.
"Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" (Pirates of the Caribbean, 1967)
Set the Scene: Walt Disney, a shrewd and canny producer, may have sensed that Disneyland could use some darker notes to balance all the sweetness and light. Enter Pirates of the Caribbean, which was one of the last rides he worked on before his untimely death in December 1966.
Why It Works: Kids are always expected to be well-behaved. By singing along to “Yo Ho,” they could rebel against their accompanying parents a little, just by bellowing out lines like “We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot.”
Magic Moment: You get the sense that lyricist Xavier Atencio had great fun coming up with lines like “we’re beggars and blighters, ne’er-do-well cads.” But he added this one grace note: “Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads.” – PAUL GREIN
"Miracles Happen (When You Believe)" (The Princess Diaries, 2001)
Set the Scene: With the central conflict of Princess Diaries resolved and Anne Hathaway’s Mia Thermopolis’ family royal line saved — it’s finally time to celebrate. The newly titled princess does just that, surrounded by her friends, family and a party-starting song.
Why It Works: The opening piano of Myra’s upbeat anthem increasingly turns up as the crowd hits the dance floor. It’s a moment of relief as we, the audience, can bask in the happy ending. Once the chorus belts, “Miracles happen once in a while,” you can’t help but think how it was practically a miracle (and a little movie magic) that led Hathaway’s character to where she is.
Magic Moment: Much like an EDM beat drop, this pop song slowly works up to the lyrics actually reaching the title phrase — leaving you anticipating the climactic point of the song, so when it finally hits you can throw your hands up with the main character and celebrate. — R.J.
"Let's Get Together" (The Parent Trap, 1961)
Set the Scene: The rowdy Susan (Hayley Mills on guitar) convinces strait-laced Sharon (Hayley Mills on piano), her newly discovered identical twin, to loosen up and collaborate on a jangly rock and roll song.
Why It Works: The cheeky lyrics work on two different levels – the newfound sisters are figuring out how they fit together while they scheme to get their divorced parents back together too.
Magic Moment: The 1998 Parent Trap remake starring Lindsay Lohan features a very ’90s cover on its soundtrack by erstwhile girl group Nobody’s Angel. And as a nod to the 1961 original, Lohan even hums the tune to herself in the movie. – K.A.
"I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" (The Jungle Book, 1967)
Set the Scene: Crafty orangutan/jungle VIP King Louie has “reached the top and had to stop,” and so he tries to strike a deal with feral human Mowgli, offering safe haven in exchange for the secret of fire.
Why It Works: The Sherman Brothers were pros at penning songs that pushed the story forward while standing alone as distinct pop compositions. And with swing king Louis Prima presiding over this jump blues number, it’s obvious that King Louie doesn’t need “the power of man’s red flower” to heat things up.
Magic Moment: The very end, when Baloo’s monkey disguise falls apart and the music stops, but the poor bear is too busy scatting his heart out to notice that the jig is up. — J. Lynch
"When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2, 1999)
Set the Scene: Sarah McLachlan’s delicate vocals and a gentle piano melody provides a poignant backtrack to Jessie’s (Joan Cusack) emotional backstory in Toy Story 2. The lyrics of “When She Loved Me” starkly contrast love and loss, painting a wistful picture of the quality moments that led to the doll’s eventual abandonment by her original owner.
Why It Works: It doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid or an adult: the Randy Newman-written, Grammy-winning tear-jerker is enough for you to want to dig through the depths of your closet to find a dusty old favorite toy and give it a tight squeeze.
Magic Moment: It’s more of a soul-crushing moment, actually: When Jessie reunites with her owner after years gathering dust under her bed, only to be left in a box on the side of the road. (“And she smiled at me and held me, just like she used to do.”) — D.P.
"Soarin Theme" (Soarin' Over California, 2001)
Set the Scene: In this flight simulator attraction, guests soar high above memorable sights in California (Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, and of course, Disneyland itself), all set to a rousing, epic theme (“Soarin’”) by Academy Award winner Jerry Goldsmith.
Why It Works: Goldsmith treated this highlights reel of California landmarks as if it were a film trailer for the entire state itself. Thus, it feels like you’re part of a movie trailer, appropriately immersed in both eye-popping visuals and a theatrical film-quality sweeping soundtrack. The Soarin’ attraction is found in other Disney Parks, with some showcasing an “around the world” theme highlighting global landmarks. All permutations feature a score adapted from the original Goldsmith composition.
Magic Moment: Call us a sucker for Disney magic. After flying over a frantic scene of nighttime Los Angeles’ bumper-to-bumper traffic in Soarin’ Over California, the action dramatically cuts to an overhead shot of Disneyland itself. Then, the “Soarin’” theme kicks into its big finish, an animated Tinkerbell appears, pixie dust is sprinkled, and you come in for a landing under an onscreen fireworks display. — K.C.
"Cheetah Sisters" (The Cheetah Girls, 2003)
Set the Scene: After a rocky introduction to fame, the four members of fictional teen-pop/R&B group The Cheetah Girls reunite in the streets of New York City to deliver a powerful song about sticking together.
Why It Works: Because it’s just as much a banger outside of the context of the film. Girl power all the way.
Magic Moment: When the crunchy electric guitar helps the song transition from tender ballad to a punchy pop song. — L.H.
"I'll Make a Man Out of You" (Mulan, 1998)
Set the Scene: A training montage! While the titular Mulan frets about being exposed as a woman disguised as a man in the Chinese army, her male comrades must get down to business to defeat the Huns – and turn from laughingstocks to warriors over the course of one song.
Why It Works: Besides the gender stereotypes that are woven into the lyrics (“Did they send me daughters/ When I asked for sons?”) and ultimately dismantled throughout Mulan herself, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is an effectively rousing sing-along, with stray lines from the various characters stomped out by Donny Osmond’s lead vocal: “Be a MAN!”
Magic Moment: Mulan’s lone lyric in the macho opus – “Hope he doesn’t see right through me!” – is the most fun line to sing, preferably in a dramatic falsetto. — J. Lipshutz
"Why Should I Worry?" (Oliver & Company, 1988)
Set the Scene: The big-eyed and lonely protagonist, an innocent kitten named Oliver, has just been used by the streetwise and scruffy terrier Dodger to score some sausages from a street vendor. The stolen links drapped around his neck, Dodger breaks out into song to teach the tiny tabby a lesson in “street savoir faire.”
Why It Works: The ultimate New Yorker, Billy Joel, sings in a brawny-yet-smooth tenor over an anthemic piano groove about how only the most clever folks can make it on the tough streets of the Big Apple.
Magic Moment: When the bandana-wearing Dodger, sporting a pair of boosted sunglasses, sits atop a piano being crane-lifted into a high-rise building belts out the chorus of “Why should I worry/ Why should I care?” while playing the keys with his tail. — T.M.
"I Won't Say I'm in Love" (Hercules, 1997)
Set the Scene: The recently heartbroken Meg, the love interest of Hercules, finds herself falling for the Greek hero against her better judgement and despite the fact that she’s been lying to him since they met.
Why It Works: In a Disney flick filled with over-the-top bangers, “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” slows the tempo down for a puckish pop ballad that sounds as good as ambrosia (presumably) tastes.
Magic Moment: Any time the Muses sing is worth a mention, but when the five-member group chimes in to tell Meg, “Who’d’ya think you’re kiddin’/ He’s the Earth and heaven to you,” it brings the song to the godly level of Mount Olympus. — T.M.
"How Far I'll Go" (Moana, 2016)
Set the Scene: In a moment that was arguably more emotional for adults in the audience than the kids that Moana was made for, the film’s 16-year-old heroine reveals the inner turmoil of wanting more for herself than her community is capable of imagining. Perched atop a smooth rock along the shore of a turquoise sea, Moana delivers the captivating, Grammy-winning ballad, bringing out the dreamer in every audience member, young and old.
Why It Works: In order to successfully portray Moana’s experience, Lin-Manuel Miranda has recalled locking himself in his childhood bedroom for a week to recapture his own feelings of wanting more. The brief sabbatical resulted in one of the most gripping inspirational musical moments Disney has delivered, serving as a formidable follow-up to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s “Let It Go,” thanks to its gripping production, and sincere confessions: “I’ll be satisfied if I play along/ But the voice inside sings a different song/ What is wrong with me?”
Magic Moment: Watching Moana’s sweet pet pig Pua struggle to keep up with the chief’s daughter as she rushes from the hill down to the shore during the song’s climax is sure to inspire a tear or two. — N.R.
"Disney Afternoon Theme" (The Disney Afternoon, 1990)
Set the Scene: It was the primary soundtrack to the post-school weekdays for millions of ’90s kids — particularly those not yet old enough to enjoy the slightly more adult pleasures of ABC’s Friday night TGIF or Nickelodeon’s Saturday night SNICK lineups. The theme song to Disney Channel’s midday syndication block (a rotation of original Disney shows like TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck), “Disney Afternoon Theme” promised two worry-free hours of good times ahead.
Why It Works: Because it’s every bit as fun and memorable as the classic themes of the shows it leads in to, with triumphant horns, mischievous xylophone, roving bass and some very smiley vocals all shepherding you to “where the fun begins.”
Magic Moment: Can you beat that flute solo? Rarely, if ever. — A.U.
"Belle" (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
Set the Scene: After the film opens with the origin story of the Beast, “Belle” then helps the movie transition to the present day, and introduces the kind-hearted, book-loving protagonist — while hilariously juxtaposing her with handsome “brute” Gaston in their quaint town.
Why It Works: Among opening songs in movie musicals, “Belle” is tough to beat. Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman penned a tune that manages to be a fun, emotional earworm that also has Belle and Gaston make an immediate impact while painting the scene with perfect orchestral moments. That is some kind of impressive magic, even for Disney.
Magic Moment: The Belle-Gaston “duet”! Sure, they’re not exactly singing together, but as the song crescendos, Belle belts out, “There must be more than this provincial life!” as Gaston declares from another part of town, “Just watch, I’m going to make Belle my wife!” masterfully highlighting their opposing dreams for their futures. — A.C.
"Pink Elephants on Parade" (Dumbo, 1941)
Set the Scene: Dumbo and his bestie Timothy Q. Mouse accidentally drink champagne-spiked water and go on a psycho/spiritual journey in which they hallucinate the song‘s titular pink elephants.
Why It Works: Certainly Disney’s most overtly trippy caper (especially for 1941), the song is, like psychedelic experiences themselves, strange, alluring, a little bit scary and often quite elegant, with the surrealist animation elevating its effects.
Magic Moment: Watchful eyes will track many whimsical flourishes here, but we love the vibe shift moment when the ominous march song transforms into a Middle Eastern-inspired song, then a mambo, then a ballet before the whole thing dissolves into cacophony and the pink elephants simply become the pink clouds of the sky at dawn as Dumble and Timothy emerge from the night’s adventure. — K.B.
"Hakuna Matata" (The Lion King, 1994)
Set the Scene: A young Simba just watched his father Mufasa get trampled and killed by a wildebeest stampede, got blamed by his uncle for stampede, and narrowly escaped a hit on his life from a trio of hyenas. Now, the lovable meerkat and warthog who have found him want him to know everything’s going to be just fine.
Why It Works: Mufasa’s death and the ensuing scenes are some of the most harrowing and bleak moments in any Disney film, and bringing audiences back from the edge required an extreme dose of reassurance. Enter the clever and catchy “Hakuna Matata,” a spiritual successor of sorts to “The Bare Necessities” that also expedites the film’s plot by scoring a montage of Simba’s adolescence.
Magic Moment: In their roles as Timon and Pumbaa, respectively, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella’s musical chemistry is immediately palpable – and peaks when Timon breaks the fourth wall to caution Pumbaa, about to expound about his flatulence, to avoid doing so “in front of the kids.” — ERIC RENNER BROWN
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (Cinderella, 1951)
Set the Scene: This is where all the magic happens. Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother transforms a pumpkin and mice into a gilded horse and carriage to whisk the aspiring princess off to the ball – wearing the perfect royal glam to match, of course.
Why It Works: The song follows in the grand tradition of Disney turning gibberish phrases into cultural touchstones. More than 50% of the lyrics are nonsense, and yet we all have it committed to memory.
Magic Moment: While it doesn’t appear in the 2015 live-action remake, the new Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham Carter) did record an eccentric new version that plays in the end-credits. – K.A.
"The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room" (Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, 1963)
Set the Scene: When Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room debuted at the California park in 1963, the exhibit wasn’t drawing on a preexisting property – so the four robot macaws trading lead vocals needed a straightforward song with an instantly hummable hook to sell the concept.
Why It Works: Prepare to step into an authentic, immersive showcase of Polynesian cultures… somewhere else. But for the first theme park attraction to use Audio-Animatronics, this Sherman Brothers song is dripping in the requisite kitsch to sell a room “where the birds sing words and the flowers croon.”
Magic Moment: That unexpectedly dark lyrical turn when the macaws tell you that unless the show “fills you with pleasure and glee,” they’ll end up dead and stuffed “on a lady’s hat.” So enjoy yourself – or their bird blood is on your hands. — J. Lynch
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (Mary Poppins, 1964)
Set the Scene: The titular British nanny (Julie Andrews) magically transports her two pre-teen charges, Jane and Michael, into a sidewalk chalk drawing created by her friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke). During that adventure, mixing live action and animation, Mary Poppins wins a horse race and is besieged by animated reporters who predict her emotions to be indescribable. Poppins replies, “On the contrary, there’s a very good word!” — and launches into “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which, according to Syracuse student Helen Herman (who coined the phrase in a 1931 college newspaper column) “implies all that is grand, great, glorious, splendid, superb, wonderful.”
Why It Works: Imagination and silliness are essential qualities for entertaining young children (or adults) and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” offers both in abundance. The song romps through its orchestrated arrangement — accompanied in the film by an animated street band — as Andrews and Van Dyke delight in offering rhyming lines ending with “atrocious” and “precocious.”
Magic Moment: If the 34 letters and 14 syllables of the title phrase aren’t charming enough, there’s that rapid-fire break through the song: “Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay! Um diddle diddle diddle, um diddle ay!” — T.D.
"Call Me, Beep Me!" (Kim Possible, 2002)
Set the Scene: As described in her titular program’s theme, Kim Possible is a high school cheerleader by day and wards off supervillains by night – or whenever she’s needed, which her trusty pager always alerts her of.
Why It Works: “Call me, beep me, if you wanna reach me,” has transcended this one song or show, becoming a universally used phrase that here is set to a catchy tune courtesy of ’00s hitmaker Christina Milian.
Magic Moment: The inescapable, instantly recognizable pager beeps. Duh. — L.H.
"Friend Like Me" (Aladdin, 1992)
Set the Scene: In the very first encounter between Aladdin and Genie, the Genie (voiced by the late Robin Williams) not only lets Aladdin know he can grant him whichever three wishes he desires but also makes a clever effort to befriend him — and his mischievous monkey Abu — with a stellar “Friend Like Me” performance.
Why It Works: This big band-styled number is feel-good and silly but strongly makes a case that the Genie is a friend like no other. The head-bopping classic was nominated for best original song at the 1993 Academy Awards, and later performed by Will Smith for the 2019 live-action remake.
Magic Moment: It’s a no-brainer that no friend will grant you three wishes — unless you’re the Genie, and one of the most memorable moments of this scene was when he tells Aladdin up front, “I’m in the mood to help you, dude,” later showing off his endless talents to win his trust. — JESSICA ROIZ
"You'll Be in My Heart" (Tarzan, 1999)
Set the Scene: Tarzan’s adoptive gorilla mother Kala comforts the fussy newborn with a tender ballad about the everlasting bond between a parent and a child, which fades into the night as a lullaby that soothes Tarzan, as well as the rest of the children in the jungle, to sleep.
Why It Works: Phil Collins’ sincere, warmhearted melodies underscore the film’s central theme of family and a parent’s role to provide for and protect their child, especially when he croons, “For one so small/ You seem so strong/ My arms will hold you/ Keep you safe and warm/ This bond between us/ Can’t be broken/ I will be here/ Don’t you cry.”
Magic Moment: Our tiny protagonist adorably coos when Kala throws him up into the air during Collins’ swoon-worthy chorus, and Tarzan is met with a kaleidoscope of butterflies, while one of them lands on his face and unintentionally, yet flawlessly, masks it. — H.M.
"There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, 1964)
Set the Scene: The Sherman Brothers wrote this irresistable jingle for the GE-branded Carousel of Progress at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964-65. In 1967, the ride was exported to Disneyland and, later, Walt Disney World.
Why It Works: The song is heard as bridge music between each of the four acts in the exhibit. It had to be catchy enough so that after hearing that earworm four times, people would want to get right back in line and see the show again. It worked. Capitalism never sounded so good! The song fed the enduring American myth that happiness was just a shiny new appliance away.
Magic Moment: Country singer Rex Allen was perfectly cast as the voice of the dad in the vignettes – and as the singer of the song. The whole “family” — including their dog — chimes in at the end of the song. – P.G.
"Almost There" (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)
Set the Scene: In one of the best “I don’t need a man” Disney moments, future Princess Tiana sings a jazz-infused, New Orleans-inspired song of desire to fulfill her dreams. Waltzing around a dilapidated mill with her mother Eudora, Tiana fantasizes about what her future restaurant will be through an Aaron Douglas-style visual rendition, declaring, “Trials and tribulations/ I’ve had my share/ There ain’t nothing gonna stop me now/ ‘Cause I’m almost there.”
Why It Works: Because Tiana is doing what few Disney princesses of the past had done: working towards her own dreams, independent of any man. Her words exude confidence and self-assurance, qualities indispensable for any little one watching the film, and crucial to the plot line of this reimagined “Princess and the Frog.”
Magic Moment: Watching a glamorous Tiana head-to-toe in white, making an appearance in the restaurants of her dreams, as the train of her dress flutters behind her. All the while, her vocals glide from one note to another on the line, “Trials and tribulations.” — N.R.
"This Is Me" (Camp Rock, 2008)
Set the Scene: Enduring superstars Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas (along with brothers Nick and Kevin, of course) co-star in this film about a sought-out musical summer camp, with Demi taking the lead on this ballad about finally letting the world know who she really is.
Why It Works: It’s the perfect “coming out of my shell” song, during which Lovato embraces her talent –- and the spotlight -– while Joe steps into a supporting role, bumping the song into power duet territory.
Magic Moment: When Joe and Demi harmonize into one another’s faces for the final chorus, during which she hits notes she hadn’t yet reached on her own. — L.H.
"What Dreams Are Made Of" (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, 2003)
Set the Scene: Our surprise antagonist, Paolo, has made a fool of himself on stage and it’s up to Hilary Duff’s Lizzie McGuire to save the show. With the help of Duff’s other character, Isabella, the two put on a showstopping performance that leaves the crowd roaring.
Why It Works: Paired with the unforgettable line, “Sing to me Paolo,” this female-empowerment moment paired with the a song that captures the essence of the situation really captures a situation that is truly “what dreams are made of.”
Magic Moment: That first line, “Have you ever seen such a beautiful night?” is such a wow moment, as both the audience in the crowd and watching the movie unfold are shocked. Not once throughout the movie does her character sing to us — even when you watch the rehearsal scenes — making this a moment where you wonder, can Lizzie McGuire actually sing? — R.J.
"You've Got a Friend in Me" (Toy Story, 1995)
Set the Scene: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is played during the opening scene of Toy Story, spotlighting the undeniable friendship between Andy and his toy cowboy Woody. The clip shows a school-aged boy packing his toys in a box; whereas his favorite one, Woody, gets all the play attention.
Why It Works: Performed by Randy Newman, this country-jazz fusion is charged with emotive lyrics about friendship and loyalty: “And as the years go by/ Our friendship will never die/ You’re gonna see it’s our destiny/ You’ve got a friend in me.”
Magic Moment: Not only does the song set the tone for the entire firm, but it’s also become a staple for the entire franchise: “You’ve Got a Friend of Me” is also heard in the opening scenes of Toy Story 3 and 4, further proving the importance of real friendships. — J.R.
"That's So Raven" (That's So Raven, 2003)
Set the Scene: The theme song to the Raven-Symoné-starring vehicle that ran for four seasons in the mid ’00s, “That’s So Raven” introduces the eponymous protagonist and her character’s signature future-forecasting powers, but lets the audience know soothsaying isn’t as easy as it looks: “I try to save the situation/ Then I end up misbehaving.”
Why It Works: More than maybe any other Disney TV theme of its time, “Raven” sounds like a plausible pop hit in its own right, down to the frenetic R&B production that was unavoidable in early-’00s top 40 radio, and even the hint of Auto-Tune on the verses. (Plus, it’s as hooky as the best Darkchild and Kandi Burruss jams.)
Magic Moment: “It’s so MYSTERIOUS to mee-eeeeee!!!” — A.U.
"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" (Three Little Pigs, 1933)
Set the Scene: Two porcine lollygaggers mock their survivalist brother, a hard-working brick layer who will soon have the last laugh in this Oscar-winning short from the Great Depression.
Why It Works: Sure, the pig with the panic room saves the day, but Frank Churchill’s irrepressible, cheery melody makes it impossible not to sympathize with the shiftless layabouts. It was such an immediate, inescapable hit that it led to a contract between Walt Disney and Irving Berlin in 1933, beginning the long history of Disney characters catapulting a tune into pop culture ubiquity and publishing profits.
Magic Moment: When the two prancing porkers laugh in their brother’s face after his warning about their half-assed homes, dancing a country jig while singing the taunting chorus with a renewed flippancy. — J. Lynch
"Under the Sea" (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
Set the Scene: Sebastian the crab, an emissary of Ariel’s father King Triton, knows she’s plotting to leave the ocean behind for Prince Eric on land — so he launches into the equivalent of a Broadway eleven-o’clock number, calypso-style, to convince her to stay.
Why It Works: Lin-Manuel Miranda put it perfectly when he told Billboard in 2022 that “Under the Sea” is his personal top Disney song of all time: “It’s like Sebastian making the case for a way of life and presenting us with a world so much more beautiful than our own! I wanted to go f–kin’ live under the sea!”
Magic Moment: It’s delight-a-second start-to-finish, but the mid-song litany of marine musical talent — “The newt play de flute/The carp play de harp,” etc. — captures lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken’s creative alchemy in a perfect snapshot. — R.M.
"Whistle While You Work" (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937)
Set the Scene: Snow White enlists all the creatures of the forest to help her tidy up the house, with the chipmunks on dishes, the squirrels on dusting, and the raccoons on laundry.
Why It Works: The hard work seems so pleasant thanks to Snow’s cheery tune – and the full animal assembly line is needed to clean up after the seven tiny men of the house.
Magic Moment: The only harmonizing Snow White needs for her lilting whistle is the chirping birds all around her, who partake in a cheerful call-and-response with the woodland princess. – K.A.
"Supernova Girl" (Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, 1999)
Set the Scene: The futuristic girl in question, Zenon, is on a mission to foil an evil plot to crash the space station her family lives on — where she used to live, before being sent to Earth as punishment to live with her aunt. Her secondary goal is to attend a concert on that space station, held by teen idol Proto Zoa and his retro-futuristic pop-rock