This year, one of the world’s most famous figures turns 90 years old: it’s Mickey Mouse! Today, the word “Disney” means a company that encompasses countless entertainment franchises, theme parks, films, and most importantly, magic. But 90 years ago, Disney was one man trying to tell the story of a mouse. It wasn’t until November 24, 1928—the premiere of the “Steamboat Willie” cartoon—that Mickey Mouse started to become the household name he is now.
Last night, ABC aired a special titled “Mickey’s 90th Spectacular” to commemorate the iconic mouse’s birthday. The special will feature celebrity appearances and musical performances of some of the most iconic tunes from Disney movies. Every Disney fanatic knows songs like “Circle Of Life” from The Lion King, “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, and “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. In celebration of the enduring magic of Disney, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite lesser-known Disney songs.
“Go the Distance” – from Hercules
“Go the Distance” is the song that kicks off mythical hero Hercules’s journey to discover his godly self. A little wistful and a whole lot determined, it’s the theme song of anyone who has big dreams and is willing to do anything to achieve them. The lyrics, combined with the dramatic orchestral arrangement and a strong vocal performance from Roger Bart, give it the little push it needs to truly be an anthem of epic proportions.
“We Know The Way” – from Moana
Other songs from Moana like “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome” often steal the show when talking about this film’s music. They’re both good songs, but “We Know The Way” was always my favorite from the movie. The song tells of how Moana’s ancestors used to be voyagers, and this is the impetus that causes her to leave her island. The magic of the song is that even in the first verse and chorus, which are entirely in Tokelauan, the sense of adventure is still obvious, despite being in a language that few speak.
“Once Upon a Time in New York City” – from Oliver & Company
Maybe it’s a bit expository in nature, as this song does kick off the movie, but it’s still a great tune. Lyrically, it’s a small emotional rollercoaster, going from hopeful to despondent back to hopeful, but that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do to set up the events of the movie. But the lyrics are all that really make it sound like a Disney song. No, it doesn’t have the classic Broadway-like feel that so many Disney songs do, but that’s what makes it unique, and it suits the slightly grittier movie, too.
“Upendi” – from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride
As a movie, this sequel to The Lion King was just okay. But “Upendi,” which is the Swahili word for “love,” is a bright spot in the otherwise pretty predictable movie. With a colorful animation sequence, catchy rhyming lyrics, and a big sing-along chorus, it’s classic Disney, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
“Touch the Sky” – from Brave
Brave isn’t a music-heavy movie on the whole, but the few instances where songs do pop up, they’re done well. This one appears early in the film, not long after a montage showing Merida’s struggles with being a princess. With instrumentation and lyrics that pay tribute to the movie’s Scottish setting, it’s a perfect introduction to the kind of heroine we’re about to see: one who wants to forge her own path.