Disney's Five Best "I Want" Songs

1. "Part of Your World," The Little Mermaid (1989)

Of the songs on this list, this one benefits its movie the most. Without it, Ariel might appear to be a spoiled brat (or more than she already does, as the detractors would say). She makes her case with some pretty singing and some brilliant work from lyricist Howard Ashman and animator Glen Keane. The song makes us understand that Ariel’s dream is a heartfelt desire and not some superficial sweet sixteen present.

2. "Out There," The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The construction of this song is very intriguing. It begins with the villain singing to the hero about the hero’s oppression. We usually see that scenario played out in a spoken scene before the song. Frollo’s sonorous beginning makes Quasimodo’s hopeful finale all the more appealing. It’s quite an uplifting finish as he sings and climbs over Notre Dame in long wide shots reminiscent of The Sound of Music.

3. "God Help the Outcasts," The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Perhaps it’s an impropriety to have two songs from the same movie on the list, but they are both too good to exclude. It’s a spiritual song that adds gravitas to the film without being gloomy. The only misstep is the bridge where the “normal” people pray for completely selfish things. It stretches the point out a little too much, though it provides us with some nice choir singing. This is still a nice song that is appropriately pro-faith.

4. "Almost There," The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Let me get the negatives out of the way: the song begins and ends too quickly, the lyrics are simple and only the last line gives Anika Noni Rose a chance to show off her voice. But when I first saw Princess in a theater, this number was point where I started crying happily. This was Disney’s first animated production number in ages, with the concept being a neat spin on the “I Want” song (she has just about reached her goal already). The sequence is dressed in entrancing designs inspired by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas. Watching this number, I felt my hope that Disney was putting effort into reviving their classic style was being vindicated.

5. "Just Around the Riverbend," Pocahontas (1995)

This is not a particularly hummable “I Want” song, but that doesn’t always matter. (How would I like Stephen Sondheim if it did?). In this case, the melody mirrors the ebb and flow of the river Pocahontas navigates, which keeps it busy and has it alternating between calm and rapid. The lyrics properly express that Pocahontas likes change and is not searching for anything specific in life, an unusual notion for a Disney Princess.

Just Missed the Cut: "Go the Distance," "I Wonder," "Son of Man"

Disney's Five Best Love Songs

1. "Bella Notte," Lady and the Tramp (1955)

I’m surprised this ended up number one since I’ve seen Lady and the Tramp’s accidental kiss enough times that it’s not as special anymore. I still love that bit (and when the Tramp gives Lady that last meatball), but not quite as much because of overexposure. The song, though, is something I’ll never get tired of. The lyrics are timeless, the music is lushly orchestrated and the animation is exceptional. Except for the space dance in WALL-E, this sequence is as romantic as animation gets.

2. "Someday My Prince Will Come," Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Why can’t we have songs like this anymore? If a modern movie has a song this optimistic and innocent, it’s usually for irony or for comic ridicule (like in Shrek and Enchanted). In this movie, it’s just an honest declaration of love, with Adriana Caselotti’s performance adding a touch of adult longing to a childlike character. This song is a warm, nostalgic and comforting gem that will never overstay its welcome.

3. "Baby Mine," Dumbo (1941)

First, this song counts since it’s about parental love. Second, say what you will about Bambi’s mother, but I’ve always been more affected by seeing Mrs. Jumbo’s trunk reach through her cage to hug and rock her son. The lovely lullaby we hear makes the separation even less bearable (if it ever was). I wish there was more of Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo and less of the other animal families, but I suppose we can only take so much sadness in one moment.

4. "Beauty and the Beast," Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I thought this song was a little boring when I was a kid, and now I think it’s a little sudden since Belle and the Beast’s courtship is breezed through. Still, I’d be remiss to ignore this song’s self-referential concept. Rather than gushing about these characters getting together, Howard Ashman’s lyrics cleverly comment on the timelessness and appeal of romance stories. Alan Menken’s melody is superb, and Angela Lansbury’s vocals turn a pretty song into something exquisite.

5. "Kiss the Girl," The Little Mermaid (1989)

This song continues the Disney tradition of animals helping the heroine out in some musical way, whether it is cleaning the house in Snow White or making a dress in Cinderella. This time, they sing a soothing calypso song to get Eric to kiss Ariel. The choreography of these animals gets sillier as the song gets louder and more emphatic, creating an irresistible combination of humor and music.

Just Missed the Cut: "I'm Wishing/One Song," "Once Upon a Dream," "Strangers Like Me"


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