Disney's Five Best Opening Numbers

1. "Belle," Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Could it really be anything else? “Belle” is the culmination of opening numbers throughout musical theatre history. It’s as expository as “Tradition,” as catchy as “Wilkommen” and as delightful as “Comedy Tonight.” The memorable melody, marvelous lyrics and bustling animation make this sequence an opening so grand you can’t wait to see what the movie will pull off next.

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

This opening perfectly sets the deep, operatic tone for the movie’s songs and score, as well as relaying exposition in a timely and tuneful manner. The singing by Paul Kandel, David Ogden Stiers and Tony Jay dollops the right amount of eerie solemnity to start off this unexpectedly dramatic film.

3. "Winnie the Pooh," The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

This anthem of childhood, one of Disney’s most instantly recognizable songs, is an understated introduction to the harmless whimsy of Winnie the Pooh’s world. It establishes the short, hummable structure that Pooh’s songs will take, and it visually demonstrates the film’s “living storybook” approach to this material. I know this sequence will be updated for the new Winnie the Pooh movie coming in July, but it would have to be something special to match this charming opening.

4. "When You Wish Upon a Star," Pinocchio (1940)

Surely everybody in the English-speaking world (if not the whole world) has heard the song at some point in their lives. Upon a recent listen, I found a tint of solemnity in the original rendition that I had not realized before. I think it foreshadows the perils Pinocchio endures to attain his wish, which makes this song a strong opening number as well as a Disney anthem.

5. "Circle of Life," The Lion King (1994)

This wordless opening was prodigious enough that Disney used it as The Lion King’s first trailer. Its portraits of the savannah and its realistically drawn animals suggest an elegant film full of grandeur, like a Bambi for the 1990s. The rest of the movie may not quite live up to that promise (this sequence doesn’t exactly point to Timon and Pumbaa), but it is still one of Disney’s most impressively massive musical numbers, especially when seen in a theater.

Just Missed the Cut: "Down in New Orleans," "He Mele No Lilo," "I'm Wishing/One Song"

Disney's Five Best Finales

1. "One Song/Someday My Prince Will Come," Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

How can you compete with a finale of such unadulterated happiness? From the buildup of “Someday My Prince Will Come” to the joyful character animation, this ending makes my eyes water every time I watch it.

2. "Ave Maria," Fantasia (1940)

I’m including this one since it is the only portion of Fantasia with any singing in it. It may be one of the least exciting parts of Fantasia, but it is a fitting way to end the film. It is a peaceful transition out of the chaotic “Night on Bald Mountain,” and the final image parallels the opening segment, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” to majestic effect.

3. "You Can Fly," Peter Pan (1953)

Skip to 4:37 of this video

This one is a sentimental favorite of mine. Preceded by a touching line from Mr. Darling, this reprise is a lovely reminder that merely growing up isn’t always enough to destroy childhood. The ending says that one way or another, you can always rediscover the things that make you happy.

4. "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," Cinderella (1950)

The Cinderella finale is not very different from the Snow White finale. It just has less buildup and it uses a lesser song. Still, we still love seeing this finale because Cinderella finally overcomes Lady Tremaine and gets her perfect reward.

5. "Once Upon a Dream," Sleeping Beauty (1959)

This finale falls a bit short because we don't feel much for Aurora and Philip over the course of the picture, but it is still memorable for the choral singing and the resumed bickering between Flora and Merryweather. (I’d love to know how they got the dress in the live-action storybook to change colors.)

Just Missed the Cut: "The Bare Necessities," "Two Worlds," "When I See An Elephant Fly"


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