I am usually not prone to negativity. I tend to prefer writing positive articles in order to praise movies, even though tearing something down usually gets you more clicks. That doesn’t mean that I don’t indulge once a while in a little bit of venting, too, but as a general rule, I consider it more helpful to point out why something works than why something doesn’t work, even though it is way harder to articulate the former.
But when I started to think about doing something along the line of a best Disney songs list, I soon started to realize that this would be an impossible task. Disney has created so many outstanding songs, even doing a ten best soundtrack list would be difficult, never mind doing one praising the best songs. Even if you keep it to the animated canon, there should be something between 300 and 400 songs.
In the end I decided to do something which might be even more challenging: Finding the ten worst Disney Songs. Usually you can trust that any song which turns up in a Disney movie is at the very least decent. So I had to dig really deep to even find ten I felt I could put on a “worst” list without feeling too bad about it. What made my search especially difficult, though, was that I completely limited myself to Disney Animation Studios movies. For two reasons: Had I included the cheapquels, this would have been too easy. Bad music in a direct-to-video production is kind of a given, even when Disney is producing it. And while I could have included Pixar, their movies use music in a very different way than the standard Disney movie does.
For the same reason I made my live even more difficult by excluding the package movies, too, even though there was a lot of dated and boring music I could have mined out of them. I can hardly complain a song not adding anything to the story if there isn’t really a story to be told after all. I also excluded end-credit songs and songs not created by Disney for this specific movie (which only applies to Chicken Little and Lilo and Stitch anyway).
Which brings me to the criteria under which I will judge the songs:
1. How much do I like the song?
This should be a given. Any song which has a catchy tune and a great text had a good chance to not make the list, unless it failed the other two categories.
2. How well does it fit the scene and the movie?
This is the big one. There are a number of songs which failed the first category, but didn’t end up on the list because they did exactly what they were supposed to. So I won’t ding the “Canine Crunchies” song for being a relentless annoying jingle, because that is exactly what it is supposed to be. And I won’t complain about “Scales and Arpeggios” for having the most simplistic melody possible, because the song is supposed to present something a child might learn during the first piano lessons. On the flip-side, there are also a few songs which more or less passed the first category, but failed to elevate the movie in question. And yes, one or two of them made the list.
3. How much does its quality impact the movie in general?
Basically the more the song ruined the mood of the movie and the more annoying it was, the higher it ended up on the list. So, to explain my elimination process, here a few songs which I seriously considered, but which didn’t make the list in the end.
One of the first things I did when I decided to make this list was taking a close look at Home on the Range again. Because I just couldn’t remember any songs from the movie except the villain song. But after listening to all of them, I just couldn’t bring myself to hate any of them. They are a little bit forgettable, but none of them are outright bad, and they fit the movie pretty well overall. I ended up really liking “Will the Sun ever Shine again”, the ballade had so much feeling behind it. To be frank, I just wasn’t sure if it is really the fault of the songs that I couldn’t remember most of them, or if it was simply a combination of the movie itself being such a disappointment and me not being into this style of music. In the end the fact that none of the songs impacted the quality of the movie itself in any way lead me to leaving them all off the list. At least this soundtrack fits the movie, and they add to the story.
The same can’t be said for the Soundtrack of The Princess and the Frog. This movie has a serious issue with having songs which are just re-establishing what the audience already knows instead of moving the story forward. Especially “When we’re human” is guilty of this. And there is also a lot to be said about the notion of two frogs dancing under the light of a butt, while the owner of said butt is singing about his love towards the star. But in the end, the quality of the songs themselves just kept them off the list. “Ma Belle Evangeline” is such a nice tune, and while I do think that the songs of the movies overall are a little bit less catchy than the truly great Disney soundtracks, the style is a perfect fit for New Orleans.
Brother Bear was taken into close consideration because in this case, the songs don’t fit the setting at all, and the way they are used are sometimes downright distracting. But this was another case in which the quality of the songs just kept it off the list. To be completely clear here, I have no issue whatsoever with Phil Collin’s music. I like the songs he did for Brother Bear, and just don’t think that they were a good choice for this particular movie and I really, really enjoy his work for Tarzan. The only song from Tarzan which I even considered for this list was “Trashing the Camp”, but I felt while the execution is lacking, the conception was strong enough to warrant some leeway.
And finally there was “Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dun”. I tend to be a little bit more forgiving towards Snow White and the Seven Dwarves regarding its various filler songs, mostly because the whole movie was exploring new ground. But a four minute song about washing for dinner is a little bit much. When I watched the scene again, though, I realized that the song itself isn’t really four minutes long, for most its running time it is pure score while the dwarves perform physical humour. It kind of felt wrong to ding the song for it, because the issue here is the overlong washing scene in itself and the song makes it at least somewhat bearable.
So, if anyone is still reading this after the overlong explanation, here are my top ten worst Disney Songs to date.
10. Wine/The Drinking Song
Sleeping Beauty has one of my favourite soundtracks. I have said it before, but the score was quite an unique challenge because it was based on pre-existing music which then had to be rearranged painstakingly to fit the movie and the style. And I guess the most difficult part was to turn music which was written for a ballet into song. In some instances, the result is just beautiful. I mean, who doesn’t like “Once Upon a Dream”? But “The Drinking Song” is where the movie truly stumbles. It is barely a song at all, and the parts of it which are kind of like singing, well, it is just obvious that the melody was never meant to be part of a song.
9. The Gospel Truth
Yeah, speaking of ill-fitting soundtracks, Hercules might take the cake there. I mean, how the hell does one start with Greek mythology, and then ends up with Gospel? Those two things aren’t even remotely related to each other. I guess you can do an overly complicated explanation that Gospel can by considered the modern take of a hymn, except that they are a modern take on Christian music, and we are talking here about Greek mythology. Which, I guess, one could argue is a religion too, but, well, would you want to see a story about Jesus being represented by Native American chants? Or Hindu prayers? Yeah, exactly.
On top of this, the soundtrack doesn’t even stick to the style. If you put “The Gospel Truth” beside “I’ll go the Distance” and “Can’t tell I’m in love” without knowing anything about them, would you think that they all belong to the same movie? And, to add insult to injury, it is basically taking the role of a villain song. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t have loved to see Hades going all evil in verse?
In the end the only good thing I can say about “The Gospel Truth” is that I don’t necessarily dislike the song in itself and it has a purpose in the story. That wasn’t enough to keep it off this list, though.
8. In Summer
Speaking of purpose, “In Summer” has none. I actually had quite a number of songs from Frozen up for this list. No, “Let it Go” wasn’t one of them. The song is overplayed by now, but it is overplayed for a reason. In general, though, should I ever decide to write an article about how good songs can be used to the detriment of a movie, Frozen would be the example to use. “In Summer” makes the list because it is utterly pointless. It feels as if the directors suddenly realized “oh, we have crammed all our songs in the first quarter of our movie, what should we do now?” and then threw in the most boring of all side-kick songs. It doesn’t tell us anything new about the character, it doesn’t move the story forward, the joke that Olaf wants exactly what will destroy him is not as funny as the song writers apparently thought and it really, really overstays its welcome. Which runs out after the first verse.
7. We’ll Smoke the Blighter out
Speaking of cramming in songs, Alice in Wonderland takes the cake. There are 19 songs in the movie and the only reason this kind of works is because most of them are only a few lines long. That’s true for “We’ll Smoke the Blighter out”, too, it is so short and unassuming is that I nearly gave it a pass. Until I remembered that it an upbeat tune about burning the lead character alive. Alice in Wonderland has a few songs which are way too cheerful about terrible events – I am looking at you, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” – but only this one manages to confuse me. It is like the movie itself can’t decide if it should be dramatic or play the danger of the scene in question down. The result is kind of uncomfortable to watch, even if it lasts barely a minute.
6. Perfect World
Oh, I know I will get flak for this one. A lot of people are into the bolt choice The Emperor’s New Groove made with its music. And yes, if they had stuck to the original concept of the movie, it might have worked. But once the movie became more and more a Buddy comedy spiked with jokes about Disney tropes, it is kind of unforgivable to have a music number which is not in one way or another a commentary about Disney’s typical musicals. It also kind of feels misplaced. Not because it is modern, but because it it doesn’t really seem to relate to, well, anything in this movie. Though I admit, I also simply don’t like the song itself. It doesn’t do anything for me and, even worse, I am unable to see what other people might enjoy about it.
5. Lack of Education
Frankly, this talk-singing barely counts as a song. But that is not the reason why it made the list. The Fox and the Hound uses this style a few times, but this is the one scene in which it bothers me, because of what the scene is about. Big Mama explains to Tod that his best friend might kill him one day – in an upbeat rhyme. Again, this is about explaining a little fox what hunting dogs do to him and his family, and they decided to use an upbeat rhyme for the scene. What, did they think that they had to soften the blow for the younger audience this way? Wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason, in any case though, this big nothing of a song is completely ill-fitting.
4. Perfect isn’t Easy
Has there ever been a more prophetic title? So far I have talked about songs which ruin the mood for one reason or another. But, for all the criticism I piled on the songs so far, I can’t bring myself to really dislike them. Being slightly annoyed by them, yes, feeling resentment towards them, yes, being bored by them, yes, but not true dislike. But I admit, I really, rally don’t care for the soundtrack of Oliver and Company. It just oozes the 1980s, making the whole movie incredible dated. But at least most songs have a catchy tune and actually add to the story, which rescued them from turning up on this list. “Perfect isn’t easy” though is just another case of a time filler with very little in substance. Which would be okay if the song were at least fun to watch. Considering the talent involved, I really, really tried to like it, but no, I can’t. There is something about Bette Middler’s performance which just hurts my ears.
What put this one so high on the list, though, is the content of the song. There is something really screwed up about the character of Georgette for the whole movie, and this song is just one example of it. It basically praises the virtue of confidence and spending a lot of time in improving your appearance. Which is really not a message I would want to send my child. Granted, Georgette is an antagonist for most of the movie but the song itself still plays it pretty straight – Georgette gets the attention she wants – and at no point her self-obsessed ways are portrayed as problematic. She is perfectly happy with being the object of desire for many. But I am not happy with hearing her screech about it.
3. A guy like you
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is infamous for its switching moods and ill-advised use of the Gargoyles as comic relief. But that’s not what landed this song so high on the list. It’s it relentless undercutting of the theme of the movie. I get the intention: The idea is that Quasimodo’s look is unique and therefore should be appreciated. But that is not really what the song brings across. It looks more like the Gargoyles are lying to Quasimodo to make him feel better about being “shaped like a croissant”. And isn’t the point of the movie that yes, Quasimodo is misshaped, but that this doesn’t mean that he should be closed off from society? That there is a need to look behind his, well, ugliness? Plus, the pedestrian nature of the song itself really doesn’t match the epic tunes of the “Belles of Notre Dome” or “God save the outcasts”. It sounds like it wandered in from one of the better Disney cheapquels.
2. Good Company
This song is so bad makes me think that the 1980s style music they used for the rest of Oliver and Company is actually a blessing. Remember what I said about “Scales and Arpeggios” being completely appropriate for the scene it was used for in Aristocats? Yeah, “Good Company” goes for the same vibe of the kind of music a child would play on the piano, but it is too simplistic even for this setting. The kicker is the text, though. It’s basically “You and me will be together in good company” put in verses and then repeated with slight variations three times. That’s it. No wonder they needed the help of Howard Ashman to finish the soundtrack of the movie if THAT is the kind of texts they had to deal with up to this point. There is charmingly understated and insultingly simplistic. This is clearly the latter.
1. Fixer Upper
Well, this might not be a surprised for those who know me a little bit. I have ranted about how much I hate, hate, hate “Fixer Upper” multiple times. It scores high (or low) on every single criterium. The soundtrack of Frozen in general sounds like it is from at least three different movies, but “Fixer Upper” sounds like it is not from a movie at all, but from a particularly grating school performance. If you listen to the song out of context (just the idea of having to do that lead to me nearly scrapping the article), the idea that you can shape a man to the ideal partner just by investing enough time in “fixing” him is just misguided. I know that the song is based on the personal experience of the song writers, but while being in love and saying to your friends “yeah, he is my fixer upper” is still kind of cute, telling someone else that you can improve a man by just investing enough time into him is just not a good message. And yes, I know that what is meant in the song is most likely that ideally we improve each other while being in a relationship, but that is not what comes across.
So, the song is annoying, the text not half as clever as the song writer apparently thinks (which seems to be a pattern with Frozen songs), the message poisonous – this song is already a strong contender for this list before I even get to its placement in the movie. So, Anna is in the process of dying, Kristof has brought her to the Trolls in order to get help and in that situation they start to sing about her starting a relationship with Kristof? And if all this isn’t bad enough already, when they learn that Anna is already engaged, they basically ignore it and then try to forcible marrying those two. Just…what were the directors thinking?
Yes, Hans turns out to be the villain of the movie eventually, but the Trolls can’t know that. Even the audience isn’t supposed to know that at this point. But in any case, the Trolls just ignore any notion of consent, going so far to nearly forcible marry Anna and Kristof. In the end, a song which is already terrible in itself ticks off all boxes and actively makes the movie even worse. It makes the Trolls unlikable, breaks the tension of the moment, and even manages to undermine the themes of the movie. Remember, the whole “you shouldn’t marry a guy you just meet” thing? That is exactly what the Trolls are advocating here, robbing Anna of any agency whatsoever (not that she had much to begin with, but that is a rant for another day).
And those are my least favourite Disney songs. Sorry for not including any samples, but I kind of don’t want to advertise any of those songs further. And sorry for the little bit of ranting in the end. To be honest, for all the complaining I did, my search for the worst Disney songs made me appreciate Disney even more. One would think that after so many movies, most of which being musicals, it would be pretty easy to find a couple of duds, but nope, Disney’s musical output is just as strong as its animation. More often than not it pushes a scene and the animation in it to an even higher level. Animation and music tend to compliment and elevate each other, and I guess Walt Disney recognized this early on. Remember what the first sound Mickey uttered in Steamboat Willie is? Whistling. And this moment is still one of the most iconic ones in Disney and animation history. Now, decades later, it’s still often musical numbers which provide the most memorable scenes. May this never change.