My Top Ten Favorite Disney Theme Park Songs

There’s something to be said about being thrust into a musical experience at a Disney theme park.  In fact, the songs at some attractions are just as iconic, if not more so, than many songs from their feature film canon.  Sure, Disney could just reuse or even do covers of those songs (And they do…like, a lot.), But in some cases, particularly when an IP isn’t assigned, Disney pens an original tune.  And I want credit ten in particular that deserve to be spotlighted.  So yeah, you’re not going to see “How Do You Do?” from Splash Mountain, “Let it Go” from Frozen Ever After, or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from Festival of the Lion King because they were songs from the movies first.  No, these great songs are inexorably tied to the Disney attractions we know and love.  And yes, I will fudge this code as we go.  As Hector Barbossa says, the code is more ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.

But first…

Honorable mention: “Skipper Dan” (Jungle Cruise)

“Look at those hippos, they’re wigglin’ their ears, just like they’ve done for last fifty years!  Now, I’m laughin’ at my own jokes, but I’m cryin’ inside, ’cause I’m workin’ on the Jungle Cruise ride!”

This song is not a Disney song.  It is not, nor has it ever been, part of the beloved World-famous Jungle Cruise at any Disney park.  Even if Disney were to adopt it for some attempt to reach out to a younger demographic to be more relevant or something, the message of the song is too pessimistic and the antithesis to the performance cast members we associate them with.  But this is a catchy song, and it’s clearly about being a skipper on the Jungle Cruise in all but name.

Sung by “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Skipper Dan” is about a young man named…well, Dan…who grew up dreaming of becoming an actor.  Dan describes his years of dedication and study to the craft of acting, his accolades, his promising future, and the thrill that someday he’d be a great stage or screen actor.  However, due to circumstances, Dan is only able to snag a job “Ridin’ my little boat around Adventureland” because he’s “Payin’ the rent and I’m swallowin’ my pride”.  Thus, Dan can only put his beloved acting skills to use by telling corny jokes and pretending all the robot animals are real.  It’s a bit…well, soul-crushing, to say the least.

I used to work as Jungle Cruise skipper myself.  I, too, wanted to be an actor and I majored in theater.  I, too, thought doing routines with dad jokes and puns at Walt Disney World was a dream come true.  However, I got disillusioned for a variety of reasons: the fact most guests never laughed or even paid attention, the inflexibility of the script, the sticky Florida humidity, the times you’d get boats where no one spoke English, when the boats would cascade and you’d be forced to improvise while waiting for the unload dock, the break room that was a lean-to with a swamp cooler that smelled like forty years’-worth of oil…but this song hit something sobering for me.  I liked throwing myself headlong into some of the jokes.  I loved those times where I’d be using my full energy, feeding off the gales of laughter when people responded to them.  But far too often, it felt like wasted effort when half your boat is on their phones, the other half are too exhausted from the heat and humidity, a third speak only portuguese, and the mom sitting next to you is too busy teaching their baby the animals, talking over you.  Add on top of that I was a former theater student with designs of being famous, just like Dan…so yeah, the first time I heard this song, I was seriously shaken.

Almost a decade later, I’ve long since abandoned my plans of becoming an actor, like most every other pseudo-functioning millennial, and my days as a skipper are behind me.  Nowadays, I appreciate the song and its cheeky jabs at the perceived phoniness and those days where you really felt you wasted your life.  I’ve been there.  I doubt I’d ever go back to it ever again, but it does take me back to those days, for better or for worse.

10. “It’s a Small World (After All)” (It’s a Small World)

“There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to ev’ryone!  Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all!”

Yeah, I like this song.  No, I don’t care if you hate it.  No, I’m not going to apologize.  Deal with it.

Here’s the way I look at it: It’s a Small World opened during the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.  The early sixties were unquestionably an incredibly stressful time in American history.  It was the height of the Cold War.  At a time where American writers were envisioning UFOs and rocket ships and automatic washing machines, but at the same time, were watching adorable cartoons with Bert the Turtle warning them about the omnipresent threat of a nuclear holocaust.  As the iron curtain sprung up across the European subcontinent, Americans felt under constant peril, fearing commie nukes were coming out of the sky at any given moment.  For about forty-five years, that fear persisted, and this especially hit peak levels in October of 1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

For those who didn’t pass their sophomore history midterm, the Cuban Missile Crisis was when Cuba and the Soviet Union teamed up and set up nuclear missiles within striking distance of the U.S. on the Caribbean island.  For over a month, the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down, constantly threatening to throwing the first punch.  Only by removing American missiles out of Italy and Turkey did the Soviets agree to deescalate, and the world heaved a massive sigh of relief.  To this day, it’s the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

After the insane landfill fire we call the year 2020, I think now, more than ever, we should be able to relate.  The world is a terrifying place and sometimes you we need something overtly optimistic and kind.  The lyrics themselves admit it’s a world of laughter and hope as a well as fears and tears.  Composers Richard and Robert Sherman refer to it as “A prayer for peace”, and considering barely two years after the world almost stopped existing, it makes sense to have something like this, even if it seems saccharine.

Here’s to you, Small World.  Don’t let the haters get ya down.

9. “I’m Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street U.S.A.” (Welcome Ceremony/Trolley shows)

“For the time of your life, you oughtta find yourself here!  You’re welcome anytime you have the mind to appear!  I’m walkin’ right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A.!”

I love the ambiance they play on Main Street, playing instrumentals of songs from Hello Dolly and The Music Man.  But no song quite captures the light-hearted atmosphere as much as this tune, which I’m pretty sure originated from that 1990 Disneyland Fun Disney Sing-Along.  Since then, snippets of this song have popped up in the park’s opening welcome shows as well as the intermittent trolley shows that play throughout the day.

Main Street U.S.A. is a tough area, thematically speaking.  It represents a bygone era that numerous Americans had lived through when Disneyland opened in 1955, but now doesn’t even have that going for it anymore.  It has almost no rides, and is instead populated with shops and restaurants.  But most notably, it is simply an appetizer as guests dash for Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella Castle and proceed to all the other lands.  For people like me who like to take it easy on the thoroughfare and is not in any hurry, I love to stroll along and sing this jaunty, happy-go-lucky melody.  Assuming I don’t accidentally stumble and wrench my ankle in half in the trolley track grooves.

This song just bubbles with conviviality and cheer.  Not in a overly corny way like “It’s a Small World” is, but it certainly plays up that small-town Americana feel where everybody knows everybody and they’re all happy to see you.  No wonder it’s so upbeat and chipper.

8.”One Little Spark” (Journey into Imagination)

“Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow!  Horns of a steer, but a loveable fellow!  From head to tail, he’s royal purple pigment, and there – voila! – You’ve got a Figment!  A Figment of imagination!”

Ah, yes, the whimsical early years of Epcot’s Imagination pavilion.  Back in the days of Dream Finder searching the universe for sounds, colors, ideas, ANYTHING that sparks the imagination.  While an updated version plays in the attraction’s current incarnation, celebrating hearing, sight, and smell, it barely holds a candle to the original version that highlighted the camraderie between the Santa Claus-esque Dream Finder and his childlike partner.

I’ve heard many gripe over the years about how Figment just hasn’t been the same since his return in 2001, how he’s become more impish and obnoxious than he was in the OG version (I never had a chance to ride either that one or the maligned 1999 reimagining).  In the song, you can hear Figment getting nervous around lightning, enamored with using a rainbow to paint with, and his unbridled enthusiasm in creating new things for the idea bag.

Dream Finder, on the other hand, is jolly and amiable, and leads this mostly spoken-word track with showmanship and joy.  The attitude is absolutely infectious.

7. “There’s a Great Big, Beautiful Tomorrow” (Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress)

“Man has a dream, and that’s the start!  He follows his dream, with mind and heart!  And when it becomes a reality, it’s a dream come true, for you and me!

Going back to that quirky era of the early sixties, back when everyone thought a Jetsons-type future was right around the corner, Disney also teamed with General Electric to showcase the wonders of how technology made American lives easier.  Sure, GE was resistant to the idea of an attraction that celebrated the power of nostalgia, but Walt knew it was a key element in endorsing a company known for their appliances (And at the time, a price-fixing scandal, but that’s neither here nor there…). Thus, Walt, an equally nostalgic man as well as a futurist, had his boys, Bob and Dick Sherman, compose a song about the wonder of how cool and exciting the future will be.

This song is absurdly short at two choruses and one verse, and is chock-full of optimism and excitement, attributed to man’s imagination and drive to create technology used to better people’s lives.  That’s truly inspiring.

6. “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” (Pirates of the Caribbean)

“We’re rascals, scoundrels and knaves, drink up, me hearties, yo ho!  We’re devils and black sheep and really bad eggs, drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

A true theme park staple, Pirates of the Caribbean is iconic is its use of animatronics, special effects, and aesthetics.  But it might be safe to say this classic might not be nearly as beloved were it not for its beloved theme song.

Written by writer X. Atencio, the song is almost like a commercial jingle in its repetition.  The song utilizes virtually every synonym in the book describing just what debauched renegades they are.  And despite all the crimes they do, they’re still loved by their mommies and dads!  Still, it’s an upbeat, devil-may-care song that is rollicking and energized.  It definitely reminds you why you had that pirate phase back in the mid-aughts.

5. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” (The Haunted Mansion)

“As the moon climbs high o’er the dead oak tree, spooks arrive for the midnight spree!  Creepy creeps with eerie eyes, start to shriek and harmonize!  Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize!”

Another beloved classic, the Haunted Mansion was an odd mashup of three artist’s visions.  Claude Coats was responsible for the set design, Rolly Crump had designs to make the Mansion ethereal and spooky, and Marc Davis wanted to make it funny.  In the end, all three men had their chance to shine.  With Coats’ efforts as a gloriously intricate backdrop, Crump took on the first half of the attraction where it’s all about mood and atmosphere as the ghosts merely hint at their presence, and Davis threw all subtlety out the window from the graveyard on with numerous comedic tableaus.  Amid the flurry of happy haunts erupting from their graves, guests witness five busts happily singing in spirited chorus, led by the famous bass pipes of Thurl Ravenscroft.

What makes this song glorious is the clever wordplay and phenomenal vocabulary used to illustrate the wild and unhinged jamboree.  It’s unapologetically macabre, as all the spirits are loving every minute of being creepy, even kind of scary, while still being happy haunts.  There’s a delightfully puckish nature about them, wanting to scare the living while at the same time inviting us to their party.  Of course, to do that, we’d have to pay a token fee and bring our death certificates.

Talk about a party you’d be caught dead in.

4. “The Great Outdoors” (The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown)

“If your mind’s been hazy and yer feelin’ lazy and down on all fours, then join us bears and suck up some air in the great outdoors!”

Not a lot of Disney rides do holiday overlays.  Sure, third shift will feverishly erect all the Halloween and Christmas decorations, but adding jack O’lantern displays and sparkling garlands is more about making Main Street U.S.A. feel festive.  When Disney decks halls on Haunted Mansion Holiday or It’s a Small World Holiday, the rides fundamentally change to tell a different story.  And the only attraction to have a summer overlay is…the Country Bear Jamboree?

Yes, from 1986 till its closure in 2001, the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown ran in Disneyland’s Critter Country.  The show also replaced the original Country Bear Jamboree in Florida also in 1986, but only ran until 1992, where the Jamboree returned and has been playing ever since.  The premise was the bears in the show were celebrating summer, singing covers of classics songs such as “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “On the Road Again”, and “California Bears”, as well as a variety of other covers, parodies, and original songs.  The show kicked off with this unique song, showcased in the Disneyland Fun Sing-Along.

Written purely from the perspective of bears – like being down on all fours, or they’ll chase those who won’t join them up a tree – the Five Bear Rugs happily espouse the joys of heading out to nature.  There’s something so endearing about how upbeat and enthusiastic Henry and the others are about fishing, hiking, and camping.  It’s incredibly catchy and was a great way to kick off the show.  

3. “Finale” (Fantasmic!)

“See it in your mind, and you will find…your imagination!  Myst’ries and magic, visions fantastic, leading to strange and wond’rous dreams!  Dreams are make believe, but do they all come true?”

I’d have to say Fantasmic! is my favorite nighttime show at any of the parks.  As cool as a lot of Magic Kingdom fireworks shows are, I find them mostly a dime a dozen, and IllumiNations was pretty cool for its grandeur, but arguably the best mix of Disney characters with the grandiosity of IllumiNations was Fantasmic! and honestly, I don’t think I have a preference between Disneyland’s or Hollywood Studios’.  Both are mind-blowingly beautiful and epic.

What I love about these lyrics is the dreamlike ambiance.  Vague and inspiring, the apparently female choir croons the sheer positivity and power of Mickey’s dreams.  After going a round with all the villains, the show swells in an excitable bombast, not unlike Alan Silvestri’s beloved Back to the Future score, as it celebrates the power of good over evil.  This is where the lyrics come in and upsell the enthusiasm.  Boy howdy, does it feel just magical.

2. “Two Brothers” (The American Adventure)

“A cannonball don’t pay no mind, if you’re gentle or if you’re kind.  It don’t think of the folks behind, all on a beautiful mornin’.”

See, here’s where I fudge the qualifications a bit.  This song has been around since 1951, but if you’ve heard this song, chances are it was at Epcot’s American Adventure, which opened in 1982.

The scene is a family putting themselves together for a family photo, sometime around 1860.  It’s the mother’s birthday and her two grown sons are bickering, obviously as some subversive metaphor for the Union and the Confederacy (Granted, not that subversive, as they clearly declare who they think is right in the upcoming engagement).   After the portrait is taken, we are given several still photos of soldiers and battlefields as the song, sung by Ali Omo, cites the brothers as “One wore blue and one wore grey”.

In a very haunting way, the song fluidly reminds us that weapons of war don’t care how good a person you are, and war means one brother comes home…and one stays behind.  No matter what your position is on the American Civil War, you can’t argue that as a civil war, it’s not unlike a family turning against each other and the result being that it causes irreparable damage.  It’s so profound and chilling, if not downright sobering, especially considering it’s featured in a Disney World show!

Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some more honorable mentions!

Makin’ Memories” (Magic Journeys)

Way too catchy than it had any right to be as a song honoring Kodak.

Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand” (Epcot’s Millennium Celebration)

So endearingly optimistic and bright.

Listen to the Land” (Listen to the Land)

Awfully granola, but that’s a huge part of its charm.

We Go On” (IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth)

The perfect song to finish a day at Epcot after the grandiosity that was IllumiNations.

Ole Slew Foot” (Country Bear Jamboree)

Easily the catchiest, wildest, hifalutin-est finale this side of Frontierland.

1. “Remember the Magic” (Walt Disney World’s 25th Anniversary Celebration)

“Do you remember the way it used to feel when love was only make believe, and fairy tales were real?  Oh, I remember!”

One of the very first CD’s I owned was called Disney’s Greatest Pop Hits: A Decade of Radio Singles (1998).  It had 15 hit singles, some of which you’d expect, like Sir Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle’s “A Whole New World”.  Others, like Tyler Collins’ “Never Alone (Eeyore’s Lullaby)” …really tested the definition of a “hit”.  I came to really enjoy most of these songs, but track twelve featured this mysterious song sung by Brian McKnight.  I liked this song enough, but as I grew older, I really fell in love with it.

I’m kind of disappointed I haven’t really found specifically where this song came from.  A quick Google search suggests it came from Disney’s Magical Moments Parade, which ran from 1996 to 2001.  I don’t know how it was played, because a mellow song like this doesn’t suggest it’s the kind of music that Disney would use to pump up midday crowds.  Honestly, it reminds me more of LeAnn Rimes’ “Remember When”, which was made a single for Disneyland’s 50th. 

In 1996, Walt Disney World celebrated its 25th anniversary, and commemorated the event with the highly divisive castle cake (See above) and this tune as the anniversary’s theme.  And guys…this song is everything “Disney” to me.  It is, no joke, my absolute favorite Disney song.  Period.  End of discussion.  No question.  Forget “Let it Go”.  Forget Beauty and the Beast”.  Forget “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” and the DuckTales theme.  Why? Because it’s a soft-spoken dedication to nostalgia and fantasy and joy and dreams and emotions.  Any Disney song for a parade can recycle words like “wonder” and “magic” and mix it into a catchy tune, but there’s something truly special here: it’s written for adults.  It’s soothing, and it asks you to remember what it was like to be starstruck with fantasy.  To be young and believing anything was possible.  To feel uninhibited love and joy in immeasurable ways.  It’s the perfect Disney song, and that’s why it’s my number one favorite out of all of them.

And with that, I hand you folks the reins!  What song from a Disney theme park takes you back?  Let me know and we all can remember the magic one more time.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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