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Monday, 6 July 2015

Editorial: Top 10 Disney Songs.

Editorial: Top 10 Disney Songs.

If there's one thing that Disney can do, it's marketing something to the point of being nauseating. Nobody's denying that. But if there's two things that Disney can do, then the second would undoubtedly be catchy earworms of songs, and it's only fair that we pay tribute to that by putting the ten Disney songs that we would rank highest here at Fission Mailure.

(In truth, this could have very easily been 'Top 10 Lion King Songs'.)

So, without further ado, here are our top ten favourite Disney songs. And yes, there probably will be a top ten worst Disney songs at some point.

10. He Lives in You, The Lion King II.

The Circle of Life isn't on this list, and some might call that a travesty and a mistake, but we do have its sequel equivalent, which is basically about how Mufasa's spirit is inside everyone or something. Sung by South African composer Lebo M and his choir, the song was originally intended for the Rhythm of the Pride Lands and only adapted for use in the film later.

It also has the honour of being one of the only songs from the sequel to actually make it into the The Lion King broadway musical, once by Mufasa and his ensemble of wildlife singer, and then reprised later on by Rafiki. It's also one of the most covered Disney songs, including a cover by Tina Turner.

It's rare that what is essentially a tribute song from a compilation album become this prominent, but it's well deserved, as the song is striking and, arguably, fits better with The Lion King's themes than its first film counterpart. At the very least, it's not a song about the food cycle, which was probably always very galling for the poor gazelles in the crowd essentially being forced to sing about how natural and correct it is for their monarchs to eat them.

9. Poor Unfortunate Souls, The Little Mermaid.

One of Disney's most memorable villain songs, Poor Unfortunate Souls has Ursula regaling Ariel with tales of people who have made faustian deals with her, only to have them horribly backfire. It's a well-written, sharp song, influenced by the always larger-than-life tunes of burlesque theatre and broadway, and sung by the inimitable Pat Carroll (and later reprised by Jodi Benson).

What makes this song stand out among villain songs, though, is that while most villain songs amount to bragging about how evil they are, or stern commands to henchpeople to perform evil acts, Poor Unfortunate Souls has Ursula trying to get on Ariel's good side, leading to an interesting balance of frank descriptions of evil and misfortune with Ursula pretending to be deeply upset over it all.

It's a fun, clever song, using influences not often seen in Disney. Also, Ursula never implies that someone will eat Ariel if she goes onto land, which is always a plus.

8. Heaven's Light / Hellfire, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

A kind of two-songs-in-one combo, Heaven's Light / Hellfire contrasts the pure and innocent love of Quasimodo for Megara with Judge Claude Frollo's violent lust for her, and the self-loathing and rage that comes with it. Both songs use religious imagery, with Quasimodo referring to 'heaven's light' shining out of people, and referring to Megara as an angel, while Frollo talks about the fires of hell, demons tempting him, and begs God to let him burn Megara.

In a film that deals heavily with themes of religion (always a daring move when you're based in a country that throws a tantrum if you so much breathe a negative thought about Christianity), the two songs very aptly demonstrate the film's themes, and act as a great villain song for Frollo. Filled with intense imagery of fire and punishment, the song is dramatic and striking, and generally sticks in people's minds as one of the best songs of the film.

Bonus points for the fact that the song or the film itself never try to skirt around the issue by claiming that Frollo, with his genocidal ambitions and preoccupation with a woman half his age, isn't a 'real Christian' - instead, the film and this song in particular make it entirely clear that his religious faith is both very earnest and a contributing factor in his cruelty.

7. Prince Ali, Aladdin.

A friend of mine is currently Let's Playing Beyond Oasis, and it'd be a lie to say I'm not quietly singing this song every time I watch one of her videos on it, which speaks to how memorable this song is.

What makes it memorable, really, isn't the music or the lyrics - those are both good, but they don't match up with a lot of the other songs on the list - but the humour and zest that the late Robin Williams brought to it. The man would have had the ability to make even the dullest songs bright, funny, and catchy, so when given a song that's good if not great, he was able to work some real magic with it.

Besides, it's just a fun song - and it gets a villainous reprise by Jafar later, which will always boost a song in my estimations. I love villainous reprises.

6. One of Us, The Lion King II.

The Lion King II is a great film, and the last person who told me otherwise is now at the bottom of a river. It also has some great songs, which is why it's on here twice - the second time, with the anthem to deuteragonist Kovu's exile, One of Us.

The song might actually be one of the darkest non-villain songs in Disney, as it depicts Simba, benevolent animal du jour, and a small army of similarly friendly and nice animals, turning on Kovu and chasing him off while ominously singing about how he was never one of them, and he was always inherently evil.

That's pretty dark in a lot of ways, especially as these are characters who are usually meant to be the sympathetic face of the good guys - I mean, for god's sake, these are the same animals that sing The Circle of Life, and now they've essentially become an angry, violent mob who really want to tell a teenage boy that they'll kill him if he comes near them again. In song.

5. Under the Sea, The Little Mermaid.

Under the Sea is infectiously catchy, and about as joyful and happy as any song about how you absolutely shouldn't try to ever leave your comfort song can be. Bizarrely, given its slightly sinister subject matter ('Don't pursue your dreams, you will literally die' - I'm not kidding, that is the main thrust of the song), this is feel-good music at its finest, and it's impossible not to ... well, if you're me, it's impossible not to silently and almost imperceptibly bob your head in silent acknowledgement to the concept of dancing.

Mileage may vary there.

Either way, Under the Sea is a great song if you're considering the perks of living under the ocean. It's also a great song if you're very immature and like to burst out laughing at 'it's better down where it's wetter', so there's that.

4. Be Prepared, The Lion King.

Maybe one of the best villain songs in Disney, Be Prepared has Scar reprimanding his hyenas, before promising to elevate them to positions of power and plenty once Mufasa has been killed. It's dramatic, intense, and occasionally even funny, and Jeremy Irons / Jim Cumming (both of whom play Scar at points, with Irons' voice not being able to handle much singing) do excellent work.

What makes the song really sinister, though, is that later sections of it, involving Scar presiding from on high over a horde of goose-stepping hyenas, take their visual cues from an actual Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will. 

Which is just kind of creepy.

3. Go the Distance, Hercules.

Go the Distance is a very typical hero's journey song, of the kind you can probably find in about a dozen Disney films, but it's probably the best example of one you're going to find in Disney. Having followed Hercules through a rather difficult day as an awkward super-strong teen, it becomes all the more meaningful when he's empowered with knowledge about his origins and heads off to achieve his destiny - and even more meaningful when he reprises the song with the addition of a flying horse, because flying horses make everything more meaningful.

The song builds slowly but surely, reaching its peak in the reprise where it turns from contemplative to joyful, and while it's in many ways a by-the-numbers song, it's a very competently written one, and very well-sang by Ricky Martin.

It was one of two songs for the film which were written as both in-film songs and singles to be released for the chart, but the other one, Shooting Star, due to be sang by Boyzone, was scrapped. If you listen to it, you'll - probably understand why in short order.

2. The Bells of Notre Dame, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Exposition in song form, The Bells of Notre Dame is, in essence, a mini-opera, as Clopin dramatises the backstory of Quasimodo at the very beginning. The song is hands down one of the most dramatic and intense songs of Disney, as Clopin's showmanship and grim humour is combined with the orchestral music, bells, and spoken parts by Frollo (who is going full sinister in this song) and the Archdeacon.

Like much of the film it's a part of, the song is surprisingly dark, too, and more than a little relevant to real life events, as a wealthy and powerful white dude chases down an ethnic minority woman and murders her in the street, only to smugly protest his innocence, only being convinced to make amends when another authority figure wields the threat of punishment against him.

That's some pretty biting social commentary, given that we literally can't go a month without that happening in real life.

1. I'll Make A Man Out Of You, Mulan.

It's a testament to how much this song is adored that it has been dozen to hundreds of covers and thousands of videos to match it up to different sets of characters from different properties - seriously, try typing 'I'll Make A Man Out Of You [Any television program or film ever created]' and I can nigh on guarantee you'll find something if you browse long enough.

It's an even bigger testament to how much people love this song that if I were to start singing it, everyone in a five year radius of my age would start singing along perfectly and without forgetting their lines a single time. People would naturally slide into the different speaking parts during the bridge, without pause or question. There would be harmonising.

A montage song covering Mulan's training in the Chinese army, this song's popularity is probably fifty percent down to how it builds to an uplifting crescendo, and probably fifty percent down to how it's an earworm that will stick in your head for weeks.

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