Ten Disney Songs That Don’t Get the Attention They Deserve
Those of us who love Disney know that the magic and the music go hand-in-hand. There are so many Disney songs that are simply iconic and simply identifiable. Some of them get more than their fair share of play, while there are others that just don’t seem to get the appreciation that they deserve. Today I hope to rectify any oversights and celebrate ten songs that have been taken for granted.
“Candle on the Water” from Pete’s Dragon
For the fact that this song by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha was nominated for an Oscar, and it is the musical highlight of Pete’s Dragon, “Candle on the Water” gets surprisingly little play in this day and age. In 1977, however, the song received radio play, thanks in part to it being performed by Helen Reddy who had chart-topping success with songs like “Angie Baby”, “Delta Dawn” and “I Am Woman”. Regardless, the song stands on its own, a lovely metaphor for someone’s love calling you home, just like a lighthouse guides ships in a storm. Reddy’s character Nora stood on the lighthouse catwalk, singing out to sea to her missing love as the lantern of the lighthouse blazes behind her.
“The Phony King of England” from Robin Hood
In Disney’s animated Robin Hood, full of anthropomorphic animals filling out the famous characters, there is one song that has always stuck out as witty and fun. “The Phony King of England”, written by songwriting legend Johnny Mercer, is a jaunty and jovial number where the animals led by Little John (sung by Phil Harris) roast their leader Prince John, a corrupt and prissy leader who is nothing more than a spoiled mamma’s boy. Mercer’s lyrics are riotously funny, a highlight of an already atmospheric and effective country score.
“The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Sherman Brothers concocted a mesmerizing and jubilant score for the Disney masterpiece Mary Poppins. Disney hoped to recapture that magic with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it was a no-brainer that they would reach out to this dynamic duo of songwriting again. The score isn’t quite up to the Mary Poppins standards, but there is much to recommend. Topping the list is “The Age of Not Believing” sung by Angela Lansbury as Miss Eglantine Price (an apprentice witch) to a boy who doubts that magic exists. It’s a lovely ballad, almost a lullaby in style, that really delves into the insecurities of growing up.
“Someone’s Waiting for You” from The Rescuers
With music by the great Sammy Fain, and lyrics by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins, “Someone’s Waiting for You” from The Rescuers is sung by folk singer Shelby Flint as the kidnapped orphan girl Penny wishes for a mother and father to adopt her. Atmospherically set aboard a rundown riverboat, the little girl wanders with her teddy bear to the deck of the boat and longingly looks out into the swamp where she sees animals with their young. The song makes her sadness palpable while evoking a sliver of hope.
“Tomorrow is Another Day” from The Rescuers
As Bernard and Bianca, the two brave mice of The Rescue Aid Society, ride aboard an albatross to a Louisiana bayou to rescue an orphan girl, this soaring and lovely song plays in the background. Written by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins, and sung by Shelby Flint, the folkish quality creates a gentle, contemplative mood as the two mice watch New York City’s skyline slip by them and disappear under the clouds. The song may smack of the 1970s, when The Rescuers premiered, but it is so effectively emotional.
“Dig a Little Deeper” from The Princess and the Frog
Randy Newman’s score for The Princess and the Frog may be one of the most underrated of all the Disney musicals. Dripping with a New Orleans flavor, insightful, and brimming with optimism, it is the perfect score for this film. For me, the song that stands out over all the others is the Cajun-inspired “Dig a Little Deeper”. Voodoo priestess Madame Odie (sung by Jenifer Lewis) counsels the young Tiana and Prince Naveen who are looking to be returned to their human state after being turned into frogs. Madame Odie encourages them to look deeper into who they really want to be and what will make them happy. It’s a rousing, spiritual number that invigorates and inspires.
“All in a Golden Afternoon” from Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland has always been one of Disney’s more polarizing offerings, some people finding it emotionally detached and aimless, while others embrace its colorful characters and quirky originality. I am of the latter (the film is my favorite of all Disney films) and I am particularly in love with the music. When a shrunken Alice stumbles into a flower garden, the flora introduce themselves to her in the enchantingly poetic (and slightly witty) “All in a Golden Afternoon”. With music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Bob Hilliard, the song is a series of puns with reference to “the bread and butterflies”, “the copper centipedes”, “the daffy daffodils” and “strings of violets are all in tune”.
“Why Should I Worry?” from Oliver & Company
Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight composed this lively number to be sung by Billy Joel as Dodger in the Disney animated film Oliver & Company. Loosely based on Charles Dickins’ novel Oliver Twist, the story is instead told with animals. Dodger (a mutt standing in for the Artful Dodger) is taking the impressionable kitten Oliver under his wing and leading him into a life of crime. “Why Should I Worry?” is an 80s-style pop song, infectiously melodic, that introduces Dodger’s nonchalant approach to life.
“Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” from Lilo & Stitch
The Hawaiian setting of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch opened-up some wonderful possibilities to combine native music styles and instrumentation with words of Hawaiian poetry. This is exactly what Alan Silverstri and Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu achieved with “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”, a celebration of surfing and fun in the sun. Sung by Mark Keali’I Ho’omalu and The Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus, the song has a breezy lightness that captures a perfect day at the beach. The ukulele accompaniment makes it an especially unique Disney number.
“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan
Having mentioned 80’s pop music earlier, it is interesting to note that 80’s pop star Matthew Wilder (“Break My Stride”) wrote the music for the score to Mulan. The snappy lyrics were written by Broadway genius David Zippel (City of Angels). The score is quite wonderful, but the song that always seems to appeal to audiences is “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. Sung by Donny Osmond as Shang (a military officer), the song is the leader’s assessment of the “men” in his charge, including the cross-dressing Mulan. It’s a wonderful montage scene and the song is both invigorating and majestic, especially when the chorus of men chime in with the majestic refrain “Be a man”.
How about you? What Disney songs do you feel don’t get the appreciation that they deserve?