I was thinking about a certain Disney song, and immediately my mind told me it was the most romantic one. It surprised me because I had never actively thought about which Disney song is the most romantic, yet there it was.
I am not one to easily pick a favorite for anything. Just ask my ex who once, on the verge of tears, asked me why I couldn’t simply answer a simple question like “What’s your favorite ice cream?” and instead insisted on asking for context with follow-up questions.
So let’s pick apart the choices, shall we?
I’m limiting this exercise to the Disney Renaissance films. Why? Because that’s my childhood, that’s why.
I am also going to leave out the “accidental” love songs, non-romantic songs, or queer-coded villain songs that made me swoon despite not being intended as love songs. That’s a topic for another day.
And here they are, organized by movie, and in ascending order to my favorite.
Out of the Running
The Rescuers Down Under doesn’t have a romantic love song. It’s a great movie, though! That hunter is absolutely terrifying and all the songs express a lot of wonderful humanistic, family, and platonic love.
Mulan doesn’t have a love song, either. It has some playful expressions of romantic longing in A Girl Worth Fighting For, but it’s not really a love song.
Tarzan has You’ll Be In My Heart which could be taken as a romantic love song out of context but let’s not because that’s weird, especially since I don’t like the movie and I really don’t like Phil Collins’s voice (sorry?).
Pocahontas doesn’t have a love song, which shocked me. Disney poured a lot of money and effort into Pocahontas and made much of how it was a grown-up love story and therefore their sexualization of Pocahontas a-ok (not).
Lastest Place: A Guy Like You – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
I really wish I didn’t have to remember A Guy Like You. I would pay money to watch a cut of this movie without any of the gargoyle scenes. I am sorry I reminded you of it.
It’s a song where a disabled guy’s possibly-imaginary friends sing to him reassuring him that the object of literally every man in the movie’s love/lust will want him because she’s nice to him. Granted, Quasimodo is super good about not being the one she chooses but this song is… not good.
Just OK: I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) – Hercules
I Won’t Say (I’m in Love) is a fun bop. It’s a subversion of traditional love songs and includes some great call-and-response. The movie’s reimagining of the Muses as a gospel choir girl group is inspired.
I should be all over that subversion, but I just am not, especially in the post Frozen era of more interesting subversion of the classic tales of love. I’d much rather listen to actual Motown girl group songs. It’s also not really that easy to sing along to. I think of a good love song as something you can sing to yourself as you become infatuated with someone.
Decent: Kiss the Girl – The Little Mermaid
Ah, Kiss the Girl. In which the talking crab friend of the currently-mute protagonist sings a song explicitly urging the voluminously-haired love interest to kiss the protagonist without ever having spoken with her.
It’s actually a villain song about a man taunting another man into kissing a girl without verbal consent… in order to get her consent? Yes, you want her / Look at her, you know you do / It’s possible she wants you too / There’s one way to ask her
This minor key (and clearly definitive) version suggests another interpretation. Is the red spider-cousin actually an accomplice to a siren urging the prince to fall for the siren’s spell using toxic masculinity against him? That’s fun to imagine.
SJW concerns aside, it’s a solid song that I don’t hate hearing, but I think it’s too specific to its movie context to be a truly iconic love song. There are far creepier movie love songs with way weirder contexts that manage to feel more universal, like As the World Falls Down or Endless Love.
Good: Beauty and the Beast & Something There – Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast, aka the ballroom dance scene, in which a teapot mother sings a lullaby to her chipped-teacup son about eternal love as embodied by the bookish woman and composite-animal nobleman having their own private ball in his castle.
Okay, fine. It’s a beautiful song and the scene is iconic for a reason. I got the chance to eat dessert with my spouse in the replica of the ballroom at Disney World and I had so, so many feelings about it. It’s good.
I would argue that the true love song of the movie is Something There, though.
The lovers are singing about their feelings for each other, going through their doubts and dreams as people experiencing romance for the first time do, albeit with really, really weird circumstances surrounding their love. It’s really very charming and relatable on several levels, from Chip’s frustration at the end at not being told what the “something there”, which I found common cause with as a kid, to the concept of a love that consciously rejects unrealistic ideals like Prince Charming, which I greatly appreciate as an adult.
Lullabies and inner dialogue are good, but not as good as what I think is the best kind of love song.
Very Good: Heaven’s Light / Hellfire – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Heaven’s Light is so sweet. It makes me feel like I’m 15 and trapped and sad and sure I will never be loved, but I’m glimpsing my actual future where I get to love and be loved far more than I could have ever imagined, and it’s great.
Hellfire is a powerful examination of the dark side of love-like feelings, tainted by power, privilege, religious shame, prejudice, and all other things awful.
No one’s going to dance to this either of these at their wedding, though, which is another marker of a universal and iconic love song. At least I hope no one would.
Excellent: Can You Feel the Love Tonight – The Lion King
Fun Fact: Because of Disney’s faith in Pocahontas, it was Disney’s B-team who weren’t working on that mess that made The Lion King which was both better-received at the time and has continued to be far more beloved by fans.
The movie version of Can You Feel the Love Tonight is a power ballad of the kind that raises all the goose-pimples. It’s oddly specific, though, with all of those movie lines and references.
I vastly prefer Elton John’s recorded version of the song. All his love ballads are just so timeless and beautiful.
The ranking here reflects the strength of non-movie version. It, like my favorite, is incredibly hopeful and is from a direct rather than observed perspective.
Best: A Whole New World – Aladdin
Why, in a pool of likely contenders, is this the one?
The song is about liberation and love, adventuring through the world and making it through life with the one you love by your side. Despite the reference to the magic carpet in the song, it expresses a fairly universal ideal. It’s hopeful and sweet.
The lovers are singing to each other while having basically the most impressive first date even a literal princess could ask for. It’s not someone singing about them.
What I love best is that the song is an invitation and an exploration, not a declaration. Aladdin starts off the invitations, but as the song progresses, Jasmine invites him, too (even though it’s technically his magic carpet). They are actually into each other. Not him trying to win her over for some reason like his own freedom from a curse or her freedom from a bad deal with a witch or what have you — their attraction and connection is well established and now they’re falling for each other.