You know, I’m starting to think I have a thing for these “best of” lists. I might start doing them more often. This time, it’s the top 9, because less is more, right?

 

We know that the soundtrack can often steal the show in a movie, Disney films being the prime example, but it’s a bit surprising how often bad or underwhelming movies can score big on that front. And I don’t mean the great songs already in existence that big-budgeted cash-grabs just happened to get their grubby little fingers on. These are the songs created specifically for films that, whatever their flaws may have been, knew when they had something worth hearing. This is actually so common that if I didn’t restrict it somehow, I’d probably be thinking it over forever. So this time, it’s the animated films, where the competition is arguably steepest. (Note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a movie I’d flat-out give a “thumbs down.” It just has to be an example of a song being in another league of quality than the movie as a whole.)

 

 

9. I Stand Alone – Quest For Camelot

 

Well, it’s no Let it Go, and it does lose points for the fact that its chorus is the only part that really stands out. Still, there’s no denying the sense of triumph in this number belted out by a blind character about how he neither wants nor needs help from anybody, having mastered his own unique foothold in life. In this clunky, bland, sometimes juvenile effort from Warner Bros. Animation, this song was one of the few bits that stuck with me, and I’m still happy to hear it, even if those four lines in the refrain are pretty much the whole story. (It’s also been pointed out that the very next thing the guy does after he stops singing is relent for no reason and allow the main character to come with him.)

 

 

8. Please Wake Up – Once Upon a Forest

 

The biggest problem with this movie is either the first half or the second half of the fact that it’s Ferngully-lite, depending on who you are. But otherwise, it’s just another lukewarm talking animal adventure with some cute moments and a couple lame ones as well. But it does contain a sincere lament of a song sung by Michael Crawford, about what a profound shame it is that his character’s niece, who’s barely begun her life, might die before him, an old soul who already got to experience the gift she might lose.

 

 

7. Sun Do Shine – Rock-A-Doodle

 

This weak, bizarre film from Don Bluth did not win over fans like his past efforts, but he probably helped its cause, convincing viewers to at least give it a chance, by giving them the best part right at the top. Since the conflict hinges on getting the key character to come back to the farm and raise the sun once again, the film wisely starts with a jovial scene of him doing just that to get us invested in the notion. With a distinct and suitably sunny song sung by Glenn Campbell, the Elvis-esque rooster named Chanticleer calls forth and celebrates the sunrise, making a generic farm seem like the most fun joint in town. It might have even ranked higher if they hadn’t put aside a portion of it to hear a few words from the dog that never shuts up about his shoes.

 

 

6. Spark Inside Us – The Princess and the Goblin

 

I was seriously disappointed to find this movie neither as grand nor as epic as I remembered it. It’s cheap, second rate production values and flat, wooden storytelling are weak enough to make you grateful that Disney at very worst is only competently mediocre. It would have been another memory to be tossed aside entirely if not for a song made even more powerful by context.

 

Picture this: You’re four years old, watching another well-to-do story about a mischievous princess running away from her nanny, when literally out of nowhere, monster hands start grabbing at her, driving her into the woods. More monsters and weird little critters emerge in a rip-off of Snow White, but it’s done just well enough so that it doesn’t seem hollow to you. In fact, with sharp teeth popping out right where she was about to run and monster hands managing to grab ahold of her for a second, it’s not exactly low tension. And it’s obviously not a false alarm as it was in Snow White, so you have no idea how this will be resolved. She finally gives up, cornered, and lies down to sob, at which point more weird critters emerge from the ground beside her and join their friends closing in. And then, when it looks like her cat is about to be mauled in attempt to hold its ground, this happens:  http/www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdLEKZ932bQ

 

How’s that for a triumph of light over darkness? If the song lived up to my memory, I’d probably be trying to convince myself that the movie as a whole is some kind of deserving little underdog effort, but it doesn’t ring quite as true now. Even so, it’s an ardent, slightly haunting number that earns this spot on the list. (In fact, the movie is even more impressed with it than I am, reprising it four different times.)

 

 

5. Let Me Be Your Wings – Thumbelina

 

Now Thumbelina remains an obvious, mediocre rip-off of Disney’s most popular movies at the time, really going out of its way to feature the same aspects. The same actress who voiced The Little Mermaid’s Ariel in the title role? Check. And she has the same gimmick of everyone being impressed with her singing voice? Check. And, just to be sure, the author who wrote The Little Mermaid also wrote the story being adapted here? Check.

 

Okay, moving on to Aladdin: The couple gets a song about how one wants to take the other on a sightseeing adventure like no other, a la I Can Show You the World? Hold on a second, this song sounds all unique and heartfelt, like it actually was something off a Disney soundtrack. Jeez, why didn’t we just rip off this film the whole time? Speaking of which, you did get the voice of that parrot I know everyone loves, right?

 

As weak as it is, I can’t hate Thumbelina. Not that I recommend it, but with this song as its crown jewel, it’s a tolerable film. And I’d never say that it left me with nothing. For example… actually, maybe I should say that it managed to make 86 minutes of my time in exchange for this song a trade I can live with.

 

 

4. Send Love Through – Rock and Rule

 

If you haven’t seen the slightly controversial Rock and Rule – which, make no mistake, is not made for children – I don’t know that I’d recommend it. For a movie about the sci-fi triumphs of rock-and-roll, it’s not the most pleasant experience you could ask for, giving off a dingy, mildly unclean sort of feeling. This is made worse by the fact that all the characters (whose likability is limited to begin with) are anthropomorphic dogs, cats, and mice, apparently just because the animators were more at home drawing them like that. Still, it’s pretty funny (sometimes on purpose). And not only does the soundtrack almost live up to the promise of the title, but unlike Heavy Metal, its biggest winner is a song that actually was made for the movie. Send Love Through, the song that can only defeat the main villain’s demon when performed as a duet, rocks, and it’s one of the most enjoyable songs on this list. It does lose some ground on the other songs in the top half for memorability, but I give it the edge over Let Me Be Your Wings for how well they played the scene it appears in.

 

 

3. How Bad Can I Be? – The Lorax

 

This big budget adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story might have at least qualified as a guilty pleasure with its cute zaniness and laughs, if not for the fact that it tap dances on the line between being a disservice to the source material and being a full-blown insult. In attempt to cover its back, it creates a new story about the wacky adventures of teenagers to compress and push aside Seuss’s actual story, and then it rather pathetically tries to make the scenario so extreme that “everyone” can agree it calls for environmentalism, to avoid the risk of arguing an actual case for it. Still, it did have just a few moments in which it did almost seem to care about representing Seuss and his vision, and this song was one of them.

 

This song is any and all strengths the movie took from the book’s actual plotline compressed into 3 minutes. It’s here that the Once-ler, who, before now, was just a beleaguered innocent trying to find his way, starts to strike gold at the cost of selling out his woodland friends. It’s such a sweet relief, as it could only be for anyone who’s ever found himself in his position, that he doesn’t mind putting the critters on the back-burner, as many tend to do. However, he is bothered a bit by the inevitable, undeniable truth that he’s only trying to help himself, hurting others to do so, and that by definition is bad. So what does he do? He kicks off a hardcore anthem, dives into the wave of success without a backward glance, and denies it, happily using all the excuses we’ve ever heard simultaneously. And in this light, they come across so clearly as just that. The Once-ler doesn’t seem to honestly believe them, but he wants to, and it’s so easy to get away with it. But in the end, even if there are grains of truth in what he says, selfishness is selfishness when it’s all said and done, and once it’s your mindset, it’s easy to get lost in it and become something different.

 

 

2. Absolutely Green – A Troll in Central Park

 

You may remember that I gave a marginal vote of approval to A Troll in Central Park, and I do stand by that. It’s certainly the most inspired of the four films in Bluth’s infamous failing streak. But keep in mind, the soundtrack was one of the major benefits to its case: I think these are A-minus songs in an otherwise C-minus movie. But while that goes for all three tunes that appear in this movie, the best can only be Absolutely Green, which is something like what would have happened if John Lennon had been asked to turn Imagine into a song you could sing to a kindergarten classroom and still more or less get the point across. It’s the most sincere song on this list, in a movie that was at least striving to be exactly that. Just don’t stare too much at the anthropomorphic flowers, and you should be able to enjoy yourself.

 

 

1. I Believe I Can Fly – Space Jam

 

There’s something about this movie. From the outside looking in, it seems like a terrible 90s cash grab. The more distanced you are from it, the stupider it seems. But for the generation that grew up with it, Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes were both larger than life figures that somehow belonged together. We wanted to see Michael Jordan come down and be their hero. We wanted to see Bugs Bunny become his buddy and show him that the Looney Tunes, with all their nonsensical craziness kids gobble down like candy, were totally real. And the aliens? At the time, that was popular enough to be just within reach of all of the above, making them just the sort of villains we loved watching lose in spectacular fashion to our heroes. And so, even if the movie was far from the finest hour of anyone involved and is the type of marketing project that deserves to never, ever be repeated (!), it managed to reach a fanbase that will probably never be able to disown it.

 

That said, there’s one piece of this movie that’s a fond memory for everyone and not as a guilty pleasure. I Believe I Can Fly is one of those songs like Can’t Help Falling in Love or Don’t You Forget About Me, a classic in its own right that’s managed to build its own reputation separate from the film in which it debuted. As an inspirational song, it’s bold and uncompromising uplift. It shamelessly claims that the one singing can do it all, chiefly the one thing mankind has always seemed to long for. (That is, the one thing that doesn’t make cynical people write “dark side of human nature” stories about mankind always wanting it.) It became the biggest success of R. Kelly’s career and landed #406 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Its titular line is so iconic that it’s considered a legitimate joke to sing it before you hit the ground, as has been done in multiple other movies with no context. In fact, it’s more of a classic than the majority of the good animated musicals have managed to create. If there’s a song that deserves the win more than this one, someone please tell me what it is right away.

 

 

 

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Various songs – The Land Before Time sequels

 

Oh, these sequels became an insult like no other to the original. There were way more than ever could have been necessary, they ranged from so-so to terrible, and the standard they maintained as the series wore on looked something like this:

 

 

 

But even though the original wasn’t a musical in the first place, the sequels maintained a surprisingly high batting average in the song department, by which I mean almost all of them had at least one that wasn’t downright awful. The best of them were probably Beyond the Mysterious Beyond, a reflective number from a chapter that was at least trying for thoughtfulness and Always There, the only one in memory that honestly put in some heart. (In fact, I don’t think I realized when I was younger that in Littlefoot’s portion of the latter, he was singing about his long-deceased mother. Whoa… ) And I do think the catchy You’re One of Us Now also deserves a shout-out, even if, admittedly, that one does throw in some pretty stupid lines. However, since these were all direct to DVD, I didn’t consider them for a place on the list.

 

 

Takin’ A Ride – Heavy Metal

 

This movie is known for its soundtrack, but most of the songs were just well-utilized numbers that already existed. Still, this song by Don Felder, who they actually did get to write two original works for the movie, is fun. It’s not the best one in the movie, but just the fact that it holds its own against the others is pretty significant.

 

 

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