#20 - Niketa Calame, Moira Kelly, Sally Dworsky, and Laura Williams as Nala - The Lion King (1994)
Best Song: Can You Feel The Love Tonight
Whew. That's a lot of names to look up. And to be fair, this was a tough one, and a lot of others could've taken this #20 spot. Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas was one that I didn't mention in the original post that almost made it here instead, and Nora from Pete's Dragon almost made it based on Candle on the Water alone. But I settled on Nala.
Now, let's hit the negatives first. This is a character that should have been far more memorable than she actually was. For a movie with such a large supporting cast, one of my biggest complaints about The Lion King is that it didn't share the spotlight enough - really the only characters anybody actually remembers from this movie are Simba, Mufasa, Scar, Timon, and Pumbaa. Well, guess what - there was a love interest, too! And guess what - she's not bad! Not nearly memorable enough, but not bad.
One bonus is that even though there are literally four different voice actresses playing this role, you don't notice at all. Unlike both Simbas, the singing voices sound close enough to the speaking voice not to be distracting, and her verse in Can You Feel the Love Tonight is admittedly gorgeous. She's also a more classic Disney princess archetype than Sally or...chick-who-sang-Candle-on-the-Water (I know, I know, I could just look up a few inches since I already looked up the name, but I'm feeling REALLY lazy today), which helps in the frame of reference of this list.
But she's not higher simply because the character of Nala, despite solid vocal performances from the entire women's soccer team involved, is fairly bland and unexplored. Young Nala: "Hey, I'm a troublesome young girl who tags along and...stuff". Adult Nala: "Stop being a troublesome young man and help us kill Scar and...stuff". Not bad, but the actresses don't really get much to work with, and there's nothing to particularly set them apart from the crowd.
#19 - Ilene Woods as Cinderella - Cinderella (1950)
Best Song: Sing Sweet Nightingale
Here's another one who might have benefited from a slightly meatier role. Cinderella is the kind of character who's just along for the ride and doesn't really do anything. I like Cinderella because she's one of the only early Disney princesses to subvert the idea of the high soprano songbird Disney princess and replace it with a warmer alto tone. Sadly for her, though, after Disney's death, this sort of became the standard as Disney movies got more and more Broadway-influenced, and she's since been overshadowed by other voices that stand out from the crowd more.
However, that doesn't mean she's not excellent. All you have to do is look up "Sing Sweet Nightingale" (that's actually kind of like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, where you have no clue where the comma is supposed to go...), or "So This Is Love" (even though the Prince's voice kinda sucks), and you can tell. Particularly the former, where she gets to harmonize with herself, and you can really tell how great her warm, classical tone and slow vibrato really are. Ilene Woods really does have a great voice.
Unfortunately for her, she just doesn't get to stand out too much, and it's not necessarily her fault. I've always thought Cinderella was kind of a bland character, and Ilene Woods plays her off that way, particularly when she's speaking. I've always kind of hated the way she speak-sings in rhyme in "A Dream Is A Wish" at the beginning of the movie - I just don't like that kind of pandering, over-the-top delivery. It sounds very kids-movie to me.
But what puts her on the list really is the warmth of her singing voice. Her speaking performance isn't anything to write home about, but those lovely tones I was talking about in "Sing, Sweet Nightingale/Sing Sweet, Nightingale" are enough for her to need to be on any Top 20 list. I just couldn't justify bumping her up any higher than that, due to being outshone by the competition.
OK, this and the one that come after it are two oddball choices. I admit that Angela Lansbury has probably never been young enough to be considered a princess, but her two major Disney roles always carry a special place in my heart, and it's BECAUSE of her lovely voice. For that reason, I place her on the list.
Of course, I'm talking about Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, but also Eglantine Price in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In both films, in my opinion, she's practically the best thing about them, and even in the latter, where she is clearly not animated, it's her voice that does all the work. Those of you who have never heard the magical "Age of Not Believing" ought to give it a listen right now: . It's a beautiful song, sung beautifully by Ms. Lansbury. I've got nothing but positive things to say about her.
Why, then, is she only at #18? Well, for one thing, putting her on the list in the first place is kind of cheating, particularly when I'm not crediting her for any one specific role. But the main reason is that...well, she's always Angela Lansbury. She's handicapped by the same thing that makes her wonderful: you can't hear that voice and NOT think "Angela Lansbury". She never disappears into Mrs. Potts, it's always her rather than the character singing "Beauty and the Beast". Although I wouldn't have it any other way.
This is a difficult one to explain because it's such an oddball choice, but I felt the need to include her and so I did. She, specifically, will always have an honorary place as a Disney princess in my heart. /sappy
#16 - Irene Bedard and Judy Kuhn as Pocahontas - Pocahontas (1995)
Maybe this one will spark some discussion. Pocahontas is a weird one in the Disney animated canon, that admittedly I have not seen for quite a while. I've been doing a (very) slow watchthrough of the entire Disney canon over the last couple years (I told you it was slow) and I suppose this is coming fairly soon, which is good, because I remember very little about it.
Very little, that is, except Pocahontas and John Smith, who I remember well enough to talk about. Irene Bedard does a decent job as Pocahontas' speaking voice. Though I've always found her to be a bit bland as a leading Disney character (I feel like Mel Gibson has more charisma as John Smith and steals her spotlight a bit, at least in my memory), she certainly never irritated me, and plays the part serviceably. A few scenes I always seem to remember her giving a really good performance in are the "If I Never Knew You" scene with John Smith in the tent, and the "NO!" at the end of "Savages" - in both instances she was understated, yet effective.
And that seems to be the main thing about this lower part of the list - the word "understated". That these people are making it onto the list in the first place means that I like understated performances. But in animation, there comes a point where subtlety just doesn't play, and I think Pocahontas might be treading this line a little too finely. Which is especially interesting and jarring considering the soundtrack is one of Disney's two Menken/Schwartz collaborations, which means the songs have about as much subtlety as the train explosion scene from Super 8, if the train explosion had been caused by a mob of Xenomorphs from Alien, riding into town on the backs of Tolkien oliphaunts.
Which brings me to Judy Kuhn as Pocahontas' singing voice. Now, being the Broadway musicals guy that I am, I'm quite familiar with Judy Kuhn's work, and to be honest, I'm usually not a big fan. But her voice is what carries this movie. They were very smart to give her a part in practically all of the major songs - it's such a great marriage of song and singer that I almost have to assume that Alan Menken wrote the songs with specifically Kuhn in mind. She's phenomenal.
So what's holding this back? Mostly Irene Bedard. Though she works, she's never anything spectacular like Judy Kuhn is, and there's at least one example ahead of her in the list where both the speaking voice and the singing voice are on the same kind of top tier that Judy Kuhn is in this role. Honestly, this is a film that I feel would've done much better as a Broadway musical than as a movie (something that Hunchback of Notre Dame, the other Menken/Schwartz collaboration, already accomplished a decade ago overseas, which has yet to be translated back into English). In a musical, you get at least an extra hour to flesh out characters, write more songs, and just tell a deeper story, and truly, I think that's what Pocahontas needed to truly shine, as a story AND as a character. What was there wasn't bad - it was what wasn't there that made Pocahontas not live up to its true potential.
#17 - Shelby Flint and Eva Gabor as Disembodied Voice and Miss Bianca - The Rescuers (1977)
Best Song: Someone's Waiting For You
I love The Rescuers. I think that it's one of the truly underappreciated, overlooked classics of the Disney canon, and it's one of my Top 10 animated films ever. I think it is a beautiful movie, for many reasons - the art design being a large factor in this, yes, but another chief reason is just the sound of it. The entire film not only looks and feels like a cohesive whole, it sounds like one. The muted, understated performances of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor give The Rescuers a truly unique character in the canon, and the extra-narrative songs sung by Shelby Flint are underrated gems in their own right.
First of all, we have Eva Gabor's Bianca, who, somewhat similarly to Nala, is kind of overshadowed a little bit. But she's the perfect complement to Bob Newhart's voice - there's something about both of them that is both strangely and beautifully understated, and really adds to the connection between the two characters beyond what's actually on the page. Though, like Nala, perhaps not the most memorable of characters or performances, it's something subtle that simply works for me. I've only seen The Rescuers a handful of times compared to the Disney Renaissance films, as I only saw it for the first time a few years ago, but even though it's been a couple years since the last time, I can still hear what their voices sounded like in my head with tremendous clarity.
And then there's Shelby Flint with the songs. One of the only pitfalls that obstructs me from putting this ranking higher is really that this is another oddball ranking that I'm cheating with a little bit, as these really are two separate people accomplishing two entirely separate things. (I swear, the upper echelons of this list are more normal things you all will have been waiting for.) But for such a forgotten soundtrack, there are some great songs here - especially the beautiful "Someone's Waiting For You" - and their success in the context of the film is in large part due to Shelby Flint's similarly understated singing voice and gorgeously-nuanced performance of said songs.
So while this may not make anybody else on the planet's list, I really wanted to make it come across how memorable these two really made The Rescuers for me, and I would've been remiss to not give them an honorary position near the opening of this list. The movie truly wouldn't've been the same without them, despite so many other good things about it. Seriously, if you haven't seen The Rescuers recently, and don't really remember it, I'd implore you to watch it again. For my money, it really is a minor Disney masterpiece.
#15 - Darleen Carr as Shanti - The Jungle Book (1967)
Best Song: My Own Home
I expect to catch some s*** for this one.
But honestly, even though this voice actress literally sings only one song in the movie, and doesn't show up until the last five minutes, her song has made such an impression on me. It's one of those songs that I really wish had more to it, because the actress's performance is so entrancing. She makes more of an impression on me with one song than the rest of the admittedly-wonderful people so far (with the exception of Judy Kuhn) manage to make across an entire film.
So what makes her so good? Well, I don't even really know - there' just a je ne sais quoi quality to the singer's voice and to the music that makes the scene so alluring, so mysterious. With one song you can totally understand why Mowgli is so instantly entranced by this girl he's only seen this once. With one song I'm suddenly more invested than I have been for most of the rest of the movie, and it leaves off on a great note.
I put this mostly on Darleen Carr's wonderful performance of the song. A little high for just one song? Yeah, maybe, particularly when the song itself isn't necessarily one of the most notable things ever. But damn it, when someone leaves me wanting more so much based on a single song, I think that's worthy of recognition.
#14 - Demi Moore and Heidi Mollenhauer as Esmeralda - The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Best Song: God Help The Outcasts
This one hurts to put so low. It really does.
Those of you who have been around the board for a while (and by "a while" I mean at least three years or so) may recall that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is unequivocally my favorite movie in the Animated Canon. It's a shockingly stark, dark film for a studio so renowned for being light, cheerful and family-friendly, and it's a huge departure.
Think about it (although I'm sure everybody by this point has): It's a Victor Hugo novel turned Disney. That means that even when we're Disneyfying it, among the things that need to be shown are a mother being murdered on the steps of the world's most iconic cathedral, her grotesquely malformed infant being kidnapped and used as lifelong slave labor, a holy man singing a song called "Hellfire" about rape, and the intended genocide of an entire culture from Paris by said holy man.
All in the name of G-rated, Disney family entertainment. Add on top of all of this the second of Disney's two Menken/Schwartz collaborations with an intense, demonic Latin chorus and some of the best songs ever written for the Disney canon, and you've got something I'm going to LOVE.
Why is this relevant to Esmeralda? Well, really just to appreciate the pivotal role she plays in all of this, and why her voice is so important. Amidst all this strife, turmoil, and general darkness, "God Help The Outcasts" is the sole beacon of hope that illuminates the movie. (No countering with "A Guy Like You" - THAT is a discussion for another time.) Heidi Mollenhauer does literally the perfect job with this song, really bringing across the pain and suffering this character has been feeling, and the reverent feeling of a prayer, all without sacrificing an ounce of the music's beauty. The way her voice trembles on "I ask for nothing" at the key change, and her last note - both give me chills every time I listen to the song.
So why is Esmeralda so low? Because what I just referenced doesn't match up with the character we're given in the movie at all. There is a huuuuuge disconnect here, and it's supposed to be a character moment, but if we're getting really nitpicky (and we have to because all of these actresses do a fantastic job), that simply can't be accomplished when it is so obviously NOT Demi Moore singing. Demi Moore does fine as the sexy temptress who drives Frollo mad, but when literally her only song is something that contradicts that so thoroughly, there's a disconnect that doesn't really let us feel like it's Esmeralda - rather we hear the beautiful song and enjoy it, but it's not the character moment it was supposed to be because that's the only time we ever see that side of her.
Honestly, I really think Esmeralda should've gotten more songs. In fact, they accomplished that when they wrote the stage version over a decade ago, that's STILL trying to get to Broadway but we'll hopefully finally see on the stage in 2013. I've seen some bootleg recordings of the German production that ran from 1999-2002, and it is a spectacular show. I will definitely travel to Broadway and see it when it's back in English. It really gives a lot more depth to the character of Esmeralda. Unfortunately, it's currently only available in German.
Anyway, it was Hunchback, so I had to ramble on because it's my favorite. That's really all I have to possibly say anyway. My HINT for the next one: We've got another Broadway star going down for #13. Stay tuned!
#13 - Linda Larkin and Lea Salonga as Princess Jasmine - Aladdin (1992)
Best Song: A Whole New World
Jasmine was a very tough one to place. On the one hand, Lea Salonga is one of the great Broadway voices of today, and A Whole New World is her indelible mark on modern pop culture. On the other hand, we suffer a little bit from Pocahontas syndrome - except, this time, it's not because Linda Larkin is too understated, but a bit overstated. I've always felt her line readings as Jasmine were a little... off, somehow, a little... wrong. Just, like, as an actor, every once in a while she has me saying "that is nowhere near how I would've read the line".
But she does have some good scenes - certainly better scenes overall than Pocahontas has, and she manages to make more of an impression, despite only having one song and not being the central focus of the movie. Who am I kidding, everybody has some good scenes. It's freaking Aladdin; everybody loves Aladdin. Everybody in my generation that I know has great amounts of nostalgia related to this movie - we don't remember the first time we saw it, all we know is that we grew up with it, and it's an unmistakeable part of our childhood.
That includes Jasmine. To a certain extent, when I think "Disney princess", I think Jasmine. In large part, that's due to the aforementioned performance of Lea Salonga, our Broadway belle to whom I was referring. (You can also put your minds at ease that Paige and Susan are still in the running...at least, so far as you know. Muahaha.) "A Whole New World" is perhaps THE Disney song of the generation, even though it's never been my favorite.
But really, what is there to say on this one that's not fairly self-explanatory? Jasmine's sort of your average Disney princess performance, with the exception of a single song, which, though iconic, can only bring her up so far, especially since it's not one of my favorite songs or performances of a single song. We're talking distinctly middle ground on both ends. Lea Salonga is a fantastic performer, but this isn't my favorite work of hers, either. Perhaps we will hear more on the subject later.......
Next HINT: Not technically a Disney princess, but often considered an honorary one among the ranks. Those who've ascertained anything about my tastes could very well be able to figure this one out.
#12 - Meg Ryan and Liz Calloway as Anastasia - Anastasia (1997)
Best Song: Tough, but probably "Journey to the Past".
We have entered a new tier.
From now on in the list, every song works. Both the singing voice and the speaking voice have amazing charisma, most of these folks have multiple songs apiece, and everything just works to the extent that these particular princesses go straight into the "classics" tier. But we've got two oddballs among the ranks before the Top Ten. This is the first one.
Now, honestly, if she was actually Disney, I'd probably put her much higher, perhaps even in the Top 5. Anastasia is a beautiful, underrated classic that rivals all of my favorite Disney movies in scope, animation, storytelling, soundtrack, and just general magnificence. It's my favorite Don Bluth outing (even more than Secret of NIMH), and there's barely anything in it that doesn't work for me. Yeah, darkness generally appeals to me (you may have noticed from Hunchback), and particularly when it's as well-scored as Anastasia is.
And Liz Calloway does a superb job with these wonderful songs. Journey to the Past, Once Upon a December, and Learn to Do It are the three songs she sings, and I look forward to all three of these whenever I watch the movie (not to mention Dark of the Night and Paris Holds the Key, the major ones she doesn't sing in, are also wonderful). This success, as evidenced by the fairly massive fail that was Aaliyah trying to pull these songs off, can be linked quite demonstrably to Liz Calloway's performance. From the abject joy and hope she manages to convey in "Journey to the Past" to the pensive longing of Once Upon a December in about ten minutes of film, she manages to sell every aspect of Anastasia's inner dilemma.
Meg Ryan, too, does a surprisingly superb job as Anastasia's speaking voice. Though the character is really sold with the songs, Ryan brings just the right amount of snark to the role - not too much so as to make her unlikeable, but just enough to give her a compelling amount of character. At no point does she get obnoxious, as snarky animated characters have a tendency to be, and throughout the film you as the viewer are completely engrossed and invested in this completely fantastical (and, frankly, ridiculous) retelling of the story of the Romanovs.
So though I might get a bit of flak for putting her so high, I would argue that if she technically counted in the actual category, she would be even higher. I've never understood the amount of hate this film gets, and I never will, because this is one of those incredibly rare cases of another company "doing Disney better than Disney". A stylistic rip-off? Maybe. But it's so damn good (coupled with awesome Don Bluth animation) that I can't find a thing to complain about. Truly a gem.
Next HINT: For our last non-Top Ten entry, we've got the opposite of Anastasia - someone who technically is a Disney heroine but who no one really associates with Disney.
#11 - Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins - Mary Poppins (1964)
Best Song: Feed the Birds
I've had a change of heart. See that deleted post up there? That was my original entry for #11. I typed it all up, I posted it, and then...well, as I was typing up my write-up I realized that I loved this character even more than I realized. So I'm holding her back and moving her to where my original #10 entry was going to go.
That one is Mary Poppins. Yes, I know, a bit of cheating is going on in this list, and arguably you could say this is a cheap shot too. I would argue that it's Julie ****ing Andrews we're talking about here, and it doesn't matter if she's animated, live-action, rotoscoped, or anything else you can think of. Julie Andrews has one of the great soprano voices in the world, and the day she lost her singing voice was a great tragedy for the history of musicals.
Why, then, would Julie not quite crack the Top 10? Well, in large part it's because what she gets to do and showcase in the role of Mary Poppins is a bit bland compared to the Top 10 entries. It's wonderful, no doubt about that, but it's also something we've seen done better in The Sound of Music. And don't get me wrong - I love Mary Poppins. I think it's a great, underappreciated movie that's both great fun to watch and, at times, downright hilarious. It's not for no reason that it's considered the standout of pre-2000 Disney live action film. Mary Poppins is a gem, and more and more I find that people just don't remember it anymore.
Julie's biggest moment comes in the middle of the movie, when a seemingly unrelated-to-anything plot point crops up in the form of the little old bird woman on the steps of St. Paul's cathedral. The song "Feed the Birds" is one of my Top 5 Disney songs ever, and as with most of these Disney heroines, it's truly the singer herself who sells it. Everything about this scene is perfect, from the vocal performance (which is the sole merit of this ranking on this particular list), to the cinematography, to the orchestration, to just the look on Julie Andrews' face as the orchestra swells and we fade back in on her looking wistfully off at nothing in particular before the soft verse comes back to finish the song.
There are songs in this movie I don't like, songs that just don't particularly work. For me the perfect example of this is "Stay Awake", which is sort of a meandering song that doesn't go anywhere and serves the exact same purpose as several other songs (like Feed the Birds, for example, which does it a hell of a lot better). It's really the overlong, somewhat one-note nature of the role that keeps Mary from cracking the Top 10. But, no matter what, this truly is a classic, worthy of recognition on any Disney heroines list.
#10 - Joan Cusack and Sarah McLachlan as Jessie - Toy Story 2 (1999)
Best Song: When Somebody Loved Me
Okay, this is the last truly oddball pick, I promise. Though it's not the last one that I can hear people screaming at me about in my head when I look at their relative placement on the list. Oh well.
Yes, technically Pixar's catalog counts as having been released by Walt Disney Pictures, so there is a strong argument (certainly much stronger than for Anastasia) to think of Jessie as a Disney heroine. And, for what it's worth, I think she's an excellent one. Joan Cusack goes all-out with her voice work, and though Jessie's signature "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-HAWWWWW!" might be annoying to some, I find myself completely taken in by her sheer, unabashed jubliance. Jessie, as a character, adds something to the Toy Story franchise that it was missing, as the first film had a certain (intentional) dark joylessness about it.
Now, I love the two movies almost equally, but it must be admitted that the sequel delights much more in its childish joy than its predecessor. And that's what sets 2 apart from the first and third entries in one of the greatest movie trilogies ever. 1 has the darkness and ingenuity, 3 has a plot that makes even the strongest of hearts melt, and 2 has pure, unbridled joy, in large part courtesy of Jessie.
That is, until we get to "When Somebody Loved Me". This was the first chance for the character to show some range, and unlike our other big one-song wonder so far (Esmeralda), this sudden change is rather more warranted and earned by Cusack, so it's not quite as jarring. This also marks the first huge tearjerker moment in the Pixar history, and arguably one of the most understatedly successful. Sure, everybody cites the first fifteen minutes of Up, or the incinerator scene and ensuing last 15 minutes of Toy Story 3, or even things like the end of Monsters, Inc., but through all that, everybody still remembers this heartwrenching song. The filmmakers make much less of a production of this scene than of the others, and arguably that makes it even more effective. It's an off-puttingly depressing scene, made possible by a pitch-perfect performance from the quasi-country-ish vocal stylings of Sarah McLachlan. (These sentences of mine are starting to get a bit out of hand. I swear they're breeding.)
It's a very similar situation to Esmeralda, with one key difference. What people remember about "God Help the Outcasts" (and rightly so) is that it's one of the greatest songs ever in a Disney movie. Credit to Alan Menken for that one. But they don't remember it tying in with the character. What people remember about "When She Loved Me" is Jessie's absolutely heart-wrenching story that goes along with it, and the trauma we felt as kids watching this scene for the first time. Damn you, Pixar, you've broken children all over the country with this song, and now we'll never be secure enough to give away our toys. (Though perhaps this has been reversed a bit with the even-more-heartwrenching-yet-somehow-happy-nobody-really-knows-how-to-feel-about-it ending to the series in 3.)
Anyway, before I ramble on TOO much, here's the (possibly too explicit) next HINT. Many people consider the next Disney princess to be the greatest of them all. It is also not unheard of to consider her the worst.
#9 - Adriana Caselotti as Snow White - Snow White (1937)
Best Song: Someday My Prince Will Come
This has been a very difficult write-up to actually sit down and do. After all, what does one say about Snow White? After all, she's the first Disney Princess of all time, so it's kind of hard to say anything unbiased - some people love her, some people (for some reason) hate her. Honestly? I have an extremely difficult time fathoming the latter.
I suppose her voice might be considered a little bit annoying at times (Whistle While You Work would seem to be the most obvious culprit here). But whenever the word "high" is replaced with "annoying" in music, I suppose I'm just going to have to find a different profession. The fact is, she's a soprano, and a surprisingly good one for someone who basically sounded like she was no more than 13 or 14 years old.
This really is hard. Snow White is the classic, and I happen to be among the people that love it. I think of it as being one of the most perfectly-told of all Disney stories, right down to Snow's voice. But when I try to explain it, I find I can't really put it into words. I think it's just that her voice is so damned distinctive in its own way... it's kind of like this. If someone tried to describe Gilbert Gottfried's voice, they might sound a little silly. "Well, he's got this voice... he yells... and he's kind of annoying but funny... and he... yells..." Snow White has the same problem. "She's got this voice... and it's high... and she's kind of annoying but very endearing... and it's... high..." You can see my predicament.
So at the risk of this write-up being really s***ty, I'm basically just going to leave it here, because otherwise this thing is never getting posted. The distinctiveness of her voice gets me real nostalgic and seems to embody the phrase "Disney magic" almost better than anything else. There's a reason Walt loved her voice so much that he wouldn't let her appear anywhere else - there's a certain perfect naivete about it, something untouchable in a way. For better or for worse, Caselotti had THE classic Disney voice, and I for one love both the voice and the movie it is from. She also benefits from one of the greatest soundtracks ever in a Disney movie - definitely, I would say, the greatest one before Alan Menken. I mean just LISTEN to this: . The last 10 minutes of the movie legitimately make me cry sometimes, and it's the soundtrack that really does it. (Particularly 3:20 onward).
HINT: This next write-up might not be any easier to draft. I believe some people were calling it for #1 in the last topic before the purge.
She's a classic sure, but her voice kind of grates on me to be honest. You pointed this out yourself, so it shouldn't be a surprise many people feel that way. You can sort of can forgive it for being the oldest film, but being unbiased completely I can safely say that her voice definitely, definitely isn't top 10 material.
#8 - Paige O'Hara as Belle - Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Best Song: Belle (Reprise)
DISCLAIMER: This is not a fair placement. By all means it should be higher, but personal bias stands in the way.
Let me explain.
For years, I was not a big fan of Beauty and the Beast. It's only recently that I've realized that there's really something there (lol) under the surface that I never really caught on to that makes it a somewhat deeper story than most classic Disney fare, and I realized why it gets all the love and appreciation that it gets. I still have my reasons for not thinking it's the MOST fantastic, but Belle really is a good heroine. She's a multi-layered human being, not your typical Disney princess, and she's smart, resourceful, and generally just a good person to have around.
Paige O'Hara brings all of this across in spades. She really does. Her voice is soothing like perhaps nobody else I put higher than her, and her songs (despite the fact that she really needed a solo - see: "Home" from the Broadway show for details) are very nicely sung. Where she, personally, really shines is in the reprise for "Belle". Something about her voice on "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!" just sticks with me, and when I think of that musical segment, it's always her voice that pops in my head.
But that leads me to my biggest problem with her, and the reason I couldn't put her any higher on the list. Whose voice pops in my head on literally every other song? Susan Egan. And I'm sorry, but Susan Egan on the Broadway cast recording is just...better. Let's take, as an example, the following lyrics from the song "Belle":
Oh, isn't this amazing? It's my favorite part because - you'll see! Here's where she meets Prince Charming - But she won't discover that it's him 'til Chapter 3!
Paige sings this very muted and understated; very calmly and soothing. Whereas, on the Broadway recording, Susan Egan is absolutely jubilant when she's singing these lines, though she's still able to rein it in like Paige does for the calmer parts. And that's really what this placement is about - Paige does a brilliant job, don't get me wrong, but I've been spoiled by getting used to listening to Susan Egan's recordings. Which, with the exception of the aforementioned reprise, are just better. And I'm not biased because of the wonderful additional songs that Susan gets to sing, which obviously help flesh Belle out even more as a character - I'm talking solely about the songs both actresses share. Susan wins out, and thus Paige has been pushed down to a slightly lower rung as a consequence.
It's not fair, but then again, who said anything on these lists had to be fair? I'm the one writing it, dammit. That said, she does do a remarkable job, as has been noted. She wouldn't be in the Top 10 if she didn't. I just adore Susan Egan's voice (spoiler alert), and she has a variety of emotion that is just barely missing from this performance. Sorry, fans, but this was as high as I could justify putting Paige O'Hara.
HINT for the next write-up: We've got one of those Princesses of unusual (for Disney) ethnicity coming up next.. See if you can guess which one.
....why couldn't you have just put Susan Egan and Paige O'Hara as a joint spot (like with Linda Larkin and Lea Salonga)? That WOULD have been fair.
As it stands, any Disney girl performance list without Paige O'Hara at LEAST in the top 4 is not credible. There are only three performances I would accept being above Paige's (even though I have her at #1 on my list), those are Susan Egan as Megara, Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, and Jodi Benson as Ariel. :p
Kid: She wrote a bad word! Jade: I write what I feel.
Well, I miscalculated. Belle is actually right at #5. Going on pure vocal talent, I still like Jodi Benson as Ariel, Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, Ming-Na/Lea Salonga as Mulan, and Mandy Moore as Rapunzel more than Paige O'Hara as Belle in that order.