In 1989, a red-headed mermaid reinvigorated the Disney name with her best friend Flounder and her crush, Prince Eric. The Little Mermaid started the Disney Renaissance, a resurgence of Walt Disney Animation Studios making musical movies that led to huge box office and commercial success. From about 1989 to 1999, Disney released movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, and more, proving — once again — its position as a powerhouse production company.
For any ‘90s kid, or Disney expert, the Disney Renaissance (also known as The Second Golden Age) is full of first memories and pure joy. These movies defined your childhood, and the songs continue to live on during random singalongs in a car or karaoke nights with friends.
We’ve attempted the impossible task of ranking the top 10 songs of the Disney Renaissance. This was hard. Like, really, really hard. But it was also awesome because who doesn’t want to listen and relive all of these amazing songs? Let’s get to it. Argue with us about it on @getfandom.
10. “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” (Hercules, 1997)
1997’s Hercules was one of the last Disney movies of the ‘90s renaissance and full of great songs like “Go the Distance” and “Zero to Hero.” But it was “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” by composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Kippel that became a singalong sensation. Just try not to belt out with Megara, “No chance, no way / I won’t say it, no, no.” In fact, that should be the way you tell people “no” in everyday life. Way more fun.
9. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (Mulan, 1998)
Possibly the most motivating song of the Disney Renaissance era, Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” was the perfect companion song to one of Disney’s more progressive storylines. Fa Mulan ignored tradition and law to crossdress as a soldier to fight in place of her aging father. This song served as a montage to showcase Mulan going from a screw-up to a strong, able soldier. The fact that she’s a woman in man’s clothing and inspired the rest of the soldiers to improve made this song even more powerful. Also, it’s catchy as hell.
8. “Circle of Life” (The Lion King, 1994)
That opening, though. The moment the sun came up and the first “Na” began, The Lion King became more than just another animated Disney movie. The four minutes of “Circle of Life” perfectly set up the landscape of Pride Rock, with various animals living and existing together in the African kingdom, leading straight into the story of Mufasa and his trouble-prone cub, Simba. You probably still don’t know the exact lyrics, but you’ve sung this song at the top of your lungs countless times. Don’t even deny it.
7. “A Whole New World” (Aladdin, 1992)
Disney’s travel anthem, it’s hard not to feel adventurous and excited about life when listening to “A Whole New World.” From the instrumentation to the crescendos, this song really feels like you’re on a magic carpet ride. It practically defined Aladdin as a movie about how anything is possible, regardless of all the street rat lying and scheming. It’s also one of the best karaoke songs of all time, just drag a friend up with you.
6. “Colors of the Wind” (Pocahontas, 1995)
Pocahontas might not have gotten anything historically correct in its story, but it won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1995 for “Colors of the Wind” — and for good reason. As Disney’s first Native American princess, Pocahontas eloquently ripped into explorer John Smith about how humankind is connected to all living things, so we should respect one another, working together to survive. If you need to understand this better, just watch Melissa McCarthy lip sync the song on The Tonight Show.
5. “Beauty and the Beast” (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
Get ready for a lot of Menken and Howard Ashman in the top five, starting with “Beauty and the Beast.” From the first words, “Tale as old as time,” it solidified itself in history as one of the ultimate fairytale songs since Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream.” In the movie, it’s sung by Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and was also released as a single by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. The fact that it worked as a musical number and a commercial success is a huge credit to the powerhouse duo of Menken and Ashman. Don’t forget it also won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1992. No big deal.
4. “Friend Like Me” (Aladdin, 1992)
There’s no song with more personality than Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me,” and that’s all thanks to the late Robin Williams as Genie. Have you ever tried singing this whole song? It’s exhausting, but that’s what makes it incredibly special. There’s so much energy in its Cab Calloway, big-band-inspired song style. If any song could capture the excitement and happiness Williams brought to an audience, it’s this. It’s like a big, giant hug, while also providing fantastic exposition to the Genie’s character. Applause.
3. “Hakuna Matata” (The Lion King, 1994)
It means “no worries,” and that’s exactly how you feel when you sing this song. Probably one of Disney’s most recognizable songs of the Renaissance, it’s a timeless tune thanks to a carefree philosophy that people still use as their personal motto. As Disney generations have grown older and felt the stresses of adult life, “Hakuna Matata” provides the perfect mix of inspiration and nostalgia. Sure, the song turned Simba into a procrastinating lion running away from his destiny, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
2. “Be Our Guest” (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
From the first drumroll, “Be Our Guest” changed the way you approach eating. Why aren’t these pies dancing? How come my fork isn’t doing the can-can? This song ignited the imagination and made you happy, plain and simple. It’s also incredibly endearing how excited the castle’s staff was to finally host a guest and blow it out as a huge musical number. And the fact that they embraced Belle fully for the sake of her entertainment will always be one of Disney’s best qualities.
1. “Part of Your World” (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
1989’s The Little Mermaid kicked of the Disney Renaissance with brilliant songs like “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” by composer Menken and lyricist Ashman. But it’s their song “Part of Your World” that tops the list. While most of the other Disney songs are big, fun, and joyful, “Part of Your World” is a quiet, building, personal anthem about yearning to break free and experiencing something bigger than what you know. Ariel was curious, and it got her in trouble, but she also wanted to learn and do more than what her family expected. Even though Ariel sang about gadgets and gizmos aplenty, the song transcended old, rusty silverware. When you sing, “Bright young women, sick of swimming / Ready to stand,” you can’t help but feel your own story in those words.