Disney wasn’t always the powerhouse of animation films in Hollywood. After what’s known as the “Golden & Silver Age” of Disney came nearly a thirty year span (from ’60-’88) where the studio really struggled at the box office. It wasn’t until former Disney CEO Michael Eisner (’88-’05) decided to shy away from an era of “darker, secular stories” in favor of more traditional fairy-tale musicals. Enter lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken.
If you don’t know who both men are, then surely you’ll recognize their music. These two men are largely responsible in beginning what’s known as the “Renaissance Era” for Disney, starting with The Little Mermaid. Ashman and Menken were brought in to create all the songs for the film, including “Under the Sea”. The results were spectacular to say the least. Ashman and Menken proceeded to create all the songs for Beauty and the Beast, as well as a few for Aladdin (including the film’s treatment). Everything Disney related which these men touched turned to gold. After Ashman’s unfortunate death at 40 years old, Disney built on the momentum, with more classics like The Lion King, Hercules, and Mulan. The studio ended up with a ten year run (from ’89-’99) featuring some of their greatest films which, for many millennials (including myself) made our childhoods feel magical.
That in mind, I’ve decided to do the impossible, and that’s select just five songs from the Disney Renaissance era for my 5 Favorites list. These songs are ones I consider to be my favorites, and not necessarily the best. For example, I’m aware that for many the Oscar winning song “Beauty and the Beast” is a better song than “Prince Ali”, and I agree, however I just happen to like the latter more. As a result, your list will likely differ from mines, which I’d be happy to hear from you in the comments. Again, the following is my personal, not in any particular order of favorites, with a few of them being for very personal reasons. Before I begin though, some honorable mentions that almost made it.
- “Under the Sea” (The Little Mermaid) – Samuel E. Wright **
- “Tale as Old as Time” (Beauty & the Beast) – Angela Lansbury **
- “A Girl Worth Fighting For” (Mulan) – Harvey Fierstein, James Hong, Jerry Tondo, Lea Salonga and Matthew Wilder
- “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” (The Lion King) – Jason Weaver, Rowan Atkinson, and Laura Williams
- “Gaston” (Beauty and the Beast) – Richard White, Jesse Corti, Chorus **
#1. “Circle of Life” (The Lion King) – Carmen Twillie and Lebo M.
Favorite Lines: Nants ingonyama bagithi baba (there comes a lion)
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama (oh yes, it’s a lion)
It doesn’t matter what age you are. If the opening to “Circle of Life” doesn’t give you chills, then you likely aren’t human. Composed by Sir Elton John, with lyrics by Tim Rice, it’s the perfect opening song for a film with plenty of lessons for young children about life.
#2. “Prince Ali” (Aladdin) – Robin Williams **
Favorite Lines: Well get on out in that square, Adjust your veil and prepare,
To gawk and grovel and stare at Prince Ali!
Performed by hands down the greatest voice actor in any animated film ever! Robin Williams is energetic and funny, especially during the moments where he imitates others. If you’re in need of a wing man to help you get the girl, is there’s no one better to hype you up than Williams as the Genie?
#3. “You’ll Be in My Heart” (Tarzan) – Phil Collins
Favorite Lines: When destiny calls you, You must be strong (you gotta be strong)
I may not be with you, But you’ve got to hold on
Remember when I mentioned how a few of these songs make the list for personal reasons? “You’ll be in My Heart” is one of those examples. Its a song that every time I hear brings me back to my late-father, and the bond I shared with him growing up. Phil Collins wrote the with his 10 year old daughter in mind. The lyrics are filled with so much love, and symbolize a unique bond between a parent and their child.
#4. “Son of Man” (Tarzan) – Phil Collins
Favorite Lines: Though there’s no one there to guide you, No one to take your hand
But with faith and understanding, You will journey from boy to man.
“Son of Man” is one of the most underrated, inspirational, coming-of-age songs in a Disney film. Even as an adult, I feel so inspired when listening to this track, especially during rough times, as it helps me to keep on going. The song also pairs beautifully with the montage in the video above (also in the film).
#5. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (Mulan) – Donny Osmond
Favorite Lines: Let’s get down to business, To defeat the Huns
Did they send me daughters when I asked for sons?
Who ever said Disney songs couldn’t be effective during workouts, especially cardio sessions, for that extra needed motivation? I love this song for its military tempo, and who it speaks to. For those guilty of cutting gym class in school (me), and those still don’t know how to swim (also me).
What are your 5 favorite songs from the Disney Renaissance?
** Songs composed by Alan Menkin, w/ lyrics by Howard Ashman
sources: Disney Avenue, Wikipedia (Disney Renaissance)