5 of Disney’s Most Heart Rending Songs

There’s just something about a sad song. Why do we love them so much? There a few theories out there that try to explain the appeal of diving into melodic heart break, but whatever the reason it seems to be an inarguable fact. We can’t get enough of music that hurts. 

Over the years, Disney has released a whole catalog of songs that serve as an emotional gut punch. A number didn’t make this list simply because we’ve written about them recently (for example “Goodbye May Seem Forever,” “Evermore,” “Dos Oroguitas,” and “Someone’s Waiting for You”). Luckily, there were still plenty to choose from and I’ve been relistening to them all. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a little something in my eyes. 

God Help the Outcasts (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s most startling achievements, a film that proved that animation was not “just for children.” It was a dark, passionate, philosophical film, as one could only expect from a movie based on Victor Hugo’s gothic masterpiece. 

“God Help the Outcasts,” which is performed by the character of Esmerelda (whose singing voice was provided by Heidi Mollenhauer) appears in the film shortly after the character has claimed sanctuary in the cathedral of Notre Dame. With music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the song is a prayer of pleading offered on behalf of the outcasts of the world, and more specifically her people, the Romani, who were the subject of persecution. The words of Esmerelda’s prayer are sharply contrasted with those of the people around her, who all pray for selfish gain. It’s a piercing, poignant song that (sadly) remains perpetually relevant.  

When She Loved Me (Toy Story 2)

Sarah McLachlan has made a career out of performing devastating songs, from “Angel” (now famously associated with a particular ASPCA commercial) to “I Will Remember You” and “Forgiveness.” So, she was essentially the perfect choice to perform Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2.

Out of context, it sounds like the perfect break-up song, a melancholy meditation on love lost. Within the context of the film, it becomes even more heartbreaking, with the character of Jessie reflecting on the child who loved and ultimately outgrew her, casting her aside as she ventured toward adulthood. 

Our Town (Cars)

It’s sad enough when a person is forgotten, but what about when it’s an entire group of people? That’s the story that Randy Newman told in “Our Town” from Cars, encapsulating the slow death of an American community. 

Performed by James Taylor, who brings his smooth, understated vocals and acoustic guitar style to the song, it recounts the effects that the interstate bypass had on towns all over Route 66. Visitors disappeared, while businesses dried up and closed. In a way, it’s a bit like a John Steinbeck novel placed to music, exploring what happens when profit and expediency are valued more than people. 

Baby Mine (Dumbo)

In a vacuum, Baby Mine from Dumbo seems nothing more than a lovely, comforting lullaby. Though perhaps a bit more melancholy than others, given lines that hint at themes of alienation and mockery in the film, such as:

Little one when you play 

Don’t you mind what you say

Let those eyes sparkle and shine

Never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew sweet little you

They’d end up loving you too

All those same people who scold you

What they’d give just for

The right to hold you

In the context of the movie, however, the song becomes even more heartbreaking. Mrs. Jumbo has been locked up in a train car after defending her child from bullying. Dumbo visits her and she attempts to comfort him from between the bars of her cell. 

With music by Frank Churchill and music by Ned Washington, “Baby Mine” has become a classic of American cinema, and is a song sure to make you hug your loved ones just a little tighter.

The Next Right Thing (Frozen 2)

Speaking of the song “The Next Right Thing,” actress Kristen Bell (who performed the role of Anna) stated, “A lot of people feel that feeling: What do I do when I don’t know what to do? My personal mantra is you just do the next right thing. It also stems from when I am experiencing anxiety and depression. What do I do when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? You just do the next right thing, and that’s stepping out of bed. The next right thing is brushing your teeth. The next right thing is eating your breakfast. The next right thing is looking at your calendar and going to work. This idea of having an intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation is something that as a parent I know is incredibly important to show kids and to help them cope. I really wanted Anna to be representative of that.” 

Written by Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez (the duo behind the songs of Frozen, Coco, and Finding Nemo: The Musical), the song deals with feelings of helplessness and despair, surviving by simply placing one foot in front of the other. Bell’s voice is fragile through the first half of the song, gradually growing in strength as her character slowly finds the strength she needs to keep moving. 

We’ve Only Just Begun

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of Disney’s sad songs. They seem to have perfected the art of the melancholy melody, always finding a way to tug at our heart strings. And as fans, we just keep coming back for more, knowing that no matter how devastating the number is, the characters are destined for a happily ever after.  

8 of Disney’s Best Love Songs

Last week, chocolatiers and greeting card companies celebrated Valentine’s Day, that annual holiday devoted to romance and the last minute purchase of bouquets. However, lest it appear that I am the Scrooge of Romance (I’d hate to be visited by the ghosts of Valentine’s Past, Present, and Future), I’ve decided to devote this week’s column to some of Disney’s most romantic songs. 

I See the Light (Tangled)

The Grammy Award winning ballad “I See the Light” from 2010’s Tangled was composed by Alan Menken, with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Stars Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder respectively, performed the song during the lantern sequence in the film. Between the music and the glowing lanterns, it is easily one of Disney’s most romantic scenes. 

During the composition, the song underwent several substantial changes before settling on the final incarnation. It’s a piece that Menken remains proud of, reflecting that it “is a great moment in the film and I am very happy with the beauty and simplicity of the song.”

Evermore (Beauty and the Beast)

In the animated version of Beauty and the Beast, the character of Beast does a minimal amount of singing. That all changed in 2017’s live-action adaptation of the film, which saw the character perform one of the most moving numbers in the film.

Written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, the song is a power ballad that replaced the song “If I Can’t Love Her” (a ballad performed by Beast in the Broadway adaptation of the story). It is a love song, but one of lament, as Beast feels that he has lost Belle forever. 

Actor Dan Stevens, in the role of Beast, brought little singing experience to the role and underwent substantial vocal training to perform the number. However, you’d never know that to be the case listening to the song, as his voice soars and perfectly captures the passion and agony of the scene. 

Ma Belle Evangeline (The Princess and the Frog)

One of Disney’s best love stories isn’t even the primary story line in the movie it inhabits. The faith, love and devotion that Ray has for the distant star he calls Evangeline (who may or may not be a firefly up in the heavens) is pure poetry.

Their love is captured in the Randy Newman composed song “Ma Belle Evangeline,” a lovely waltz tinged with the flavor of Louisiana. It’s an area that Newman knows well, moving to the the Crescent City as an infant and later visiting during the summers as he grew up. In an interview, he once stated, “New Orleans is truly different. There’s a carefree quality to it, a careless quality to it…And there’s a good reason why, you know, we are the strongest from there. It’s not like other places in the country.”

Married Life (Up)

The first ten minutes of Pixar’s Up are perfect. Full stop. The film could have ended there, and it would have been a cinematic masterpiece. It carries viewers through a lifetime’s worth of emotions, capturing joy, grief, longing, and love in a brief montage. 

Accompanying this bit of storytelling brilliance is the song “Married Life” composed by Michael Giacchino, who would ultimately win the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on the film. Just listening to a few bars of “Married Life” is enough to thrust you back into the story, making you feel ALL the feelings at once. 

I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (Hercules)

A movie whose story is based around the mythology of Greece that takes musical inspiration from the Broadway play Grease? Brilliant. Disney’s 1997 film Hercules was the company’s 35th animated feature. 

It should come as no surprise that the music was supplied by Alan Menken. In the early days of Disney, you could always count on the music to be supplied by either George Bruns or the Sherman Brothers. These days? Alan Menken. He’s just that good.

The song “I Won’t Say I’m In Love” is performed by the character Megara and the Greek chorus of chorus girls. It hearkens back to songs like “Beauty School Drop Out” or “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey). It’s brilliant, because it contains an entire story arc in the space of a few minutes, filling you in on Megara’s past failures in love, the hard exterior she’s adopted as a result, and the way those defenses have fallen after meeting Hercules.

Can You Feel the Love Tonight? (The Lion King)

It almost feels a bit silly writing about this song. Is there anyone who DOESN’T know it? In a movie full of iconic music, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has become THE defining song from The Lion King.

In the close to 30 years since the film was released, the song has not diminished in popularity or impact. Upon it’s release, it won an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and a Grammy. It spent eight weeks atop Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart, and a 2020 survey even suggested that couples who used the song as their first dance were more likely to stay together. 

Define Dancing (Wall-E)

Composed by Thomas Newman, the soundtrack to Wall-E was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score (one of 15 Academy Award nominations he has earned over the course of his career). It was also one of two he earned for Wall-E, with the other being Best Original Song for the Peter Gabriel performed number “Down to Earth.” 

It plays during a gorgeous scene that features the characters of Wall-E and Eve soaring through space together, with Wall-E powering his flight with a fire extinguisher. It’s also the scene in the film that shows us Eve giving Wall-E a “kiss,” as she passes a spark of electricity from her face to his.

Dos Oroguitas (Encanto)

The “Dos Oroguitas” segment of Encanto is another instance of Disney packing an entire drama into a single song sequence. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and performed by Sebastien Yatra, the song plays as we are given the tragic love story of Alma and Pedro Madrigal.

The song was the first that Miranda ever wrote completely in Spanish. Miranda stated in an interview that he drew inspiration for all the films songs from legendary Disney lyricist Howard Ashman. He also indicated that he hoped to write a song that “felt like it always existed.” Going further into his motivation, he recalled, “The family history that is revealed in that animated sequence is so painful that I thought it will go down better with a folk song…And I was inspired by the butterfly motif over the course of the movie. The way the candle flame turns into a butterfly. And so the song is called ‘Dos Oruguitas’ because it’s about two caterpillars who are in love and scared to let each other go. But, of course, they have to let each other go to become their next selves, and that was such a beautiful nature metaphor for what the family is going through. They love each other, but they’re hanging on too tight, and they’re not seeing each other more fully because they’re too scared of going into that next moment. And so the contrast between that lyrical content and what we’re seeing is really exciting and new.”

5 More Often Forgotten Musical Gems from Disney

Last week, we took a look at five phenomenal songs that are often left out of the conversation when it comes to Disney’s best musical achievements. But one post was never going to be big enough when it comes to Disney’s hidden musical gems. So, this week we’re diving into five more.  

Bright Little Star 

One of the best musical experiences at Walt Disney World is hiding in plain sight at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland. That’s where you’ll find the biggest little star in the galaxy, and his name is Sonny Eclipse. He’s a swank, swinging alien who serves as the entertainment at the restaurant, performing songs and engaging in witty banter between numbers. 

Honestly, I could have picked any of his songs and been happy with the selection. “Hello, Space Angels,” is a catchy ditty that hearkens back to the age of doo wop, while “Yew Nork, Yew Nork” feels like it could be crooned by Tom Jones or Tony Bennett. But for my money, “Bright Little Star” is the standout. It’s a beautiful love song with an infectious melody.

The voice of Sonny Eclipse was provided by Kal David, while Imagineer Kevin Rafferty and composer George Wilkins wrote the music and lyrics. As Rafferty noted in his memoir, ““George Wilkins and I wrote eight original songs for the character. I thought it would be fun for Sonny to sing different types of music, from ballads to rock to blues to “Bossa Super Nova” so we wrote in all those styles. I penned the lyrics and jokes to reflect Sonny’s outer space perspective.”

(1) Sonny Eclipse – Bright Little Star – YouTube

Little Wonders (Meet the Robinsons)

One of the best “forgotten gems” in Disney music comes from one of the biggest forgotten gems in Disney film. The movie is 2007’s Meet the Robinsons, which was based on the children’s picture book “A Day with Wilbur Robinson” by William Joyce.

The movie included the song “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas (best known as the front man for Matchbox 20). It’s a piece of polished pop perfection that can drag tears from the stoniest of hearts. 

According to Thomas, the song was written about his dog Tyler, a fact he noted on his Facebook page in 2017. In concerts he often told the story about the song’s inspiration stating, “My dog, like a lot of dogs I know, knew more about life than I did at certain times…There are so many times where you’re walking along and you’re taking them out for a walk and you’re miserable because it’s cold or something. And they look up at you as happy as they can possibly be, and they let you know that you’re missing a moment. Right there.”

(1) Meet The Robinsons – Little Wonders (HD) By Rob Thomas – YouTube

Goodbye May Seem Forever (The Fox and the Hound)

I promise that I’m not trying to include an excess of tear jerkers. Really. But if you’re going to listen to this song, you probably need to get a hankie ready.

“Goodbye May Seem Forever” was written by Richard Rich (music) and Jeffrey C. Patch (lyrics) for Disney’s 1981 animated film The Fox and the Hound. The movie was based off of the novel of the same name by Daniel P. Mannix. 

In the film, the song is performed by actress Jeanette Nolan, best known for her performances in television shows like “The Virginian.” In The Fox and the Hound, Nolan provided the voice for the character of the Widow Tweed, the adopted mother of the orphaned fox Tod. The song is sung as she brings Tod to a wildlife preserve to set him free in the wild. 

It’s heart wrenching and beautiful. 

(1) The Fox and the Hound (1981) – Good bye May Seem Forever – YouTube

Follow Me, Boys! (Follow Me, Boys!)

Perhaps it was the influence of their father Al Sherman, whose career was spent penning songs on Tin Pan Alley, but it seems that every song written by the Richard and Robert Sherman is catchy and endlessly singable. “Follow Me, Boys!” from the 1966 live action film of the same name, was penned by the Shermans and is sung by Fred MacMurry and the members of his scout troop.

One thing that makes it somewhat unique among Sherman brothers songs, is that it is a marching song (though not their only “military” style song, as we can’t forget “Colonel Hathi’s March” in The Jungle Book). In the film, MacMurray’s character, Lemuel Simmons, is a jazz saxophonist who decides to settle down in a small town. Along the way, he becomes the leader of a Boy Scout troop. He introduces the song, “Follow Me, Boys!” to his scouts and explains that it was a song he sang in the military while stationed in France. 

It’s a peppy, up-tempo piece that shares all of the stick-to-it-iveness and optimism that one expects from a song by the Shermans, as well as capturing the sense of cheerful resilience championed by Walt Disney. 

The song became a popular scouting song, and the Boy Scouts of America even considered adopting it as their official anthem, though the efforts were eventually abandoned. 

(1) Follow Me Boys Marching Song – YouTube

Flitterin’ (Summer Magic)

We’ll end our list with a number that appears in both Disney film and the parks (although in instrumental form). The song is “Flitterin’” from the 1963 musical Summer Magic, starring Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, and Dorothy McGuire. 

It should come as no surprise that this number was also penned by the Sherman Brothers. Wherever you turn in the wide world of Disney, it seems you come across their delightful melodies. The songs for Summer Magic were assigned to the Shermans by Walt as a method of testing if they’d be able to carry the music for a large scale production (such as Mary Poppins, which would be released a year later). Their compositions for Summer Magic passed with flying colors, as the duo crafted a number of catchy songs that were pure Americana. 

Today, the song can be heard in instrumental version on Main Street U.S.A. and on the “Walt Disney World Official Album” released in 2013. 

(1) Flittering/Beula – YouTube

5 Oft Forgotten Musical Gems from Disney

Oliver and Company

Part of Your World. Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Let It Go. When You Wish Upon a Star. When it comes to the world of Disney, there’s a seemingly endless list of superhits. But what about the lesser known numbers? The overlooked gems? 

The catalog of oft-forgotten and underrated Disney songs would put most song books to shame. This week we’ll be shining a spotlight on five of our favorites.  

Someone’s Waiting for You 

Let’s get things started with a tear-jerker. “Someone’s Waiting for You” from the animated masterpiece The Rescuers. The song writing duo of Carol Conners and Ayn Robbins (who gained an Academy Award nomination for “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky) teamed up with Sammy Fain (who earned 10 Academy Award nominations and won two over the course of his career) to write the number. 

Singer Shelby Flint performed the song in the film. The combination of Conners, Robbins, Fain, and Flint resulted in something truly magical. It’s simultaneously heartrending and hopeful. The song earned a nomination for Best Original Song at the 1977 Academy Awards, though it would ultimately lose to “You Light Up My Life” from the film of the same name. 

(1) The Rescuers (1977) – Someone’s Waiting For You – YouTube

The Best Time of Your Life

In 1974, the prolific songwriting duo of Richard and Robert Sherman sat down to compose a new theme song for Disney’s Carousel of Progress. The result was “The Best Time of Your Life,” which replaced the iconic “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” (also penned by the Shermans).

According to Richard Sherman, GE’s president approached them and declared, “”I don’t want to talk about tomorrows, I want to talk about today, I want to talk about what now is all about.” With that in mind, the Sherman’s penned a song that is a celebration of the world around us. As with everything the Sherman’s write, it’s incredibly catchy and tends to get stuck in your head. But there are worse messages to have running on repeat in your brain. 

(1) The Best Time Of Your Life (Carousel of Progress Song) – DisneyAvenue.com – YouTube

Once Upon a Time in New York City

Between 1989 and his death in 1991, Howard Ashman penned songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. They’re some of the richest songs in the Disney canon, and solidified Ashman’s place as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.

But his first Disney lyrics appeared in the 1988 Disney film Oliver & Company. The song, “Once Upon a Time in New York City” featured music by Barry Mann (marking the only Disney song written by Ashman that was not a collaboration with Alan Menken). 

The song plays over the movie’s opening and is performed by Huey Lewis, and in a lot of ways feels like the quintessential Ashman song. There’s struggle mixed with a sense of dogged optimism, and behind it all is the big, beautiful mess known as New York City. 

(1) Oliver And Company – Once Upon A Time In New York City (English) – YouTube

Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?

It’s safe to say that 2004’s Home on the Range will probably not land itself on many people’s Mount Rushmore of Disney animated features. Released to somewhat disappointing box office numbers and middling critical reviews, the movie none-the-less boasts one of the best songs in Disney history. 

Written by Alan Menken, “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” was performed by Bonnie Raitt in the movie. Incorporating country and western with blues, Raitt’s gorgeous alto voice perfectly captures the pathos of Menken’s lyrics and music. 

Speaking of  his work on Home on the Range, Menken noted that he went on an authentic 19th century cattle drive as part of his research for the film. In his one man show at the D23 Expo, he also spoke of “Will The Sun Ever Shine Again?” stating, “One thing about this song besides the experience of working with Bonnie…this song got written very shortly after the 9/11 attack, and…a lot of songwriters tried to write something that expressed how they felt about it, and somehow this song, in a movie about cows, did it for me…”

(1) Home on the Range – Will The Sun Ever Shine Again? – YouTube

Swamp Fox (Theme Song)

Beginning in 1959 and running through 1961, The Swamp Fox was an eight-part mini-series released as part of “Walt Disney Presents.” Each episode featured the exploits of American Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, who was portrayed by Leslie Neilsen. 

While the series failed to duplicate the wild success of Davy Crockett (released in 1955), it was nevertheless an entertaining program. It clearly showed Walt Disney’s personal blend of patriotism and romanticism in regard to American history, though (as one might expect) it is more of a sanitized, mythologized version of the events than precise retelling.

Like Davy Crockett, the Swamp Fox had his own theme song, this one composed by Buddy Baker and Lewis  R. Foster. The lyrics reflection the difficult conditions that Marion’s men fought under and the scrappy spirit that kept them going. 

(1) Swamp Fox Theme Song (Golden Records) – YouTube

But wait, there’s more!

As stated at the outset, music has always been key to the Disney magic. Walt Disney himself once noted, “There’s a terrific power to music.  You can run any of these pictures and they’d be dragging and boring, but the minute you put music behind them, they have life and vitality they don’t get any other way.” And on another occasion stated, “”Music had always had a prominent part in all our products from the early cartoon days.  So much so, in fact, that I cannot think of the pictorial story without thinking about the complementary music that will fulfill it . . . “

This emphasis on the importance of melody explains why so many of his films, cartoons, and indeed the parks, are filled with brilliant music. Next week we’ll dive into five more overlooked musical gems from the Disney songbook.