Fa Mulan demonstrates her strength atop a wooden pole. Mulan’s “Make a Man Out of You” earns its number one spot on this list for the best songs from animated movies. Illustration by Alyson Sutherland.

If you want to teach someone an important life lesson, it’s ideal to teach them young, when their brain is impressionable. The ways our generation received these lessons were different from past methods. Movies and tv shows were influential to us as children, sometimes the lessons were bad, but more often than not, they were positive. In no way do I claim myself to be any kind of expert. And yet, here I am, dictating the best songs from the best animated movies that molded our childhoods. If I could, I would include about a dozen more movies, but not all are as popular, or even have music. These songs were the most positively influential ones that we as children experienced. Each and every song in this list set the tone for the whole film, or the franchise, but most definitely for our lives. 

NUMBER 5 – “Hakuna Matata” – The Lion King

While this song is not exactly the most elegant, it gave us kids something to strive for, that carefree mentality. The phrase “Hakuna Matata” was so widely known that it could’ve been easily associated with The Lion King even with no context. When we were growing up, this song gave us Hakuna Matata as a motto, a way to remind ourselves that there were “no worries for the rest of your days.” We needed that. Pairing an incredibly laid back song with the progression of the friendship between Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa, as well as the personal growth of Simba, was an amazing way to show how our protagonist grew into his contentful life as an apex predator. 

NUMBER 4 – “Let It Go” Frozen

This song is from the first Disney princess film where the princess did not marry a prince, which was an inspiring shift from past films where the heroines were dependent on a man. This is Elsa’s movie, and this song is her anthem, despite the embarrassment she experiences when recalling this song in the second movie. This is the song of an independent woman coming into who she is as a person, and completely owning it. The growth of Elsa’s confidence throughout the song was reflected in its popularity. Until the recent release of Encanto, “Let It Go” was the most successful Disney song. As it should have been.

NUMBER 3 – “Friends on the Other Side” The Princess and the Frog

This entire number is so creepy and the perfect preamble to the rest of the film. The magic is present from the very beginning of the song, and only gets more insistent, more directly magical up to Dr. Facilier casting the spell on Naveen. This is one of the more upbeat songs; despite the creepiness, it is most definitely one of the best to sing along to. This song signifies the beginning of the movie’s conflict, giving Facilier more power, which he maintains control of for the rest of the film until the reprise, when Tiana destroys the talisman that is linked to Naveen in the original song. When Tiana does this, she frees Naveen and damns Facilier when he is captured by his shadow friends that had been helping him out the rest of the film. It is a great introduction to the character of Facilier, and then later, a great send-off.

NUMBER 2 – “Test Drive” – How to Train Your Dragon 

This wonderful song is the only one on this list that is not from Disney, and one of two that doesn’t have lyrics. But it was so crucial that it be on this list, that the criteria was adjusted to allow it to take its rightful place at the number two spot. This song is one of the strongest composed songs I have yet heard, but like I said, I am no expert. Despite that, I can and will acknowledge not only how popular this song is, but how perfect. Even without actively watching the movie, just listening to the song, you can feel every move Toothless and Hiccup make while they fly. You can feel Hiccup’s panic when they are falling because he lost control, the tentative excitement in the beginning that literally feels like you are holding back. But the best part of the song is when you feel the utter elation Hiccup and Toothless experience when they come up perfectly after losing their cheat sheet, cutting in and out of the dangerous rocks; this music perfectly encapsulates the synchronicity the two are experiencing, and you feel it through the majesticness of the music. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS – The entire Tangled Soundtrack

See, I tried to choose the best song from this soundtrack to include on the list, but I could not. And so I decided to include the entire masterful soundtrack. Specific honors go to the following songs: “When Will My Life Begin,” “Mother Knows Best,” “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise),” “Mother Knows Best Reprise,” “Kingdom Dance,” “I See the Light,” and “Something That I Want.” And yes, this is about half the songs from the soundtrack, nine perfect songs that provide the best feelings ever. Each song is so beautifully fitted to its scene, helps move the story along, and yet can still sound like a regular song on the radio. They are the perfect balance between songs from a musical and songs from the radio; very few things have such a perfect balance. Rapunzel’s growth from “When Will My Life Begin,” to “I See the Light” is palpable. She goes from being so meek and willing to do whatever her mother wishes – which continues in “Mother Knows Best” – to her being honest and brave, seeing and doing exactly what she wants; she is being her own person and not limiting herself to a life within her tower. And I feel like that’s the moral of the movie, what they wanted all those kids to take away from the film and into their lives. 

NUMBER 1 – “Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan
Back to the topic of growth, the intense growth that Shang’s unit goes through in just one song is miraculous. At the beginning, they do not cooperate, have zero agility and an equal amount of strength. By the end, Mulan is basically running the show, and has gained strong allies who will support her through and through. Granted, all this is while she is still masquerading as ‘Ping’, so a lot of their respect they have for her does not remain once her gender is revealed. This song encourages girls that we too can be as strong and warrior-like as all of our male peers, and Mulan demonstrates this by overcoming this high obstacle and goes on to thrive, and to save China. When Li Shang tells Mulan to “Pack up, go home, you’re through,” she decides that she does not care what Shang thinks, that she can and will be the best, and she completes his seemingly impossible task with the sunrise, signifying her new beginning. And then at the end of the song, when the music cuts out and it’s just the men singing, in those 20 seconds, that is what pure triumph sounds like; they hold more emotion than most of us have felt since we were 14. 

All of these songs are beautiful and powerful in their own way, and each movie that accompanied its respective song affected us as children in its own individual way. Though Disney has its image issues and messages that were also problematic in their films, these songs are easily the most positive things that could have been impressed onto a young child to help them grow into a strong person, despite the negativity that can also plague our TVs.

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