It’s back! It’s been a rather long time since the last edition of the MM Top 5 series, in fact it was in January that we last looked at a topic. Due to time constraints it is with great sadness that I announce the series will now be done on the second Sunday of every month rather than fortnightly like previous editions. Emotions aside, it’s time for a comeback and April’s topic is Disney Songs. But what has made the cut?
5. A Whole New World: 1992
“A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view”
The Song: A Whole New World is a cracking mid-tempo ballad with feel-good lyrics and soaring vocals. Sang by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga back in 1992, it became an instant hit with listeners across the globe even winning an Oscar for its production.
It also managed to top the US charts, making it the first and only time a Disney animation song has managed such a feat. Even more impressive than its award-winning, chart-topping ways is the fact it knocked off the Whitney Houston classic I Will Always Love You which had spent a record-breaking 14 weeks at number one in America.
It had less success here in the UK, but still peaked at number nine in the British singles charts. There have been numerous cover versions of the song due to its popularity, a few of them (Katie Price and Peter Andre) are perhaps best forgotten.
The Film: Aladdin was Disney’s 31st animated feature and remains one of the studio’s best efforts in the realms of hand-drawn animation. It was also the highest grossing film of 1992, taking over $500million at the global box-office.
Critical praise was also in huge supply. With an average score of 8/10, Aladdin remains one of the best-rated films from the studio and has a huge cult following – the DVD remains in the yearly best-sellers list in the United Kingdom.
Let’s also not forget about the brilliant voice acting from Robin Williams as the Genie. Williams gave Disney one of their most memorable characters and his brilliant performance was filled with brilliantly delivered one-liners. Jonathan Freeman’s efforts as villain Jafar also worked wonders, bringing an almost Darth Vader like quality to the power-hungry Grand Vizier.
4. Beauty and the Beast: 1991
“Tale as old as time, true as it can be”
The Song: Released after the phenomenal success of the film of the same name, Beauty and the Beast was another Oscar winning Disney song, though critics argued that it was overly sentimental and cheesy. In the film, the song is performed by British actress Angela Lansbury, who played Mrs. Potts in the film, and remains a real highlight.
It’s quiet opening tells a beautiful story and as it moves into the soaring middle-eight, the song really picks up momentum. It is the fragility behind the song which makes its place in this top 5 even more deserving.
Celine Dion released the song as a single alongside US singer Peabo Bryson. Whilst Dion’s version lacked the subtlety of the theatrical release, it made up for it with her stunning vocal performance and slightly different interpretation of the lyrics. Success in the charts was reasonable, with it peaking inside the top ten in the United Kingdom, America and New Zealand, though it missed out on the coveted number one spot which many thought it would have achieved.
The Film: There really is no denying the popularity of Beauty and the Beast, it ranked as the third most successful film of 1991 worldwide, beaten only by big blockbusters Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.
With its takings surpassing $420million it showed that Disney was on a winning streak after previous success stories in The Little Mermaid and Oliver & Company. However, it was the story which really set Beauty and the Beast apart from its predecessors. A film about never judging a book by its cover and giving second chances gave it a deeper meaning, one which parents and children alike could look at and enjoy.
It also introduced the world to Disney’s latest princess, Belle. She is a character that has remained in the spotlight even now, over 20 years after the film’s original release.
Its success was again proven in January 2012 when the movie was re-released in 3D, adding even more money to its huge takings.
3. Circle of Life: 1994
“But the sun rolling high, in the sapphire sky”
The Song: Performed by Elton John after The Lion King’s release and with lyrics by the one-and-only Tim Rice, Circle of Life was always destined for great success. The fact it was paired with the 1994 smash-hit The Lion King only added to its brilliance.
The song features beautiful instrumentation throughout and stunning lyrics about life and the way life moves us all forward in our own way – making it a joy to listen to and a frequent addition to Disney CD’s past and present.
It’s commercial success outside the film was much less than analysts expected. Despite the excellent performance of The Lion King, Circle of Life only managed to peak at number 11 in the UK charts and a lowly 18 in the US. It did however hit number three in Canada and number nine in Ireland, where it proved the most profitable.
The Film: The Lion King is Disney’s 32nd effort at hand-drawn animated feature films and remains the one with the biggest following. It’s success is difficult to measure as there are new fans popping up every day. Children and adults flocked to see it in the busy summer season of 1994 where it grossed nearly $800million, making it the second highest grossing film of all time behind Jurassic Park.
Since then, it has been re-released in 3D and added further money to its already massive takings. The Lion King now stands at just shy of $1billion surpassing Jurassic Park and making it the 19th most successful film of all time and also Disney’s second biggest theatrical release behind last year’s Frozen.
It also had acting talent in spades, more so than any other Disney release. With the likes of James Earl Jones, Rowan Atkinson, Jeremy Irons and Matthew Broderick in the voice cast, it had something for everyone and this definitely helped its success.
2. Let it Go: 2013
“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight”
The Song: Let it Go is definitely one of the songwriters at Disney’s best efforts. It is instantly recognisable as an up-tempo ballad with powerhouse vocals by Idina Menzel or someone completely different if you’re John Travolta.
The typical Disney message about breaking through the pain and the bad in life and making it what you want is present here but in a package that feels ultimately modern and timeless, and who can resist that beautiful piano instrumentation at the beginning – stunning!
Idina Menzel’s version which was used in the film is of course much more theatrical to deal with the requirements of the movie, but Demi Levato’s take is for the people who just want to hear those brilliantly clever lyrics – both of them have their merits.
The reception of Menzel’s version has been unanimously favourable with many critics saying it is the best Disney song ever released and whilst I wouldn’t go that far, I would tend to agree with those who say it deserves to be up there with the very best.
It’s commercial success speaks for itself. Let it Go hit the number one spot in South Korea, number five in the US and number 11 in the United Kingdom, as well as peaking inside the top 40 in thirteen countries – proving what massive appeal the song does have.
The album from the film has also sold over 2.5million copies in the US alone and is the most downloaded soundtrack in history.
The Film: Frozen is a brilliant film and its success is unparalleled for an animated release. On a budget of just $150million, it has taken over $1.1billion at the global box-office and became the sixth highest-grossing film of all time, as well as the second highest film last year, behind Iron Man 3.
It was also notable for being one of the only Disney princess films were the lead character didn’t require a prince to be successful, something which was positively received by parents of the target audience – little girls.
Moreover, Frozen is also exceptional to look at. It is the only film in this list that hasn’t been hand-drawn, but that doesn’t matter as it has all the depth and charm of Disney’s previous animated efforts and then some. The snowy landscapes and beautiful water rendering make it the best looking animated film since How to Train Your Dragon.
1. Colours of the Wind: 1995
“Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?”
The Song: Another typical Disney ballad with a few key differences which means that Colours of the Wind clinches the gold medal from Let it Go in April’s edition of the MM Top 5 series.
A beautiful song which points out that humankind is connected to everything in nature, it presents, rather poetically, the Native American viewpoint that we are all interlinked with all that is on Earth. It also has a strong environmental message which is brilliantly put without it being shoved down our throats.
The instrumentation is also stunning, from xylophones to pianos and even a Native American flute, it all works in harmony which is why it once again won an Academy Award for best song in 1995 meaning that all the songs featured in this list have received that honour.
Recorded by Judy Kuhn for Pocahontas and re-released by Desperate Housewives star Vanessa Williams, Colours of the Wind was reasonably successful, despite it missing out on a top 20 placing in the United Kingdom. It did however peak at number four in the United States.
The Film: Pocahontas was a Disney film which broke the monotony of having white women in the leading roles. In 1995, audiences were treat to a beautiful film with an emotionally resonant environmental message and a new princess for a new generation of theatre-goers. Pocahontas was a strong, Native American with a heart of gold, whether that was helping protecting the animals who loved her dearly or keeping the forest from being taken over by loggers.
It was also the first animated Disney film to feature the life of a real person, following the legend and folklore of the Native American woman of the same name.
Unfortunately, Pocahontas was poorly received by critics who slammed its bland environmental message, its misrepresentation of the Native American people and its complete lack of fun. Commercial success was much lower than previous efforts from Disney studios with it taking just over $345million globally.
Nevertheless, it is the songs being ranked here and not the film itself and Colours of the Wind is fully deserving of a gold medal in this edition. I look forward to you all coming back in May for another topic!
An Honourable Mention
When You Wish Upon a Star – Pinocchio
Hakuna Matata – The Lion King
The Bare Necessities – The Jungle Book
Part of that World – The Little Mermaid
He’s a Tramp – Lady & the Tramp