Bracket Ever After

The Definitive, Indisputable, Scientifically-Verified* Showdown of the Best Disney Songs Ever.


Now that I’m out of the running for a billion dollars (thanks a lot, Dayton) and can safely kiss my office pool entry fee goodbye, my interest in March Madness has dropped off considerably.

But I love a good infographic, and brackets are the visual-du-jour for at least another week or so. That’s how I found myself sitting on my couch with my roommates on Sunday evening, meticulously putting together what I consider to be a fairly comprehensive bracket breaking down the best Disney songs of all time.

First, a word on methodology. The songs that made it into our 32-team field all come from Disney’s fully-animated films. This disqualified such classics as Mary Poppins and Song of the South, as well as the new stuff, like Enchanted and The Muppets. We also left off the Disney imprints like Pixar and Tim Burton’s stop-motion masterpieces.

That left us with 53 feature films to choose from. The only other rule: no more than 3 songs from one movie, a ceiling hit by The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, and Aladdin.

Our 32 song field was then split into one of four regions: The Classics (music from the likes of Cinderella, Pinocchio, and Snow White), the Nineties (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) The Newbies (Frozen, Tangled) and Miscellaneous. Some exceptions were made to ensure three songs from one movie weren’t all in the same bracket, and some liberties were taken for convenience. As for seeding, it was based solely on the aggregate number of YouTube views for each song. A song moved on if it got three of the five votes in our house.

Without further ado.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this one was the seeding. Bare Necessities, while a perfectly enjoyable song from an under-appreciated Disney classic, is hardly anyone’s first choice when asked to name the quintessential Disney song. And yet it is massively popular on YouTube, outperforming regional winner “When You Wish Upon a Star” by some 20 million YouTube views.

The conversational consensus was that Bare Necessities was the weakest 1 seed, yet it managed to escape the upset in Round 1, beating the seven dwarfs’ utilitarian anthem.

“When You Wish Upon a Star,” meanwhile, proved to be a very strong #4 seed, the Michigan State of the Disney cannon.

High Ho was the Cinderella out of this regional, ironic since they got through #2 Bippity Boppity Boo from Cinderella to make it to the regional semifinals. But the Pinocchio ditty, aided in voters’ eyes by its appearance atop every Disney movie in the opening credits — proved too strong, handily beating the #6 seed to reach the final four.

Ok, I know, I get it: The Lion King (coming up on 20 years old) isn’t a new Disney film in the same way Frozen and Tangled are. Whatever. We needed to make the brackets work. And in fairness, “Circle of Life” would have plowed through any region it was placed in given the ease with which it dispensed of even the monstrously popular “Let It Go.” Adele Dazeem’s smash hit Academy Award winner had more than double the view count of the entire rest of the region combined, but the #1 seed was the unanimous loser to The Lion King’s opening number.

A controversy erupted in my office on Monday morning when my colleagues took issue with the #2/#7 upset: there are a lot of “Man Outta You”/Mulan fans out there, but “Go The Distance” is perhaps the best song from Hercules, one of Disney’s strongest musicals (“The Gospel Truth” didn’t even make the field! Outrage.).

The Nineties (also known as the Alan Menken decade) is without a doubt the strongest region in the tournament. One through eight could each make an argument for winning the whole thing. And fittingly, two of the most heated debates took place on this side of the bracket.

I’m still bitter about the first one. Had you asked me to name the best Disney song ever, free of brackets and second guessing, I don’t know that I would take a moment’s pause before replying “Hakuna Matata.” What a wonderful song. It’s catchy, it’s funny, it’s well-sung (Nathan Lane!) and its message is so accessible: nine out of ten 20somethings can tell you, verbatim, what Hakuna Matata means (you just sung it in your head, didn’t you?). So to see it bow out in the first round as the #2 seed? Devastating. I lobbied my fellow voting members as best I could, but ultimately it fell 3-2 to what, admittedly, is another very good song.

The second flareup came in the Elite Eight: “Under the Sea” narrowly beat out the uproarious “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast for a spot in the final four. This vote was even closer, and required a few play-throughs of both before settling on The Little Mermaid classic.

The final region was a mess. In trying to separate songs from the same movies, 2013's Frozen ended up in the same region as 1959's Sleeping Beauty. But it was the nineties castaways that ran away with it: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Tarzan (on the strength of Phil Collins) made the Sweet Sixteen, and the region came down to two out-of-this-world hits.

But the slight edge was given to Aladdin’s “A Whole New World.” It’s timeless, destined to live on forever in karaoke bars and American Idol auditions. It also benefitted from the memorable scene in which the song appears, aboard the magic carpet flying across the Arabian night skies.

So there you have it: your four finalists. “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Circle of Life,” “A Whole New World,” and “Under the Sea”

“When You Wish Upon a Star” is the closest thing The Walt Disney Company has to a theme song. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1940, the first Disney song in a long lineage of them to win the Oscar. It’s seventh on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs In Film History. It’s been covered by everyone from Billy Joel to N’Sync to Alvin and the Chipmunks. And yet it couldn’t top the best song from the best movie in Disney’s best decade.

The opening notes of “Circle of Life,” paired with the sunrise over the savannah, may be the greatest opening scene in cinematic history (not to mention Broadway history), and strikes an emotional chord every time I hear it.

But as good as Elton John’s music is, Alan Menken is Disney. And his “Whole New World” is the best Disney song of all time. It beat out “Under the Sea” in the semis, and for us, it just felt more lower-case disney to us than “Circle of Life,” which has, in a sense, transcended its Disney roots. Here’s the full bracket:

So there you have it. Thirty-two contenders for best Disney song of all time, whittled down to one. To be honest, I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t land on a more creative choice. I would guess there’s a sizable group of people who would have arrived at the same conclusion we did, without the aid of an overly complicated bracket. Of course there will be an even bigger group of people who think our picks are completely boneheaded, and won’t waste an ounce of Internet to tell me why I’m stupid and/or a fascist. But I can handle it. Hakuna Matata.