Six Iconic Disney Music Moments

(A version of this article first appeared on the Celebrations Magazine blog in February of 2022)

There is an undeniable power to music. Just a few notes can conjure up a swell of emotions and memories. Both the world of Disney films and the parks utilize the magic of song with expert skill. Who doesn’t tear up when they hear the first few notes of “Married Life” from Pixar’s Up? Or the words, “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight” from the Wishes firework spectacular?

 As 2022 draws to a close, let’s take a look at a few favorite Disney music moments. 

Nobody Else But You (A Goofy Movie, 1995)

The list of stunning musical numbers produced by Disney in the 90s is impressive. Songs like “A Whole New World,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and “Be Our Guest” immediately spring to mind. They’re so well known that they’ve essentially become a part of our collective memory and culture.

That said, I’ve got to admit a soft spot for this simple duet from A Goofy Movie. Sung by Max and Goofy, it’s a tender and entirely relatable depiction of the father/son relationship. The music was composed by Tom Snow, with lyrics by Jack Feldman. 

Once upon a time, I’m sure that I primarily sympathized with the youngster’s point of view, but these days I find myself identifying with Max’s awkward, well-intentioned father.

Portobello Road (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971)

Portobello Road

If we tried to make a list of classics composed by the Sherman Brothers, we’d be here all night. Their work can be found in every corner of the Disney universe, and the pair are responsible for Walt Disney’s favorite song (“Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins). 

One of the most charming, though oft-overlooked, pieces of their catalog is Portobello Road from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The number is primarily sung by David Tomlison (best known as Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins). It utilizes a minor key, a bit like Chim Chim Cheree, and evokes a wonderful sense of mystery and wonder as the characters explore the various street vendors found on Portobello Road.

The Great Outdoors (Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, 1986-1992)

Country Bear Vacation Hoedown

Once upon a time, the Country Bear Jamboree contained a seasonal overlay known as the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. The show featured all of the classic characters but dressed in a variety of outfits best suited to outdoor life in the summer.

“The Great Outdoors” was the opening number and was performed by Henry, the Five Bear Rugs, Melvin, Buff, and Max. The lyrics are all about the joys of things like fishing, camping, and tramping through the woods. To add a little menace (they are bears, after all) they finish out the song by saying, “if y’all won’t join us, we’ll chase you up a tree.” 

George Wilkins, the man responsible for the song, created numerous pieces for Disney, including the music for Horizons, The Living Seas, and Test Track.

Fish Are Friends, Not Food (Finding Nemo the Musical, 2007-2020)

Finding nemo the musical

Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are best known for writing music for Disney films like Frozen and 2011’s Winnie-The-Pooh, as well as Pixar’s Coco, but they are also the pair who wrote all of the show tunes for Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. 

The song “Fish Are Friends, Not Food” is performed by Bruce, Anchor, and Chum. It’s a catchy little ditty that almost makes you wish that the singing sharks were sporting straw hats and canes as they harmonize. 

Halfway through the song, Bruce is sent into a feeding frenzy, and the music shifts into a driving rock and roll, as he chases Marlin and Dory around the stage.

Listen to it once, and the tune will be stuck in your head for days. 

Good Morning (Magic Kingdom Rope Drop)

Magic Kingdom

Though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the number of years it was performed, the 1939 classic Good Morning used to be an essential part of the opening ceremonies each day at the Magic Kingdom. 

Guests who arrived before the park gates were open would gather in front of the train station, and the performers from the Main Street Trolley Show would appear and sing this chipper melody.

Unlike the other songs on this list, it is not a Disney original. Composed by Nacio Herb Brown, with lyrics by Herb Brown, it was performed by Judy Garland and Mickie Rooney in the movie Babes in Arms. It was later performed by Betty Noyes (dubbing for Debbie Reynolds), Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor in the perennial favorite Singin’ In the Rain. 

Just listening to the song today makes me think of early mornings, after stepping off one of the ferryboats, waiting to take those first steps onto Main Street U.S.A.

The Music of Frontierland


As you wander through the Magic Kingdom’s various lands, you might be forgiven for not noticing that each area has its own unique music loop. It’s okay. That’s kind of the point of ambient music. It sets a mood, without you even realizing it is there, but you would be sure to notice if it was gone.

Frontierland has some of the best-themed music in the park, mixing well-known favorites like “The Ballad of Davey Crocket,” along with songs like “Home On the Range,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Buffalo Gals,” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” 

The instrumentation and arrangements are pitch-perfect. They make it feel as though you’ve truly stepped back in time, like a tumbleweed and covered wagon might go rolling past you at any moment. 

Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface with this short little list. We could go on and on, but what do you think? What are some of your favorite Disney music memories? 

Babes in Toyland: The Music of Disney’s Holiday Classic

Before Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and well before The Santa Clause, Disney gave the world a holiday classic in the form of Babes in Toyland. Released in 1961, the live-action musical starred Annette Funicello, Tommy Sands, Ray Bolger (best known as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz), Ed Wynn, and Tommy Kirk. While critics held mixed opinions of the film, with many saying that it would only be enjoyed by younger viewers, it has remained popular over the years and remains a Disney holiday tradition over sixty years after its release.

Disney’s history with the film dates back to 1955, but the story itself is older by centuries and is tied to a literary mystery whose answer may never be known.

The Curious Case of Mother Goose 

In 1697, Charles Perrault released a book of nursery rhymes and folktales subtitled Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oie (Tales of my Mother Goose), which became instantly popular. Thirty-two years later, the book was translated into English in Robert Samber’s Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose, and by 1786, the stories had reached the United States. 

Though many of the rhymes and songs associated with Mother Goose have become part of the collective memory of childhood, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” “Hey Diddle, Diddle,” “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” and “Hickory, Dickory Dock,” very little is known about the actual Mother Goose. While some have speculated that she was the widow of Isaac Goose and a resident of Boston named either Mary or Elizabeth Goose, there’s some reason to doubt the claim. 

As noted by the Poetry Foundation, “the existence of various French texts that refer to Mother Goose at a much earlier date make the American legend improbable.  These texts, dating as early as 1626, even show that the French terms “mere l’oye” or “mere oye” (Mother Goose) were already familiar to readers and could be referenced. The figure of Mother Goose may even date back to the 10th century, according to other sources.  In an ancient French legend, King Robert II had a wife who often told incredible tales that fascinated children.”

Regardless of her identity, the works of Mother Goose became popular in nurseries around the world,  in much the same way that Walt Disney’s creations like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy would later become universally known and beloved. It would even inspire a 1903 operetta, the first major hit for composer Victor Herbert.

On Broadway

Born in 1859 on the island of Guernsey, Victor Herbert was the grandson of Irish playwright, poet, composer, and novelist Samuel Lover. Though he initially planned to pursue medicine, the cost of a medical education proved prohibitive, so he decided to pursue music. He studied under Bernhard Cossman, before studying at Stuttgart Conservatory. 

Herbert joined the orchestra in Stuttgart in 1881 and a few years later become romantically attached to soprano Therese Förster. The pair were married in 1886 and moved to the United States the same year to join the Metropolitan Opera. Within a few years, he composed his first operetta, a piece entitled “Prince Ananais” which was performed by a group called The Bostonians. Several successes followed, as did work with the Pittsburgh Symphony. 

In 1903, he released “Babes in Toyland,” which debuted at the Chicago Grand Opera House before eventually moving to the Majestic Theatre in Manhattan. The piece included characters culled straight from Mother Goose, such as Contrary Mary, Bo-Peep, and Mother Hubbard. It also featured some of the most popular music that Herbert would ever compose, including the songs, “Toyland,” and “March of the Toys.” 

The original story was a good deal darker than the one that Disney would eventually bring to the big screen. A prime example is the character of the Toymaker. In the Disney version, he was portrayed by the lovable Ed Wynn. In Herbert’s story, the Toymaker was an evil genius who works with the villain Barnaby to create toys designed to kill. In the tale, the toys eventually turn on the Toymaker and murder him. Barnaby meets his demise after drinking a cup of poisoned wine.     

Despite the somewhat ghastly content, the operetta ran for 192 performances on Broadway and spawned a number of revivals over the years. There was also a film version starring Laurel and Hardy released in 1934. Eventually, the story made its way into the hands of Walt Disney.

Becoming a Holiday Classic

In 1955, Disney announced that they would be making an animated adaptation of Herbert’s story. A 1959 article in Variety titled “Disney’s 1st Live Tuner” noted, “Walt Disney is mapping a new version of Victor Herbert’s ‘Babes in Toyland.’ His first live-action musical, Mel Levin has written new lyrics. Ward Kimball will produce and direct.”

The story underwent numerous changes, as did Walt’s plans for how the film would be presented. In 1960 he stated, “We’re updating the lyrics; the music, of course, is Victor Herbert’s. March of the Toys will be done in animation. I’ll be using fantasy with ‘live’ more and more. I’ve decided people should play people and shouldn’t be animated – only the effects should.”

Keen-eyed Disney fans may also notice that Kimball did not end up directing the film. That role went to Jack Donohue, after a series of disagreements between Walt and Kimball led to his removal from the project. Donohue brought a Broadway background to the film, having worked on musicals such as “Top Banana” and “Mr. Wonderful.” 

Disney insisted on Funicello for the lead role of Mary, having established her as a star and household name through The Mickey Mouse Club. She later recalled enjoying the experience, particularly because, “it was the first, and unfortunately, I think, the last time I made a movie in which I actually danced something besides the Watusi or the swim.”

Ed Wynn, an established star from his vaudeville days, portrayed the Toymaker. No longer an evil genius, he was instead a bumbling, but good-hearted man assisted by his brilliant protege Grumio in making the toys children receive for Christmas. Speaking of Wynn, Tommy Kirk later recalled, ‘I thought he was delightful and so did everyone else. You couldn’t not like him. He was completely crazy and he was just as crazy offscreen as he was on. But it was all, of course, an act. He was a very serious, religious man in his own way, but he loved playing Ed Wynn, the perfect fool, the complete nut. And he was good at it.”

The Composer

Though the musical was based on Herbert’s operetta, there were striking differences. As noted, his lyrics were changed. Much of the music in the film was original compositions written by George Bruns, and the pieces taken from Herbert’s original score were adapted. The classic song “Toyland,” was transformed from a dreamy ballad into an up-tempo march.

Born in Oregon to a lumber mill proprietor, Bruns expressed his interest in music at a young age, learning to play the piano at six. By the 30s, he was performing with groups around Portland, before becoming the musical director for radio station KEX. By the late 40s, his career had taken him to Hollywood.

Bruns’s Disney career began when he was asked to adapt Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Sleeping Beauty” for the 1959 film. He would later work on “The Absent-Minded Professor,” “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” “The Sword in the Stone,” and “The Jungle Book,” among other projects.  For his work on “Babes in Toyland,” Bruns earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, though it would lose to “West Side Story.” 

In 2001, he was named a Disney legend. But perhaps the greatest legacy he left behind is a body of music known and loved around the globe.

A Holiday Legacy

While the film and its music remain much loved, perhaps the most notable contribution that “Babes in Toyland” made to the holidays are its toy soldiers, designed by Imagineer Bill Justice and Francis Xavier Atencio. The soldiers have become a staple of Disney during the holiday season, featured in the parks, and in parades. To see them is to fall immediately into the holiday spirit, a feeling of warmth, joy, and wonder, the same feeling you’re left with after watching the movie and listening to its delightful music. 

12 Disney Songs of Christmas – Part Two

Last week we started our Disney holiday music journey with part one of the “12 Disney Songs of Christmas” and I’ll be the first to admit that the songs featured were all a bit silly. But honestly, that’s what I love about them. Christmas is a joyful time. For me, silly and joyful go hand in hand.

That said, I also have a deep love for the more sentimental side of holiday music. Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” is pure perfection, as is Nat King Cole crooning “The Christmas Song.”  

In that spirit, here’s the second half of the 12 Disney Songs of Christmas. Give these songs a listen, but be forewarned: You may need a hankie. 

From All of Us to All of You (From All of Us to All of You)

On December 19, 1958, ABC broadcast the special “From All of Us to All of You” as part of the Walt Disney Presents series. Hosted by Jiminy Cricket (after a brief introduction from a miniaturized version of Walt Disney) the show included some favorite clips from Disney feature films, as well as the shorts “Santa’s Workshop” and “Toy Tinkers.”

The special also included the song “All of Us to All of You,” written by Gil George and Paul Smith, and performed Jiminy Cricket, with a little help from Mickey Mouse on piano and drums, while Pluto chipped in with a tiny bell that was tied to his tail. A slight reprise was featured later in the broadcast.

Gil George was actually Hazel George, Walt Disney’s personal nurse who later become a songwriter, providing lyrics for more than 90 songs in the Mickey Mouse Club, as well as lyrics for films like “Old Yeller,” “The Light in the Forest,” and “Tonka.”

Smith, her primary collaborator, also composed music for the True Life Adventure Series, Cinderella, and Pinocchio (for which he won an Academy Award). 

It Feels Like Christmas (The Muppet Christmas Carol)

Released in 1992, The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film produced after the untimely passing of Jim Henson and performer Richard Hunt (who performed Scooter, Statler, Janice, Beaker, and Sweetums). The movie was dedicated to both and is a perfect tribute to both men.

The song “It Feels Like Christmas” is a heartwarming number sung by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jerry Nelson). The lyrics were penned by Paul Williams, the man behind such 70s hits as Three Dog Night’s “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” and the Carpenters’ “Rainy Days and Mondays.” His career credits also include frequent collaboration with Henson and the Muppets. In 1976, he appeared in episode eight of the first season of the Muppet Show, and the following year wrote the score for Henson’s holiday special “Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.”  In 1979, he wrote the score for The Muppet Movie, including the Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated “Rainbow Connection.” 

The song would later become part of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, the castle stage show at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day (Mickey’s Christmas Carol)

Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was published in 1843, forever changing the world with its tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim. 140 years later, Disney released their own interpretation of the story in Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck was cast in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, and Goofy as the ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s best friend and business partner.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Animated Short Film, the first nomination of a Mickey short since 1948’s “Mickey and the Seal.”

Irwin Costal provided the music for the film, producing “Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day” as its theme song. A gorgeous choral number, it hearkens back to the great English Christmas carols like “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” or “Good King Wenceslas,” though without the religious element inherent in those songs. 

Kostal began his musical career in radio, working for the NBC program “Design for Listening.” He later moved to television and Broadway, writing music for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” as well as providing orchestration for “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The Music Man.” His Disney career included work on films like “Mary Poppins,” “Pete’s Dragon,” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.”  

Peace on Earth (Lady and the Tramp)

Another song in the great tradition of Christmas carols appears in Disney’s 1955 masterpiece “Lady and the Tramp.” Based on “Silent Night,” an Austrian carol penned by Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr, “Peace on Earth” was composed by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke. 

Along with his work on “Lady and the Tramp,” Burke wrote music for the Academy Award winning Disney short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom,” and worked frequently with artists like Frank Sinatra, The Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and The Mills Brothers. 

Peggy Lee hardly needs an introduction, as one of the 20th century’s most iconic performers, she earned the nickname “The Queen of American Pop Music” through a career that included over 1,000 recordings and the writing of 270 songs. Among her most popular records were “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and “Fever.” 

The song was performed by the Disney Studio chorus and Donald Novis, who co-created the script for Frontierland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue with Wally Boag, and sang the Academy Award nominated “Love is a Song,” from “Bambi.”

As Long As There’s Christmas (Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas)

The 90’s saw Disney release a whole bevvy of direct to video sequels and specials. The 1996 opening of Walt Disney Animation Canada brought 200 new animators into the company’s fold, and their first project was “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.” 

Both the score and original songs were composed by Rachel Portman with lyrics by Don Black, the latter of whom was a frequent collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Weber. 

Disney Legend Paige O’Hara reprised her role as Belle for the film, and is the primary singer of “As Long as There’s Christmas,” a heartwarming number that would also be sung by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack during the films closing credits. 

When We’re Together (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)

To close our 12 Disney Songs of Christmas, I simply have to include “When We’re Together” from “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” It never fails to bring a tear to my eye, which is usually followed by embarrassing my kids as I give them huge hugs. 

Written by the songwriting duo of Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, the song warms the inside like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold night, celebrating what makes the holidays truly special, and features all of the original stars of Frozen, including Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Josh Gad (Olaf), and Jonathan Groff (Kristoff). 

In addition to their work with Disney, Samsel and Anderson are responsible for the songs in Apple TV’s “Central Park,” and made their Off-Broadway songwriting debut with the opening of “Between the Lines” a musical based on the Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer novel.