Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Top 8 Disney Soundtracks

I've written about Disney music before, on my blog post My Top 10 Disney Songs Sung by Males, but I wanted to make a list detailing the best Disney soundtracks overall. Sometimes a movie will have just one or two solid songs, while others seem to be just awesome all the way through. So, without further ado, here are my favorite Disney soundtracks overall, building from least favorite (of these eight) to most favorite.

8. Tarzan
(songs by Phil Collins)

Breaking with Disney tradition a bit, Tarzan only had two of its songs actually being performed by the characters in the movie, while the rest were presented as regular pop songs scoring the action, in typical movie soundtrack fashion. However, I actually really enjoyed all the songs, even though the characters didn't sing them. They're energetic and upbeat and fun to listen to even outside of the context of the story.

That being said, though, my favorite song from the movie is one of the ones the characters actually perform. I'm a sucker for musical numbers that take their musical cues from what is physically happening in the scene -- such as, in this case, discovering that destroying various objects in rhythm is fun. (I wrote a lot about this in my musical spotlight of The Music Man, where a lot of the songs do this.) The song is short, but fun... and the a capella pop cover by Phil Collins and N*Sync is actually one of my very favorite silly pick-me-up songs.

Favorite song: "Trashin' the Camp."

7. Frozen
(songs by Kristen Anderson Lopez and Robert Lopez)

This one might be a bit cliched to pick at the moment, as everyone and their dog is in love with Frozen, but I really do think this is the first great Disney soundtrack we've had in years, after the disappointingly bland Tangled (c'mon, Alan Menken, you are MUCH better than that) and the fun-but-not-memorable The Princess and the Frog (it's less surprising that Randy Newman's score wasn't awesome). I've loved Robert Lopez's theater work, so it's not at all surprising that I fell in love with the songs he and his wife pulled together for this.

It's not all about "Let It Go," though. "In Summer" is just the right length to be a funny, entertaining sidekick song without getting annoying, "Love Is An Open Door" is a perfect tribute to Disney love ballads, and "Frozen Heart" captured my attention right from the beginning of the movie. Great stuff.

Favorite song: ...Yeah, it's still "Let It Go." I don't know anyone doesn't love that song.

6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz)

It's not as all-around solid as some of the later additions on this list, but a few of the songs in here are absolutely drop-dead gorgeous... not to mention "A Guy Like You," which, despite my hatred for the existence of the gargoyles in this movie, is one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack. It's just so much fun to dance and sing along with.

Aside from that one song (which, though delightful, doesn't really fit in with the rest of the soundtrack... much as the gargoyles don't fit with the rest of the movie), the score has a lovely dark tone to it, creating a beautifully atmospheric backdrop for the story.

Favorite song: "Out There."

5. A Goofy Movie
(songs by Tom Snow, Jack Feldman, Patrick DeRemer & Roy Freeland)

I mentioned my unusual love for these songs on my Disney guy songs blog, and it's still true. Aside from the not-as-awesome-as-the-rest "On the Open Road" (though I still go through spurts where I thoroughly enjoy it), the songs featured in the movie are some of my very favorites to listen to. There are two Michael Jackson-esque pop songs that are infectiously catchy and then two more typical Disneyesque songs that I love with pretty much all my heart.

This ends up being a weirdly hard one to defend because, first, the movie itself is not so great and, second, nobody but me seems to actually enjoy the songs. But I still love it, and it makes me feel cool to have a less traditional pick in my list, since the top four on my list are unlikely to surprise anyone.

Favorite song: "After Today." Maybe my #1 Disney song ever. EVER. It is almost impossible for me to still feel sad after listening to that song.

4. The Little Mermaid
(songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman)

Alan Menken in the eighties and nineties was freaking AWESOME. The Little Mermaid has not only some of the most iconic Disney songs, but also truly some of the best. "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is a really fantastic villain song, "Part of Your World" is probably the best I-want-more-out-of-life song Disney's ever produced, and "Les Poissons," although short, is hilarious.

And, of course, we can't forget my favorite song from the show, which gave us one of the most tremendously entertaining animated song sequences of all time. The lyrics are clever, the music is fun, it builds from a funky little number into an enormous sing-along involving, apparently, the entire population of the ocean. It's a delightful song that always put a smile on my face.

Favorite song: Well, if you hadn't guessed by now, you probably haven't seen the movie. It's "Under the Sea."

3. Aladdin
(songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice)

This one went back and forth with The Little Mermaid as to which was going to be #3 and which was going to be #4. In the end, though, this one came out on top, because while "A Whole New World" isn't as good a ballad as "Part of Your World," the fun songs in this are just so much fun. "Friend Like Me" is entertaining, though Robin Williams' many-voiced performance is a little much, "Prince Ali" has wonderful lyrics and a wonderful grandiose feel to it...

The cream of the crop, however, was yet another one mentioned in my Best Guy Disney Songs blog, a fast-paced, energetic, delightful song that follows Aladdin as he runs through the streets of Agrabah. It captures the sense of adventurous playfulness that is at the heart of not only Aladdin himself, but the entire movie. The only thing missing from this soundtrack is a great villain song.

Favorite song: "One Jump Ahead."

2. The Lion King
(songs by Elton John and Tim Rice)

OK, let me preface this by saying I don't like "Hakuna Matata" much. I think it's fun but there's not a lot of actual song to the song -- it's like 90% just repeating the catchy chorus over and over with dialogue in between. However, all the other songs on this soundtrack are so good that it just kept scooting its way up until it was in second place.

"Circle of Life" is one of my favorite opening movie songs ever. It perfectly sets the tone for the majestic opening scene, and the gorgeous animation matches it beautifully. It's just a breathtakingly great way to start off the movie. Usually I'd be uninterested in a pop ballad like "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," but it works perfectly in the movie's context, and I've grown to really love its simple melody. And "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" is so cheerful and fun and captures the feel of being young and (stupidly) carefree.

But best of all is The Best Disney Villain Song Of All Time. Ever. Gives me chills every time I watch the clip.

Favorite song: "Be Prepared."

1. Beauty and the Beast
(songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman)

Yup, the Menken/Ashman team managed to create three amazing movie soundtracks in four years, but this one is by far my favorite. There's not a single song here I don't really, really love. The title song is simple and elegant and beautiful. There are two amazing villain songs -- one comedic and one dramatic, and it's always a toss-up which one I'll love more on any given day. "Be Our Guest" is pretty much the definition of a show-stopping number. Even "Belle," which is a little bit lower if I were to put all the songs in order, is a wonderfully energetic number that does a great job of introducing us to our main character and who she is in the context of her world.

The lyrics are intelligent and fun, the music is memorable and gorgeous and delightful, and I have perhaps never had more fun being part of an ensemble than when I got to be in this show and hear these songs every night. There truly is a magic to them for me.

Favorite song: Guys, I'm not even sure I can choose one. So for now I'm going to go with "Beauty and the Beast," because I haven't had a lot of songs sung by girls on this list and it is so pretty.

Which ones would be on your list?


  1. For me, any discussion of Disney music takes place in two parts: The Lion King, and everything else they've ever done. TLK is flawless, though I concur with you about the thinness of "Hakuna Matata". In the last couple of years, I finally came around to where you are on "Be Prepared". It's the strongest song in the movie, and I would argue by extension, it's the greatest song in the Disney canon.

    Plus, the score is one of the few that Hans Zimmer has composed that's listenable on its own, before he devolved into the minimalist, low-register droning aesthetic that has dominated his work. His motifs for Mufasa and Simba are appropriately grand but also tender. I get goosebumps just thinking of that moment after Mufasa's lecture about responsibility, when they're looking up to the sky and all of a sudden, Zimmer's score becomes sweeping and majestic. God, that's gold!

    I'd probably pick The Little Mermaid next. Its vocal songs are all terrific, and again I'd agree with you in picking "Under the Sea" as my fave. I don't have any complaints about the score, but I also don't have any strong favorable reactions to it. It services the movie well enough, but it doesn't thrill me the way Zimmer's Lion King work does.

    I've recently rediscovered how perfect Pinocchio is. I'm not a big "When You Wish upon a Star" fan, but revisiting the movie I was wowed by its music. The hand drawn animation is astounding, but I'd forgotten entirely how perfectly the music complements the visual. There's a certain kind of symphonic structure and grandeur that feels like a throwback to stage theater more than Hollywood. Lots of wind instruments in that music, which has the effect of creating a sort of airiness befitting a wondrous fairy tale. Prior to revisiting the movie in 2012 on DVD, I couldn't have said anything at all about its music, but now it's a soundtrack album on my To Get list.

    Offhand, those are the only ones I can name that I really loved. The rest of the Disney music library that I've heard tends to fall more into a range of serviceable music bolstered by one or two really strong songs, down to entirely forgettable. I'm sure as soon as I hit "Publish" and enter my CAPTCHA, I'll think of something else that I love, though.

  2. Great picks! Tarzan has such a wonderful soundtrack. That one always instantly comes to mind.

  3. I wonder if you caught this story on "Let it Go" when it was on PRI's The World. You might find it interesting: