10 Most Influential Disney Songs Of All Time

On Jan. 31, the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” became the first song from a film produced by the Walt Disney Co. DIS to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart since “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin” reached that peak in 1993.

Over the decades, music from Disney films, television shows and exhibitions have permeated the popular culture, often in groundbreaking and unexpected ways. For those with a taste for Mouse Factory music, consider the impact that these 10 Disney songs had over the years.

Encanto's 'We Don't Talk About Bruno' Tops Billboard Hot 100: Could It Make Disney Stock Sing?

1. “Steamboat Bill” from “Steamboat Willie” (1929).

Walt Disney adapted this 1911 tune popularized by vaudevillian Arthur Collins as the introduction theme of Mickey Mouse in the groundbreaking animated sound short “Steamboat Willie.” Mickey is first seen whistling “Steamboat Bill” while at a vessel’s steering wheel and the synchronization of the cartoon rodent’s lips and the wooden creak of the wheel with the synchronized soundtrack created a sensation with audiences, many of whom were new to sound films.

Disney also included some of the folk tune “Turkey in the Straw” later in “Steamboat Willie.” Going forward, animated shorts by Disney and other animation houses frequently peppered their soundtracks with recognizable pop tunes.

2. “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from “The Three Little Pigs” (1933).

Disney made more film music history when he commissioned Frank Churchill and Ann Ronnell to create an original song for his short film “The Three Little Pigs.” The resulting “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” became a sensation with Depression-era audiences that saw it as a symbol of standing up to adversity during the harshest economic times.

The song would be covered over the decades by diverse artists including Duke Ellington, Barbra Streisand and LL Cool J, and it would also inspire the facetious title of Edward Albee’s drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

3. “When You Wish Upon a Star” from “Pinocchio” (1940).

This Ned Harline-Ned Washington theme song from Disney’s feature film adaptation of the Carlo Collodi novel made Academy Award history when it won the Best Song Oscar for 1940 — this was the first time an animated film won the Oscar in competition against live-action films.

As with “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, “When You Wish Upon a Star” was covered for decades by diverse artists including Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Kiss’ Gene Simmons on his 1978 solo album and Beyonce; a parody version by Seth MacFarlane for “Family Guy” resulted in a lawsuit by Disney that the company lost.

The American Film Institute ranked "When You Wish Upon a Star" seventh in the list of the 100 Greatest Songs in Film History, the highest-ranking for a Disney song.

4. “Brazil” from “Saludos Amigos” (1942).

During World War II, Disney was recruited by the U.S. State Department to create a series of films celebrating Latin American culture — this was intended to strengthen Washington’s ties with governments south of border against Axis influence.

The first of these films, “Saludos Amigos,” included a segment called “Aquarela do Brasil” that teamed Donald Duck with a new character, a Brazilian parrot named José Carioca.

Central to the segment was the song “Aquarela do Brasil,” which was written in 1939 by Brazilian songwriter Ary Barroso. While the song was only moderately successful in Brazil, the Disney version — which was released simply as “Brazil” — was performed by Aloísio de Oliveira and resonated with American audiences. “Brazil” would become the first Portuguese-language Brazilian song to be played over a million times on American radio.

5. “I Like Ike” from “I Like Ike” (1952).

Disney was the uncredited producer of a one-minute campaign advertisement for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 bid for president. The advertisement offered a bouncy tune based on the “I Like Ike” slogan that showed a cross-section of the American population marching in support of the former general with Uncle Sam and a happy elephant banging a drum at the head of the procession.

Although the advertisement was credited to “Citizens for Eisenhower,” the animation style immediately gave away the creative force behind the work. Thanks to Disney’s input, Eisenhower’s campaign was an electoral landslide victory.

6. “The Mickey Mouse March” from “The Mickey Mouse Club” (1955-1959).

During the early years of television, theme songs with lyrics for series were relatively uncommon — Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater” was a major exception, except that the song mostly focused on the sponsor’s products and services and not the show itself.

When Disney launched “The Mickey Mouse Club” on ABC in 1955, he had Jimmie Dodd (the show’s adult co-host) write a march-style tune to introduce and close each program. The catchy song that reminded viewers of the leader of the club was M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E.

As with “Steamboat Bill” back in 1929, Disney started a trend that saw more TV shows have songs with lyrics as their musical themes.

7. “It’s a Small World” from the 1964/1965 World’s Fair.

This song was put into motion by Joan Crawford, of all people, in her role as a director of Pepsi. She called on Disney to create the UNICEF Pavilion for the 1964/1965 World’s Fair in New York, which Pepsi was financing.

Tapping into UNICEF’s mission of helping children in need, Disney directed his staff songwriters Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman to create “one song that can be easily translated into many languages and be played as a round.”

The resulting tune “It’s a Small World” brilliantly captured the spirit of the pavilion, with a squadron of animatronic dolls in costumes representing the world’s cultures performing the happy tune.

After the World’s Fair closed, the pavilion was reconfigured for the Disney theme parks, where “It’s a Small World” continues to be played. And even though Robert B. Sherman would later disown the song by calling it "one horrible cacophony," Time magazine estimated it's the most publicly performed song of all time.

8. “That’s What Friends Are For (The Vulture Song)” from “The Jungle Book” (1967).

The Beatles never included a Disney song in their act, but Disney wanted to include them in one of their films.

The Sherman Brothers conceived this song as a rock tune to be performed by a quartet of vultures sporting Beatles-style moptop haircuts and Beatles-style Liverpool accents. Some sources claim John Lennon rejected the offer because he did not want to be involved in another animated project after the TV series based on the band, but Lennon was a fan of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and cited that film's "I'm Wishing" as the inspiration for "Do You Want to Know a Secret."

The proposed rock tune was rejected by Disney, who encouraged the Shermans to rewrite the song as a barbershop quartet composition.

Disney would chase after the Beatles again in 2009 with a CGI-animated remake of “Yellow Submarine” (which never got made) and the 2021 release of the eight-hour documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” for the Disney+ streaming service.

9. “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” (1989).

This adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale was credited in sparking a renaissance with Disney’s animated output, thanks in a large part to an invigorating score that felt closer to the spirit of Broadway blockbusters than the uneven animated features produced by the studio after Walt Disney’s death in 1966.

“Under the Sea” was the crowning jewel of “The Little Mermaid,” winning an Academy Award for Best Song. It was the first time a Disney film was so honored since “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from “Mary Poppins” won in 1964. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television, a first for a Disney song.

It also set forth a skein of Disney-based songs that became pop culture staples, a trend that continues today to “We Don’t’ Talk About Bruno” from “Encanto.”

10. “Baaja Bajeya” from “Do Dooni Chaar” (2010).

Most Americans are probably unfamiliar with this film, which is notable as the first live-action Hindi film to be distributed by Disney World Cinema. Although the film won India’s National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and was praised by Indian film critics, it was considered a commercial disappointment during its theatrical release.

Nonetheless, the film’s title song became the rare Disney film-based tune to find popularity with Hindi-language audiences,  thus affirming the popular perception that Disney is the rare company that literally leaves no stone unturned.

Photo: Mickey Mouse whistling "Steamboat Bill" from the 1929 "Steamboat Willie." Photo courtesy of Disney.

Market News and Data brought to you by Benzinga APIs
Posted In: EntertainmentNewsGlobalOpinionTop StoriesMediaGeneralAcademy AwardsBeatlesDisney FilmsGrammy AwardsJoan CrawfordmoviesMusicmusicalssongs
Benzinga simplifies the market for smarter investing

Trade confidently with insights and alerts from analyst ratings, free reports and breaking news that affects the stocks you care about.

Join Now: Free!