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Walt Disney was beloved by the world, except when he was perpetuating racial stereotypes and buddying up with anti-Semites. Yes, in terms of evil Americans Walt seems to come second only to Henry Ford. To deny his racial stereotyping is absurd, especially in the face of blatant evidence. When watching Peter Pan with my daughter for the first time I felt ill upon hearing ‘What Made the Red Man Red?’ It was not a favourite in my household when growing up so I had no memory of anything that happened in the movie. God, what the fuck were they thinking? Without denying these troubling elements of the Disney movies I would still like to attempt an appreciation of the music. We may hit some choppy waters but there is still much to admire in the music and animation. Here’s my vote for Top 10 Disney songs of all time.
10. ‘The Phony King Of England’ from Robin Hood
A rip-roaring sing along perhaps more famous for the fact that in the animation that accompanied the music the Disney animators reused animation from older movies in order to save money. This meant little to me as a child and it means even less now. The first of many appearances in the Top 10 by Phil Harris, who here voices the character of Little John.
9. ‘Prince Ali’ from Aladdin
This is Robin Williams’ best role, hands down. What’s that you say? You find Robin Williams irritating? Check this out – I don’t care. Only the most mean-spirited misanthrope could not find delight in this song. Actually, I’m a mean-spirited misanthrope and I love this song, so if you don’t enjoy it I suppose that just makes you a chump. Oh and when the characters start commentating on the parade it is one of the funniest moments in any Disney movie ever. Don’t they look lovely June?
8. ‘Bare Necessities’ from The Jungle Book
Pure joy. I remember with great clarity re-watching The Jungle Book aged 16 and being almost in tears so important was this movie to my childhood. The story was of course adapted from the book by staunch imperialist and inventor of racist terminology Rudyard Kipling. Is there no peace for my inner child? Not really, but ‘Bare Necessities’ is relatively innocent and it has an addictive glee that is impossible to resist. Well, I dare say there could be good reasons for resisting it but my inner child feels only happiness at this songs existence. Phil Harris again.
7. 'Someday My Prince Will Come' from Snow White
Now this is a melody. Somewhere along the way Disney songwriters lost the ability to write a moving ballad and everything became schmaltz. Not here though. Listen to how the melody surges ever onward, mirroring the inner yearnings of the heart and its innocent pleas. Compare this to the constricted and ugly melody to ‘Part Of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid and you’ll immediately understand the loss in quality. Glorious.
6. ‘Everybody Wants To Be A Cat’ from The Aristocats
Scatman Crothers and Phil Harris trade off on this hymn to hep cats and cool times. The song is almost destroyed by more awful racial stereotypes, this time of the Asian variety. The Disney company was nothing if not equal opportunity in its determination to offend every non-white person on the planet. Ignore if you can the ugliness that occasionally creeps up and instead revel in the brilliant songwriting. Fun Fact: Phil Harris’s real first name was Wonga.
5. 'Never Had A Friend Like Me’ from Aladdin
The perfect anecdote to all that ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ crap that Toy Story peddles, this is manic madness. Once more Robin Williams is on fire. Would the song be as good without him? Probably not, but performance is everything and combined with the animation this song is genius. If you say anything about not liking Robin Williams I’m ignoring you.
4. ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’ from The Jungle Book
First of all, King Louis is not voiced by an African-American. It is Louis Prima. Second of all … well, there’s no second of all. It would be easy to find sinister undertones in this number given Prima’s jazzy voice and Disney’s track record with racial stereotypes, but I prefer to take this song for what it is, a barnstorming swing number that allows Louis Prima and that man Wonga Harris to shine. I revert again to my inner child.
3. ‘Pink Elephants On Parade’ from Dumbo
This whole sequence is a bad trip before the phrase was ever invented. Sinister and genuinely disturbing, the song was later covered by Sun Ra and it’s not hard to hear why. A case could probably be made that LSD usage came naturally to a generation raised on Disney. Utterly fantastic in every sense of the word.
2. 'Not In Nottingham' from Robin Hood
In Americana’s rush to embrace the authentic hard-living tales of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson it forgot the goofball genius of Roger Miller. Too clever by half, Miller dipped his toe into any musical genre he fancied and created a body of work that is an unexplored treasure trove. Voicing Alan-a-Dale the singing rooster, Miller penned this moving ode to unhappiness for Disney but its power is such that it transcends these origins and exists as a vital song all on its own. Nevertheless its part in the movie is heartbreaking. Apparently this has been covered by those talentless shitbags Mumford & Sons. Don’t let that put you off.
1. ‘Once Upon A Dream’ from Sleeping Beauty
They really don’t write ‘em like this anymore. The melody is so beautifully expressive and generous that, combined with the wide-eyed romantic innocence of the words, it threatens to sweep us off of our feet. Based on a Tchaikovsky piece, it manages to capture the epic enchantment of love that stands in contrast to the preferred ‘realities’ of love as described in something like ‘Ether’ by Gang Of Four. Except I’d lay a bet that most if not all of the members of Gang Of Four are married or in long term relationships right now. Love conquers all.
(This article originally appeared on Collapse Board)