BY Curtis Creekmore
The 1990s were a golden era for Disney animation, seeing the release of blockbuster hits that made an indelible impact on the pop culture zeitgeist. The magic of these movies lives especially within their soundtracks. Inexplicably, the 90s also saw the rise of the Disney pop cover, where big names of the moment would be recruited to release a radio-friendly version of an animated movie’s most popular songs. And thus, reveling in our nostalgia inspired by our Best 90s Soundtrack episode, the Great Pop Culture Debate presents our Top 10 Best Pop Releases from a Disney Movie Soundtrack.
Note: there have been hundreds of amazing covers of Disney anthems, but for this list, we focused only on those that were released alongside the movie, not those recorded and released later.
10. “Someday,” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, by All-4-One
Starting the list with a curveball. Unless you stayed for the full credits of the movie, you may not have even heard this song. RnB group All-4-One, whose smash hit “I Swear” owned 1995, released a very pop version of this touching, striving song that was actually intended to be included in the movie in place of “God Help the Outcasts.” All-4-One’s version has that quintessential 90s sound and deserves a listen. Also, shout-out to Queen of Disco Donna Summer for her upbeat cover of the same song that is a marked departure from All-4-One’s tender take.
9. “Go the Distance,” from Hercules, by Michael Bolton
The Hercules soundtrack has some amazing music on it (“I Won’t Say I’m in Love,” “Zero to Hero,” and “The Gospel Truth” to name a few), and this song is no exception. A karaoke anthem for any tenor out there, Bolton adds his particular spice to the blend in his cover, showcasing his impressive range. There are some voices out there that scream 90s music, and Bolton is one of them.
8. “Remember Me (Dúo),” from Coco, by Miguel feat. Natalia Lafourcade
One of Disney’s newer hits, Coco is an intensely emotional exploration of the importance of family. The original “Remember Me” performed by several characters is a heart-wrenching plea to be remembered after they have moved on from this world. After 96 minutes of emotional gut-punching (in the most beautiful way possible), Disney thankfully lightened things up and provided an up-tempo version of the song by contemporary and RnB singer Miguel featuring Mexican pop-rock, jazz, and folk singer/songwriter Natalia Lafourcade. The song plays over the credits as droves of children and parents alike wipe their eyes and begin their own conversations on death and the afterlife. While this version didn’t see any critical acclaim, it’s a nice cover of a beautiful song.
7. “Into the Unkown,” from Frozen 2, by Panic at the Disco!
The most recent addition to our Top 10 list comes from pop-rock band Panic at the Disco! After Disney scored big with Frozen and another smash hit in “Let It Go,” they made a sequel to rival the original and scored again with this hit. You may notice that Demi Lovato’s cover of “Let It Go” is missing from this list – while I am a fan of Lovato, I am not a fan of that cover. Where Lovato’s cover over-popified the powerhouse hit in “Let It Go,” Panic at the Disco! managed to elevate “Into the Unknown” by making it their own. Add on top that lead singer Brendon Urie performs the song in the original key, belting out even the highest notes with ease, and you have a fantastic addition to the Disney repertoire.
6. “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana, by Alessia Cara
For some songs included in early Disney releases, the original voice actor was unable to perform any songs their character sang, with Disney opting instead to bring in trained singers to perform the piece. Moana is an excellent example of the opposite, with original voice actor Auliʻi Cravalho providing amazing vocals for each song within the movie. However, Disney released a cover of Moana’s anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” by Canadian singer Alessia Cara, which made the US Billboard Hot 100. Cara’s brassy tone paired with the electronic beat underneath make this a great pop cover.
5. “A Whole New World,” from Aladdin, by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle
I’m not sure there’s a name that evokes such deep 90s nostalgia as Peabo Bryson. His dulcet tones transport me to sitting at my town’s teen beauty pageant, then called The Water Festival, as girls in taffeta dresses balanced their runway walks down the middle of the town’s pool. Bryson and Belle’s version of this Disney staple, replete with electric guitar and impressive vocal riffs, is an excellent example of why Disney re-released so many of their most popular songs for popular consumption. And as of 2023, it is the only Disney song to win a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
4. “Colors of the Wind,” from Pocahontas, by Vanessa Williams
Earth Goddess and former Miss America Vanessa Williams lent her sultry voice to Disney to bring to life the message of Pocahontas in “Colors of the Wind.” After the original piece won Disney both a Grammy and Oscar for Best Original Song, they tapped Williams to release a radio-friendly version. She had already been in the music scene for nearly a decade by the time Pocahontas was released in 1995, blazing to No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 with this release.
3. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” from The Lion King, by Elton John
Considering Sir Elton John wrote the music for the entirety of The Lion King, it makes sense that he would also release his own version of some of the best songs. The radio release of the song, which also played during the closing credits of the film, was released as a single in May 1994. It saw critical acclaim in the UK, peaking at No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart, and achieved similar success in the United States, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is quintessential Elton, his unique blend of pop and rock styles shining through his vocals.
2. “Reflection,” from Mulan, by Christina Aguilera
“Reflection” is a perfect example of Disney’s drive to play to its strengths: rather than having the original voice actress who played Mulan, Ming-Na Wen, record the song, Disney opted instead to tap Tony Award-winning singer and actress Lea Salonga for the vocals used in the movie. The pop release of the song was then recorded by a third person, Christina Aguilera. Aguilera is arguably one of the most talented vocalists of the last century, and at age 17, following her stint as a Mickey Mouse Club kid, she was asked to record what became her debut single, “Reflection.” Aguilera’s vocals on the song are unparalleled, and it has become an anthem for young people worldwide who are struggling on their own self-awareness journeys.
- “You’ll Be In My Heart,” from Tarzan, by Phil Collins – Unfortunately not a cover but instead an original song from within the movie. However, I’d be remiss not to mention it as it’s one of my favorite Disney songs of all time.
- “Let It Go,” from Frozen, by Demi Lovato – It was certainly a popular cover, but I feel it took the song in the wrong direction.
- “God Help the Outcasts,” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Bette Midler – Bette’s brassy vibrato lends itself nicely to a very passionate plea to help the unfortunate.
1. “Beauty and the Beast,” from Beauty and the Beast, by Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion
A second Bryson pick for this list, you cannot have one without the other — Bryson was simply that prolific in 90s Disney. Both this entry and the last earned him Grammys for his work. This list was heartwrenchingly difficult to write, but I give the edge to this version of “Beauty and the Beast” for one main reason: Celine Mother Tuckin’ Dion. Dion lends such gravitas and massive vocal talent to this performance, making it a truly special piece of the Disney catalog. The song earned a Golden Globe, several Grammy Awards, and an Oscar for Best Original Song. While the original version featuring global treasure Angela Lansbury is a sweet and simple lullaby, Bryson and Dion transport us to the farthest reaches of 90s nostalgia and Disney magic with this powerhouse ballad.
Did we miss your favorite Disney pop song? Drop a comment below, then check out our other Top 10 lists!