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The Disney Theme-Park Songs Bracket, Round One

Makin' memories.
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Josh Spiegel
Jun 01 2021
21 min read
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As we do with each new bracket, I begin the newsletter by first passing on my heartiest congratulations to the winner of our last one. And this time around, that would be the score to Beauty and the Beast by Alan Menken. I can't say I knew for sure which score was going to wind up on top, and I would've guessed a Final Four with both the scores to Up and Tron Legacy. So, I guess it's a good thing I don't guess these things.

Anyway. One bracket ends, and another begins. So today, I introduce you to...the Disney theme-park songs bracket. Take a look.

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Now, as I always do, I'll open the floor up to questions from the audience.

So....what am I looking at here?

Ah yes, you must be new around here.

Or I just don't know a damn thing about songs from the Disney theme parks.

That could also be true, yes. So, this is a bracket of 64 songs either specifically written for or most frequently associated with the theme parks of the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resorts in Anaheim, California and Orlando, Florida, respectively.

See, I'm actually a big fan of the international parks, or at least, for the purposes of this specific question, I am.

Yes, I am aware that there are a few theme-park songs written exclusively for the worldwide Disney theme parks. They are sadly not going to be part of the bracket. (Sorry to the aforementioned Mr. Menken, who actually did write the music for a song at a non-U.S. Disney theme park. I'm sure he'll manage.)

What does this "most frequently associated with" thing mean?

Ah yes. So, fun fact: when I first wrote this up, I said that all the songs were written specifically for the theme parks, which I realized before publishing is untrue. For example, the main theme of the Main Street Electrical Parade is "Baroque Hoedown". If you know the parks and this parade, and heard this song, you would immediately associate its synthesized tune with the nighttime show. There's no other context in which it's often recognized. But. It wasn't written for the parade, originating a few years earlier. So for accuracy -- and because I know at least one person out there would jump to correct me -- it's more accurate to say that many of these songs were written for the parks, but that all of them are at least connected to the parks or their attractions.

This is going to be a nerdy bracket, huh?

It sure is.

So, let's pretend I am a person who is not that familiar with the Disney theme parks. I recognize a few of these, of course -- "It's a Small World", for example. But...y'know, how do I vote in this one?

The easiest answer is that you can vote for whatever you want, for whatever reason you want. But you don't have to worry about being that spontaneous. See, these are songs you're voting on. And these are all songs you can find on YouTube. Or, more specifically, they are songs I've found on YouTube, and that you can now listen to via this playlist.

Yeah, but...

No buts. You don't have to be a theme-park aficionado for this one. All you have to do is listen to the songs and decide which ones you like more. It's that easy. Seriously. No excuses this time from the non-park crowd!

Is there anything else I need to know about this one?

I have probably made some theme-park fans very mad, or will at some point in this bracket.

How?

I'm not entirely sure, but we'll all find out together, won't we? Anyway, let's go to the matchups and my preferences for each one.

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Day 1

(1) Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me vs. (16) Tow Mater: So, these newsletters will all be a little longer than usual because I want to clarify where each song is from. Some are obvious enough, though, as with "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me" from Pirates of the Caribbean and "Tow Mater" from Radiator Springs Racers. And some matchups are easy enough too, because I am obviously voting for "Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me". I mean...come on.

(8) Canada (You're A Lifetime Journey) vs. (9) Big Thunder Mountain: A tough battle, in part because "Canada (You're A Lifetime Journey)" is a from a past iteration of the movie playing in the Canada pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot, and "Big Thunder Mountain" is a fun song themed to the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller-coaster at the Magic Kingdom...but it's not really easy to hear the song during the ride. I will lean towards "Canada (You're A Lifetime Journey)", but just barely. The songs of Robert Moline are going to be fun to vote for throughout the bracket, and he gets mine here.

(5) Makin' Memories vs. (12) Midway Mania: Here is how nerdy I can be about Disney theme-park music. As I type this sentence, I am literally listening to "Makin' Memories" from the pre-show to Magic Journeys, via the DisneyChris.com website. (I don't know the eponymous Chris, but if you're out there, pal, you have given me literally hours, days, weeks of background-music listening, and bless your heart for doing so.) "Midway Mania" is a fun enough song, in part because it's truly daffy to me that in his later years, Don Rickles balanced his typical insult-comic stylings with doing songs for Disney theme parks. (It's from Toy Story Midway Mania, where Mr. Potato Head serves as the carnival barker.) But "Makin' Memories" is a Sherman Brothers classic, and it gets my vote today.

(4) Bear Band Serenade vs. (13) The Great Outdoors: This is going to be a battle that I imagine will get some very heated, impassioned voters out. Maybe I'll be wrong. Who knows? But I know that the Country Bear Jamboree and its holiday show, the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, from which these two songs originate, have their cult fanbases. (I am not a part of either one, but that is a discussion for a different day!) Anyway. I will stick with the classics here and vote for "Bear Band Serenade".

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Day 2

(6) Another Part of Me vs. (11) We Are One: Yes, that's right, the theme-park song bracket is going to include the music of the late Michael Jackson. Two of his songs -- we'll get to the other one soon enough -- were first performed in the Captain EO film/attraction directed by Francis Ford Coppola. "Another Part of Me" would later get a remixed version on Bad, but that album arrived two years after Captain EO. "We Are One", on the other hand, is from the Rivers of Light nighttime show at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

And listen, there are -- and have been -- many difficult, frank, and blunt conversations about the legacy Michael Jackson has left behind. To vote for this song is not to support him entirely as a person or an artist. But. I gotta vote for "Another Part of Me". (Another separate conversation: I'm not a huge fan of Captain EO, having watched it a few times when Disney brought it back soon after Jackson's death. But the songs are solid.)

(3) Golden Dream vs. (14) Promise: If you know your theme parks decently enough, you no doubt recognize "Golden Dream" as the big song from the American Adventure attraction in World Showcase. But you may not recall "Promise" as having been part of Epcot's Millennium Celebration. These two songs going head-to-head felt thematically appropriate to me, but let's be honest: "Golden Dream" is the easy winner.

(7) In the Big Blue World vs. (10) It's Tough to be a Bug!: It's funny that as much as Pixar was stridently against creating in-movie songs for its earliest films, two of those same films inspired theme-park songs. In fact, Finding Nemo the movie inspired Finding Nemo - The Musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom, which is where "In the Big Blue World" is from. (What's more, the songs were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, years before you knew their Disney work in films like Frozen.) "It's Tough to be a Bug!" is a brief closing song in the 4-D film of the same name, which you can also find at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Facts aside, there's really no contest here: it's got to be "In the Big Blue World". Fun song and effectively choreographed, too. Sorry, bugs.

(2) Baroque Hoedown vs. (15) Hot Potato: I feel bad for giving Don Rickles two different low seeds here. (He also sings "Hot Potato" as part of his spiel in Toy Story Midway Mania.) But there are few pieces of music more easily identifiable with the Disney theme parks than "Baroque Hoedown" from the Main Street Electrical Parade. Sorry, Mr. Warmth.

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Day 3

(1) Grim Grinning Ghosts vs. (16) New World Bound: Since we all know that I'm voting for the top seed here (how could I not?), let's dispense with the contextual facts. "Grim Grinning Ghosts", as you may know or could surmise, is from The Haunted Mansion. "New World Bound" is from the American Adventure attraction. And at least that attraction is likely going to have one song move onto the next round.

(8) Wishes vs. (9) Boo to You: So, both of these songs are also the titles of nighttime shows. Wishes is a fireworks spectacular, where "Boo to You" comes from a parade themed to -- yes, you can guess it -- Halloween. I'm going to stick with "Wishes" for my vote, as the song itself is a little more melodic and less repetitive than "Boo to You". But those of you who love Halloween all year round may vote differently. Maybe?

(5) Miracles from Molecules vs. (12) Hapa Duniani: The Sherman Brothers are among those who are going to make lots of appearances in this bracket. You may know them best for their work in films like Mary Poppins, but they also wrote some of the most recognizable and beloved pieces of music at the Disney theme parks during their tenure with the company. Such is the case with "Miracles from Molecules", the theme to the long-since-closed Adventures Thru Inner Space attraction. While "Hapa Duniani" is a very beautiful piece of music most associated at the parks with the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom, I just cannot vote against the Shermans. At least not now.

(4) Energy (You Make the World Go Round) vs. (13) Welcome to Radiator Springs: You can already guess that I'm voting against a song from the Cars Land area of Disney California Adventure, right? (It's a very well-themed land, and the main attraction is fun, but if you don't love the Cars movies, as I do not, it's still kind of an alienating experience.) But I'm also very emphatically voting for "Energy (You Make the World Go Round)" in spite of the fact that I'm going to have to shorten its title for the poll option on Twitter. (I just realized that...right now! Typing these sentences! Sigh.) One of the big songs in the original Universe of Energy attraction, it's just too hopeful and powerfully written to deny. Bob Moline -- you'll make the bracket go round.

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Day 4

(6) Meet Me Down on Main Street vs (11) I'm Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street, U.S.A.: Well, this is going to be even more fun to shorten on Twitter. (This one, I knew as soon as I built out the bracket.) Anyway, both of these songs are obviously associated with a specific land in the Disney theme parks -- Frontierland! Kidding. I'll stick with the Mellomen's rendition of "Meet Me Down on Main Street", in part because the 11-seed here too often puts me in mind of the New Main Street Singers from A Mighty Wind, except without the tongue-in-cheek humor.

(3) The Monorail Song vs. (14) Let's Dance at Disneyland: Funny, this matchup. The 3-seed is a song -- it's got the word in its title -- that doesn't have lyrics. And the 14-seed is a song from the bygone era when the Plaza Gardens in Disneyland would give over its space to dancing couples every Saturday night. I like both of these songs a lot, but I have to go with one of my favorite overall themes in the Disney theme parks and vote for "The Monorail Song", as effective an aural version of optimistic futurism that you could possibly listen to.

(7) We Go On vs. (10) Tomorrow's Child: If I had to guess, typing this out the day before the bracket goes live, I would say that this specific matchup is going to be one of those people get very mad at me about. How dare you, don't make me choose, etc., etc. What can I say? I'm a bad man. Seriously, though, while I know this is a difficult one for some folks -- as I have pitted "We Go On", from the wonderful and sadly now-closed IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show, against "Tomorrow's Child", from an earlier iteration of Spaceship Earth -- it's not for me. "We Go On" is one of my favorite Epcot songs, from one of my favorite nighttime shows.

(2) One Little Spark vs. (15) Journey to Imagination: Now, let's be clear about something first, because it's going to cause confusion. "One Little Spark" is the theme song to Journey Into Imagination, the Sherman Brothers number sung by Figment the dragon (and now also Eric "I don't remember filming this because it was 25 years ago, I was on a green screen, and it was an easy paycheck, just let me live, goddamn it" Idle). "Journey to Imagination" is from the Mickey and the Magical Map stage show. Similar-sounding, yes, but not from the same show. Anyhoo, it's gotta be "One Little Spark". At least in this round.

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Day 5

(1) In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room vs. (16) Friend Like Iago: If you don't know the history of Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, specifically the iteration at Walt Disney World, a little backstory. Our top seed here is from the original version, and was written by the Sherman Brothers. A great song, and it obviously gets my vote. "Friend Like Iago", sung primarily (but not entirely) by Gilbert Gottfried as Iago, is the main song from an updated version of the Audio-Animatronic show.

Gottfried is very good as Iago. He's not the reason the song is terrible and seemingly crafted by people who hated the Enchanted Tiki Room. But it is a terrible song. The old version of the show only got reinstated after a fire damaged some of the Audio-Animatronic figures in the modernized version, and if you told me that fire was set on purpose to kill off the new version and bring back the old one, I would believe you. Anyway. Bad song. Bad, bad song. Don't vote for it.

(8) Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit vs. (9) Go With the Flow: So, another note here on potentially confusing titles. "Go With the Flow" may sound like it's part of the other, more upbeat Universe of Energy song, but it's not and we'll get to that actual song -- which features the lyric "go with the flow" -- later on. It's also from Finding Nemo - the Musical and while I'm not a huge fan of it...I must vote for it over "Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit" from the defunct Kitchen Kabaret attraction at Epcot. I imagine that song will win here, but I think it's a little too silly and corny (get it? Because, you see, corn is a vegetable and the song is -- never mind). Sorry?

(5) If You Had Wings vs. (12) Here's to the Future: Our 5-seed is the theme song to an attraction of the same name that no longer exists, and our 12-seed is the song that played in the post-show of Space Mountain in an earlier iteration. So both of these are defunct songs from Tomorrowland attractions. It's a toughie here, but I will give the vote, just barely, to "If You Had Wings", although it's fairly repetitive. But no, I won't change my vote. The higher seed moves on.

(4) It's Fun to be Free vs. (13) We've Come So Far: So, fun fact: if you've experienced the Walt Disney World version of Space Mountain lately, you've heard an instrumental version of "We've Come So Far". The original song did have lyrics, but it's since been replaced by the instrumental only. At least you can still hear it live, unlike "It's Fun to be Free", which was part of the World of Motion attraction, since replaced by Test Track. "It's Fun to be Free" gets my vote here, if only because just typing the title out, I can hear the song playing (and not because I'm actually listening to it). It's just more recognizable to me.

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Day 6

(6) The Best Time of Your Life vs. (11) A Kiss Goodnight: It's a Sherman vs. Sherman battle here, although technically just Richard against himself. Though he and his brother Robert both wrote "The Best Time of Your Life" for an updated version of Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, only Richard was alive to write "A Kiss Goodnight" for the recent Disneyland Forever attraction. And while that song's nice and charming, and ties into the "kiss goodnight" idea for those folks who stay long enough into the night at the Disney parks, I'm going with the song of progress and "The Best Time of Your Life".

(3) Magic Journeys vs. (14) Destiny: Did you know that Mission: Space has a song? Because frankly, before doing this bracket, I did not. And I've been on Mission: Space a few times. That song is "Destiny" and "Magic Journeys", from the defunct attraction of the same name, is my vote here quite easily. It's memorable where "Destiny" is not.

(7) Hello Everybody vs. (10) Come Again: "Hello Everybody" is the opening number to the original Golden Horseshoe Revue show in Frontierland, and "Come Again" is the closing number to the Country Bear Jamboree. Now, earlier in this novel of a newsletter, you may recall that I said I'm not a huge fan of the Country Bear Jamboree, and here's where I prove it, by easily voting for the charming "Hello Everybody". I miss the days of live music and comedy at the Golden Horseshoe. Don't you?

(2) Universe of Energy vs. (15) Burrow's Lament: Hey, look, the "Universe of Energy" song I was referring to earlier! Now, before I make clear my obvious vote, let's do the due diligence and explain that "Burrow's Lament" is a mini-song of sorts near the end of Splash Mountain, as a maternal rabbit bemoans what she perceives as Br'er Rabbit heading to his doom through the briar patches of Chickapin Hill. It's not a terrible song -- the music is from "Sooner or Later", a song from Song of the South, the film on which the attraction is based -- but...it'd take a lot for me to vote for it against frankly many other songs in this bracket. It's set up to fail. Sorry, Burrow. I vote for "Universe of Energy".

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Day 7

(1) It's a Small World vs. (16) Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand: Let me give you a peek behind the curtain here. I sincerely debated placing "It's a Small World", obviously from the attraction of the same name, as the top seed at all. Now, on the one hand, it's the Sherman Brothers. And it's also arguably one of the most famous Disney songs of all time, theme park or not. But it's also just as famous for being repetitive and monotonous -- even a Disney film itself mocked the tune, which is telling you something. But it's clearly a high seed, no matter what. And just as clearly, "Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand", from Epcot's Millennium Celebration, is a low seed. And whatever else may come in this bracket, "It's A Small World" wins this one handily.

(8) The Orange Bird Song vs. (9) El Rio del Tiempo: This one's for all the Disney theme-park die-hards out there. "The Orange Bird Song" is derived from a character who served as a mascot for the Florida Citrus Commission in the early 1970s, and its song was performed by Anita "Most people may only know me as a punchline in the brilliant comedy Airplane!" Bryant. And for whatever reason, the Orange Bird is now a very big cult figure in the theme-park community. "El Rio del Tiempo" is from an earlier iteration of the boat ride in the Mexico pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase. I think of that ride, and I think of the three Caballeros, and their song. So for that reason alone, I'll vote for "The Orange Bird Song". But this could be a fun matchup.

(5) New Horizons vs. (12) Just One Dream: Ah, Horizons. Talk about your cult fame among theme-park fans. This now-closed Epcot attraction, which inspired "New Horizons", is beloved by many in part because it represents a level of technical ambition that you don't see today unless it's tied directly to familiar intellectual property. "Just One Dream" from the now-closed (a pattern in a lot of these matchups, you may have noticed) Golden Dreams show at Disney California Adventure is a fine song, but...yeah, I gotta go with "New Horizons". I think a lot of people will vote the same.

(4) Listen to the Land vs. (13) The Glorious Fourth: Some of these votes are very, very easy. This is one of them. "Listen to the Land" from the Living with the Land attraction in Epcot is one of my all-time favorite theme-park songs, period, full stop. (Just as Living with the Land is one of my all-time favorite theme-park attractions, period, full stop.) "The Glorious Fourth" has the Sherman imprimatur, yes, having been part of Disney's Bicentennial celebration in the mid-1970s, but "Listen to the Land" is going far in the bracket if I have anything to say about it.

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Day 8

(6) We Are Here to Change the World vs. (11) The Shaman's Song: Maybe it's that I have yet to experience Pandora -- The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and specifically the Na'Vi River Journey, from which "The Shaman's Song" originates. But "We Are Here to Change the World", the other Michael Jackson song from Captain EO, is getting my vote here quite handily. I will eventually vote against the King of Pop, but not today.

(3) Fantasmic vs. (14) Magic Happens: These closing numbers from nighttime shows of the same names may be evenly matched for those aesthetic reasons, but this is another easy vote. "Fantasmic" all the way.

(7) Suitcase and a Dream vs. (10) Nothing Can Stop Us Now: There's a lot I miss about Disney California Adventure. (The last time I visited a Disney theme park was the day I turned 35. I turn 37 in just under four months. Not the longest gap a person has had in visiting the parks, but man, I miss them.) Though the park as a whole is imperfect, the Buena Vista Street area is pretty brilliant, and not least because of live performers like the Red Car News Boys, who sang "Suitcase and a Dream" during their frequent daytime shows. "Nothing Can Stop Us Now" is from the new Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios (and eventually Disneyland too), and it's fun and peppy, but...I gotta go with the News Boys on this one.

(2) There's A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow vs. (15) To Be Free: Fitting that our final matchup of the first round pits some of the greatest composers to have worked for the Walt Disney Company. Our high seed is "There's a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow", written by Richard and Robert Sherman for the Carousel of Progress attraction. Our low seed is "To Be Free", a song performed in the now-defunct Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular live show at Disney's California Adventure, by Alan Menken (though I believe some of its earliest lyrics were by Howard Ashman, as the song was part of the 1992 film before being cut). I hate voting against Menken and Ashman. I do. But "There's A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow" is nigh unbeatable. It gets my vote easily, if only because it feels like a true theme song to the Disney theme parks. How could it lose?

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