We've all tapped our toes to "The Bare Necessities" or covered our ears when "Let It Go" was playing, but there are some great gems of Disney songs that sadly have not received much popular attention - and not because they're bad songs! So, even though no one asked for it, here are my favorite under-appreciated Disney songs from (mostly) animated features by decade!
1930s: "With a Smile and a Song" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Frank Churchill & Larry Morey; Performed by Adriana Caselotti
It's no surprise that the song chosen from this decade would come from Disney's first feature-length animated film, because it was the only one released in the '30s. I enjoy its light-hearted melody and its laid-back pacing. It also serves an important function in the film. After facing death and rescue at the hand of the Huntsman and running through a terrifying forest, the young princess finds encouragement in a little bluebird's song. Through "With a Smile and a Song," she finds a renewed spirit, however vapid or trite it may seem to us. It's also, in my opinion, the only true moment of empowerment that Snow White finds for herself in the entire film:
There's no use in grumbling
When raindrops come tumbling,
Remember you're the one
Who can fill the world with sunshine
OK, it's no feminist manifesto. However, with those lines, the message of the song takes what could be a rather inane message and turns it into one where each individual is responsible for their own happiness. Not bad for someone who's about to break into a house belonging to strange men so she can clean for them...
Runner-up: "One Song" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
1940s: "Pink Elephants on Parade" from Dumbo (1941)
Oliver Wallace & Ned Washington; Performed by Mel Blanc, Thurl Ravenscroft, and The Sportsmen
The '40s brought a string of Disney films consisting of unrelated animated segments that showcased movie magic that only animation could accomplish. Some of this was art-driven (as in the case of Fantasia), and some of it was created as a result of World War II budget-constraints (as in Make Mine Music). In Dumbo, however, we get a particularly noteworthy segment of experimental animation that is incorporated into the larger story plot - however weakly. In "Pink Elephants on Parade," Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse inadvertently guzzle down alcohol which has some incongruously psychedelic effects. The sequence is bizarre and amazing. The song that accompanies it is odd yet catchy. The jaunty beat belies a more menacing presence with the score's minor chords and foreboding lyrics:
Look out! Look out!
Pink Elephants on Parade!
Here they come!
They're here and there!
Pink Elephants everywhere!
The song is terrifying for no apparent reason, except perhaps to warn young ones about the dangerous effects of alcohol? The song is featured in Fantasmic, but I still feel like it doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.
Runner-up: "The Three Caballeros" from The Three Caballeros (1944)
1950s: "Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale" from Cinderella (1950)
Mack David, Jerry Livingston & Al Hoffman; Performed by Ilene Woods and Rhoda Williams
Cinderella is probably my favorite classic Disney film (read: pre-Little Mermaid era). And there are some amazing songs that are not only well-written, but well-woven into the story. At first glance, "Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale" seems to feel like a random diversion from the story. I would argue, however, that it is actually one of the more moving sequences in the film. First, we hear Drusilla rehearsing the song accompanied by Anastasia's flute. Their cat Lucifer can't stand the noise, so he steps outside only to find that Cinderella is also singing the song while scrubbing the floor. Of course, she sings it beautifully, and soon we see multiple reflections of Cinderella in floating bubbles, and hear four-part harmony (all voiced by Ilene Woods). What I love about this song, beyond its wistful melody and moody harmonies, is it unveils something of Cinderella's emotional state without being too on-the-nose about it. The singing is sad and yet somehow resolute. It is as if Cinderella knows that there is no way out of her "bubble," so she does the best she can and sings herself through it -- a far more poetic version of "Whistle While You Work." And this beautiful moment signals the end of the film's first act, because there's about to be a knock at the door -- a messenger bringing news of a ball at the palace.
Runner-up: "All in the Golden Afternoon" from Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Let me know what your favorite under-appreciated Disney songs from the '30s, '40s, and '50s are! I'll share my picks for the '60s, '70s and '80s next week!