Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at some of Disney’s best love songs, as well as some of the most heart breaking songs in the Disney canon. In the past, we’ve even looked at some of the company’s best villain songs. But sometimes you just want to let down your hair and have a little fun. That’s why this week we’re looking at 10 fun and fancy free Disney songs (although they aren’t songs from 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free. Sorry for any confusion).
Hakuna Matata (The Lion King)
“Hakuna Matata” is a Swahili phrase that literally means “no trouble” or “no worries.” It perfectly captures the philosophy of the characters Timon and Pumba in 1994’s The Lion King. According to a special feature on The Lion King DVD, the phrase was learned from a tour guide in Kenya. With words by Tim Rice and Music by Elton John, it has become one of the most popular songs in Disney history. It was even nominated for Best Song at the Academy Awards (but lost to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the same film).
Why Should I Worry? (Oliver & Company)
Featured in the criminally overlooked 1988 animated feature Oliver & Company, “Why Should I Worry” was composed by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight. It was performed by Billy Joel, who also provided the voice for the character of Dodger (Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”). The animation sequence features Dodger dancing through the streets of New York City after stealing a chain of sausages from a street vendor. It would become the first Disney song nominated for a Golden Globe, though it ended up losing to two songs as both “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon, and “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins tied for the award.
The Bare Necessities (The Jungle Book)
Written by Terry Gilkyson (co-composer of the popular “Memories are Made of This” made famous by Dean Martin), “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book is a foot-tapping celebration of life’s simple pleasures. Gilykson wrote multiple songs for the film, but Disney deemed most “too heavy and ponderous,” which is why the remainder of the film’s songs were provided by the Sherman Brothers. Gilykson’s composition would earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Song, though it lost to “Talk to the Animals” from the musical comedy Doctor Doolittle starring Rex Harrison.
Trashin’ the Camp (Tarzan)
As the drummer for Flaming Youth, and later Genesis, Phil Collins likely never pictured himself becoming a composer for Disney. But by the mid-90s, it probably didn’t seem as far-fetched. Disney had teamed with Elton John for The Lion King, which was a massive hit. They’d also brought Sting onboard to be a part of Kingdom of the Sun (which would later become The Emperor’s New Groove). Collins had entered the “adult contemporary” portion of his career, and Disney executive Chris Montan suggested bringing him onboard for Tarzan.
“Trashin’ the Camp” appears in the movie as Terk’s signature number, and is the only song on the soundtrack which is actively performed by an on-screen character. The number would later be used at Hong Kong Disneyland’s version of The Jungle Cruise, playing on a 1930s style radio as gorillas raid the Jungle Navigation Company’s camp.
Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid)
When you think of a Danish fairy tale, calypso music probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. Then again, neither is a Caribbean crab. Fortunately, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman saw the possibility when writing a song celebrating life lived beneath the surface of the sea. The brilliant performance of Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian the crab took it from notes and words on a page to the ecstatic, joyous celebration of the life aquatic. The combination earned Disney their first Academy Award for Best Song since Mary Poppins’ “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
The Three Caballeros (The Three Caballeros)
In 1941, Manuel Esperón and Ernesto Cortázar Sr. teamed up to write the ranchera song “¡Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!” for the film of the same name. The song became a huge hit in Mexico, and would eventually provide the melody for the Disney song “The Three Caballeros.” After learning of Esperón’s success writing songs for the Mexican film industry, Walt Disney reached out and asked him to be a part of the movie The Three Caballeros. The reinterpretation of “¡Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!” would receive new lyrics by Ray Gilbert.
The characters of Donald Duck, Panchito Pistoles, and José “Zé” Carioca perform the song in the movie. Today, fans of the song can also hear it on the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros located in the Mexico pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase.
Gonna Take You There (The Princess and the Frog)
It’s hard to think of a happier, livelier type of music than zydeco. It’s like a party in musical form. In the hands of composer and lyricist Randy Newman, it became the perfect vehicle for the song “Gonna Take You There” from The Princess and the Frog, a song celebrating the joys of family and friends. The song is sung by Jim Cummings as the voice of Ray, with musical accompaniment from zydeco musician and educator Terrance Simien.
In a movie that overflows with musical joy, it remains one of the standout pieces and is sure to make you jump up out of your seat to start dancing.
Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride (Lilo & Stitch)
Written by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu and Alan Silvestri, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” is heard during a scene that features Lilo, her sister Nani, Stitch, and David surfing. It was performed by Ho’omalu as well as the children’s chorus from the Kamehameha School. Talking about the movie later, co-writer and co-director Chris Sanders noted how Ho’omalu and the Kamehameha School helped lend authenticity to the Hawaiian experience in the film. He stated, “So Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu was our kumu hula. He told us everything we needed to know about everything. And he was one of those people that gave us more than we ever could have hoped for — culturally, language-wise, just stories, everything. We also partnered with Kamehameha Schools. And their choir is the choir that sings in the movie, for example. So that was just for us an exercise in humility and letting people who know what they’re doing help us.”
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (Mary Poppins)
Arguably Walt Disney’s greatest cinematic accomplishment, Mary Poppins remains a peerless masterpiece nearly sixty years after its release. The music, penned by the Sherman Brothers, is a big reason for the film’s success, and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was definitely one of the movie’s most memorable songs. Over the years, the Shermans have given several different stories about the origins of the word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” In one recollection they wrote, “When we were little boys in the mid-1930s, we went to a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains, where we were introduced to a very long word that had been passed down in many variations through many generations of kids. … The word as we first heard it was super-cadja-flawjalistic-espealedojus.” That may very well be true, but on other occasions they claimed to have invented the word themselves as children. Either way, the mouthful was transformed into an unforgettable song.
Ev’rybody Wants To Be a Cat (The Aristocats)
With music by Al Rinker and words by Floyd Huddleston, “Ev’rybody Wants To Be a Cat” has proven the most enduring song from The Aristocats. Given that fact, it might be a surprise to learn that a song by the Sherman Brothers, “Le Jazz Hot” was originally intended to be the “showstopper” in the film. The primary performers on “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” are Scatman Crothers, Phil Harris, and Robie Lester. Crothers in particular lends the song its jazz credibility, having begun his professional career as a musician in the speak easies of Terre Haute, Indiana. His nickname, Scatman, even came from this time, and was a reference to his scat singing, a style of improvisational vocals unique to jazz. It’s easily one of the swinginest, most happenin’ songs ever created by Disney, and guaranteed to make you smile.