Over the course of nearly 80 years, many notable tunesmiths have contributed songs to Walt Disney animated films, including the Sherman Brothers (The Jungle Book), Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid), and Elton John and Tim Rice (The Lion King). That adds up to hours upon hours of original music, and Consequence Of Sound critics Allison Shoemaker (who also contributes to The A.V. Club) and Dominick Suzanne-Mayer have taken it upon themselves to evaluate 267 individual Disney compositions in an exhaustive and exhausting article called “Ranking: Every Disney Song From Worst To Best.” This is a massive project, to be sure, so Shoemaker and Suzanne-Mayer set some sensible parameters. There are no half-animated, half-live action films here, so don’t expect anything from Song Of The South or Mary Poppins. The Pixar films are out, too. (Sorry, Randy Newman.)
This being the internet, people are naturally going to focus on the negatives first. The lower reaches of the chart are dominated by songs that are considered sexist, racist, and/or xenophobic by today’s standards. This is where one finds, for instance, “What Made The Red Man Red” from 1953’s Peter Pan as well as “Katrina” from 1949’s The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (“the cutest, most well-arranged Bing Crosby song about slut shaming ever recorded”) and the now-unfortunate “Arabian Nights” from 1992’s Aladdin.
As with most definitive rankings like this, there’s a dry stretch in the middle devoted to songs that are neither good nor bad. Here’s Shoemaker, for instance on “Looking For Romance” from 1942’s Bambi: “This song is fine. It’s very pretty, and uses choral voices as well as almost anything in Bambi, but it’s totally unnecessary, too.” But for real Disney aficionados—and this piece seems to have been written from a largely affectionate and appreciative place—the most stirring passages come when Shoemaker and Suzanne-Mayer finally get to discuss their most favorite, beloved Disney numbers of all time, after wading through dozens of misfires and mediocrities. In her introduction to the list, Shoemaker says that Disney’s songwriters “write some damn good songs, and great music is never a waste of time.” The songs in the upper stratosphere of this list, including “A Friend Like Me” from Aladdin and “When You Wish Upon A Star” from 1940’s Pinocchio, prove that.