Long before Disney purchased the rights to Marvel, Star Wars, and your childhood (coming soon), they were simply known as an animation studio. Actually, they were the premiere animation studio. To young and old alike, the Disney name was synonymous with magic. That reputation cannot be attributed to any one fact, but if you’re breaking down the element of the Disney formula that has separated them most from the competition, it’s the quality of their songs. No other animation studio, not even the mighty Pixar, has ever come close to matching the impossible brilliance of a Disney song.
While individual Disney songs tend to stick with the studios’ legions of fans, there is something to be said for the strength of a Disney film’s overall soundtrack. Not to discredit the tremendous effort it takes to craft that one Disney song that seems to echo through time, but it pales in comparison to the effort it takes to craft a collection of songs that not only sticks to your soul but so perfectly completes the narrative of the film itself. There are very few Disney soundtracks that completely miss the mark, but there is a select group of soundtracks which stand tall above the rest.
These are the 20 Best Disney Movie Soundtracks.
If you’re one of the millions of sane people who would rather watch every direct-to-video Disney sequel than hear “Let it Go” one more time, then you might initially balk at Frozen’s inclusion on this list. While it’s true that the headlining ditty did suffer from overexposure, it’s still one of the top standalone Disney tracks ever created, and a pretty good representative for the overall strength of the Frozen soundtrack.
Frozen’s soundtrack doesn’t quite recapture the brilliance of some of the top Disney compilations of the past, but it’s collection of composed tunes and stage songs does do a brilliant job of setting the film’s mood. Frozen would undoubtedly find itself higher on this list if a couple of the lyrical tunes were a little more memorable, but the way that the composed songs so perfectly fit the winter wonderland that the movie’s visuals paint elevates it to the top tier of the Disney pack.
19. Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty’s soundtrack is difficult to rank. On the one hand, it’s hard to argue that the soundtrack is somewhat devoid of truly memorable standalone songs. Tracks like “Once Upon a Dream” and “Do you Hear That/I Wonder” are certainly great tunes, but this isn’t usually one of the soundtracks that Disney fans default to when they catch themselves humming their favorite individual songs.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that Sleeping Beauty was part of a different era of Disney music design. This was the age of classic Hollywood musicals that usually utilized songs as a storytelling device rather than as hit singles. By that metric, Sleeping Beauty’s soundtrack really is one of the best. The songs featured throughout the film all do a wonderful job of dictating the direction of the narrative and work incredibly well when listened to in the context of that story.
Cinderella’s soundtrack is designed similarly to Sleeping Beauty’s – i.e. a lot of narrative-based show tunes used to advance the plot – but it has a rather large advantage in the form of some truly memorable standalone tracks that rank among the best individual Disney songs of all-time. The big winner of the bunch is, of course, “Bibbidi-Bobidi-Boo;” the “get out of my head, damn you!” tune about magic and destiny that went on to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Aside from that obvious masterpiece, there are a few heavy hitters on this list that really round out the soundtrack nicely. “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is part of that great breed of Disney song that almost never fails to make you smile, while “The Work Song” is a clever piece of music used to lend weight to a seemingly simple plot point. Good stuff all around.
17. A Goofy Movie
A Goofy Movie isn’t generally considered to be one of the top Disney classics, or even one of the better Disney movies made during the studio’s ‘90s boom period. Some hold it in a pretty high regard, but many felt that it lacked the scope of other Disney classics, as well as some of the timeless qualities which separate the House of Ideas’ films from the pack. It was built on a very trendy script that seemed to be appealing to a very specific demographic.
All that said, the soundtrack is simply amazing. Carter Burwell and Don Davis stepped outside of the Disney comfort zone when putting this one together, as it’s comprised mostly of pop-style hits, but the gamble pays off. Designed around the movie’s theme of conflicting generations, the film’s soundtrack is a mix of simply classic tunes and modified pop hits that concludes with the showstopping hit “I 2 I”, which is a fairly brilliant Michael Jackson-style tune with a Disney twist.
It’s hard to believe that Dumbo was released in 1941 when you look at just how well this film about a big-eared elephant that can fly has held up. (Well, for the most part.) Clocking in at just 64 minutes in length, Dumbo remains one of Disney’s shortest animated features, but that doesn’t exclude it from also being one of its best. The strength of both the film and the movie’s soundtrack is a certain mystical quality that almost can’t be quantified. Much like the act of going to the circus itself, Dumbo’s soundtrack is filled with wonder, amusements, and even a few frights.
All of these qualities are on full display during the hauntingly memorable “Pink Elephants on Parade” which is considered to be one of the most strangely terrifying musical moments in Disney history. Other tracks like “Look Out For Mister Stork” retain this wonderfully retro quality that has stood the test of time because they feature no irony and a lot of love.
15. The Aristocats
The Aristocats has long suffered from the misfortune of debuting between two Disney golden ages. Released in 1970, just a couple of years removed from Walt Disney’s death, The Aristocats represented a changing of the guard at the studio in many ways. That’s especially true of the film’s music, which is the final Disney animated picture worked on by the legendary Sherman brothers while they were still staff songwriters.
What’s especially impressive about that little tidbit is how the Shermans’ situation didn’t turn The Aristocats’ soundtrack into a simple tribute. Instead, much of the music featured in this film features a little nostalgia and a lot of progressive sounds. There’s certainly a few cues taken from French music in accordance with the film’s setting, but a lot of the best tracks – such as “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat” – actually stand as some of the best big band music Disney has ever produced.
14. One Hundred and One Dalmations
Despite the fact that One Hundred and One Dalmations features a songwriter as one of the lead characters, there are only three real songs in the entirety of the film. Yes, just three. The songs in question are “Kanine Krunchies Jingle,” “Dalmatian Plantation,” and “Cruella De Vil.” There were more songs written for the film, some of which were incorporated into soundtrack releases and later versions, but the base film contains one of the slimmest soundtracks in Disney history.
But you know what? That’s okay. This is certainly one of those cases of quality over quantity as the music that is used throughout this movie is implemented in ways that greatly contribute to what’s occurring onscreen. It certainly doesn’t hurt that one of the songs in question, “Cruella De Vil,” stands as (arguably) the greatest Disney villain song ever, and an incredibly well-composed piece of music in its own right.
13. Snow White and The Seven Dwarves
There’s an incredibly strong argument to be made that Snow White and The Seven Dwarves has the best soundtrack of the original Disney golden era films. That bold declaration becomes all the more impressive when you remind yourself that it was also the first real Disney animated feature film and the one that created the blueprint for the movies of that design that would follow.
So what is it that the Snow White soundtrack gets right which few, if any, other Disney films of this era don’t? So much of the appeal of this film’s soundtrack is based on the strength of its top-tier songs. “Whistle While You Work” is arguably the most catchy of the songs on the soundtrack, and even it pales in comparison to “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Outside of those hallmark songs, anyone who revisits Snow White will be pleased to find that nearly every tune sticks with you in some way.
12. Oliver and Company
The idea behind Oliver and Company’s soundtrack is a relatively simple one. Basically, producer Jeffrey Katzenberg got the idea to accompany composer J. A. C. Redford’s instrumental score with a series of songs developed by big name musicians such as Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, and Bette Midler. While it might sound easy to just get a bunch of talented musicians together and tell them to contribute something, you have to consider just how easily that plan can fall apart if everyone involved isn’t sticking to some kind of theme.
The reason this particular example of that style works as well as it does is because the theme in question is New York City. With that metropolis as the artists’ muse, everyone involved ended up contributing a song that not only stands on its own but feels like a perfect part of the story in question. This all-star approach lends the Oliver and Company soundtrack a unique personality in terms of Disney films.
11. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame finds itself just outside of the top ten, much as the film itself tends to find itself somewhere on the outside of most people’s shortlist of personal favorite ‘90s Disney films. This retelling of the classic Victor Hugo-penned tale lacks none of the heart that we’ve come to associate with the best movies this studio has produced, but there is something familiar about the affair which perhaps keeps it a step below some of Disney’s other productions.
The film’s soundtrack, however, is simply stunning. Most of the tracks featured in Hunchback carry an epic, gothic, sweeping orchestral quality which would not be out of place in the best of broadway productions. Tracks like “Hellfire” have the incredible ability to be both thematically complex and somehow impossible catchy. Meanwhile, songs such as “Topsy Turvy” manage to admirably fulfill the grand joyous song requirement that all animated Disney features much check off.
This is roughly the time we begin to enter the “choosing favorite children” portion of this list. First off, let it be known that in a rundown of the very best individual Disney songs ever committed to film, “When You Wish Upon a Star” would be a top-two candidate. It’s a tune that speaks to the very soul of just about anyone who hears it, and it set a nearly impossible to match standard for all other singles that would follow. It is the iconic song of this movie and Disney’s entire style of score composition.
The question then becomes, “How does the rest of the Pinocchio soundtrack compare?” While there is no other single song on the soundtrack that compares to that one, the strength of tracks such as “I’ve Got No Strings” and “Give a Little Whistle” cannot be denied. Leigh Harline and Ned Washington’s ability to squeeze so much musical excellence out of the concept of Pinocchio is truly magical.
Fun fact: the initial draft of this list had Hercules somewhere outside of the top 15 when selections were made based on memory alone. Why is that? Well, much like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules suffers somewhat from being released a few years after that top-tier crop of Disney classics that debuted in the early ‘90s. The movie itself is far from Disney phoning it in, but you can definitely see their formula take hold as the film progresses.
The soundtrack, however, is everything you could ever want from a Disney movie. “Go The Distance,” a song that serves as an anthem for those who dare to dream, has rightfully become the star song of the film, but even more simple tunes such as the variations of “The Gospel Truth,” “Long Ago…,” and “Zero to Hero” manage to hold their own in comparison to that truly great song. Hercules’ soundtrack is the kind that you can easily listen to all day.
Pocahontas was a bold Disney movie. Placed somewhere in the middle of the Disney renaissance of the ‘90s, it dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter – the fate of Native Americans and their culture – and actually takes a pretty firm stance on the issue while arguing its points with romanticism. The shining jewel of its approach, in terms of music, is undoubtedly the track “Colors of the Wind.” It’s not necessarily a sentimental track in the sense that it’s trying to speak to some fundamental human quality, but it so elegantly presents an argument for concepts like tolerance, understanding, and love that it certainly awakens something in everyone that hears it.
The majority of the rest of the soundtrack manages to find a fair balance between “catchy tune” and “plot piece.” Tracks like “Savages” are almost unbearably cruel (in a good way) while “Just Around the Riverbend” is a classic Disney princess tune.
7. The Jungle Book
As you may soon discover as you glance at the rest of this list’s entrants, The Jungle Book is essentially being elected as the best soundtrack of the original Disney golden era. Its status as such is, admittedly, a matter of great debate. If there is somehow a way that point could be argued in a way that everyone will at least sympathize with, it probably would have something to do with the sheer amount of classic songs featured on the film’s soundtrack.
There are six major tracks on this film’s soundtrack, and they are all exceptional. Two of them (“The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You”) even regularly rank among the very best single songs ever featured in Disney films. This is a timeless soundtrack that manages to outlive even the strength of the film itself and forges the identity of a story that is still being retold.
For a new generation of Disney fans, Aladdin was the film that really ignited the spark of what Disney is capable of achieving when they are at their very best. Perhaps even more impressively, it also managed to reignite the spark that some older Disney fans once had for the studios’ movies when they were kids. It was a brilliant reimagining of the Disney formula that set a new standard for years to come.
Aladdin’s soundtrack is as brilliant as the rest of the film. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a consensus answer to the question of which song on the soundtrack is the best of them all. Many will point to the sweeping sounds of “A Whole New World,” but there’s a strong argument to be made for “Arabian Nights,” “Prince Ali,” or “Friend Like Me.” That’s the wonderful thing about this soundtrack. It just never stops delivering all-time great songs.
Mulan wasn’t technically the final film of the Disney Renaissance, but rather the last entrant into that era that felt like it retained the qualities and spirit of the movement. Much like Pocahontas and Aladdin, it took a look at a corner of the world or of history that you probably would have never expected Disney to look at. Yet, shortly into the film, it becomes apparent that the reason this particular setting was chosen is because it is rich in potential.
Nowhere is that truer than when talking about the film’s soundtrack. Once again, the film’s biggest songs are the big stage musical pieces that everyone leaves the theaters humming, but Mulan distinguishes itself based on the strength of its orchestral numbers. Everyone remembers how good songs like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You Are,” but it’s tracks like “The Huns Attack” which feel like they could have just as easily come from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack which really makes Mulan one of the all-time best.
4. Beauty and the Beast
If it feels like some people speak bitterly about the upcoming live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast despite the fact that everything revealed about the film thus far seems to be encouraging, it likely has something to do with the fact that Disney pretty much perfected the story back in 1991 with their feature-length animated adaptation of the classic fairy tale. Beauty and the Beast showed everyone who had a doubt in their mind that Disney was no longer capable of producing the same kind of animated movies that they once did that they were simply wrong.
Really, though, it’s the music that makes the film as great as it is. Beauty and the Beast received three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song (“Be our Guest,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Belle”), but the real highlight of the soundtrack is the way that it comes together in the context of the film to help paint a picture that will indeed be difficult to recreate.
3. The Little Mermaid
The fact that you probably started humming the opening bars to “Kiss the Girl” as soon as you read this entrant really does seem to justify its lofty ranking, doesn’t it? The Little Mermaid soundtrack has gone platinum a stunning seven times, and even that figure seems to not justify just how great it is. The praises of songs such as “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Under the Sea,” and “Part of your World” could be sung until all seven million of those sold albums have been played concurrently, but the sheer song quality on display throughout this film isn’t even the most impressive aspect of its soundtrack.
No, that would be its impact. The Little Mermaid was a wake-up call to the way that a carefully curated selection of songs could make audiences feel. Long after the age of the Hollywood musical had withered away, The Little Mermaid’s soundtrack came along and compelled audiences well outside of the story’s demographic to sing along.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas
When The Nightmare Before Christmas was first revealed, much of the hype surrounding it involved its animation style and the fact that Disney was partnering up with the eccentric, but undeniably creative, Tim Burton. Everyone was certainly intrigued by the prospect, but there were some doubts regarding whether or not these two creative entities could co-exist and produce something worthy of the legacies of both.
Those doubts were erased the moment that the film began and the citizens of Halloween Town burst into their annual rendition of “This is Halloween.” In fact, you could argue that is producer Danny Elfman’s soundtrack which helps ensure the eccentric genius of Burton and Disney’s particular style were able to meet in the middle and form something special. They are so strong, in fact, that Nightmare Before Christmas becomes one of those Disney films that inspires even multi-time viewers to sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next big musical number.
1. The Lion King
Part of the argument for why The Lion King deserves to be the top-rated Disney soundtrack of all-time is based on the way that it represents the best qualities of nearly every other great Disney soundtrack. It has the stirring orchestral songs that make Mulan special (The Lion King‘s are composed by Hans Zimmer, no less), it features the celebrity contributions of Sir Elton John, and it even harkens back to the music of the golden age films by ensuring that every track featured in the movie contributes to the advancement of the plot in some meaningful way.
Honestly, though, its unrivaled position at the top of this list has more to do with the fact that its five musical numbers are “Circle of Life,” “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” “Be Prepared,” “Hakuna Matata,” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” That’s an all-star collection of individual songs that will likely never be topped by Disney — or any other studio.
Did your favorite Disney collection make the cut? Will any soundtrack ever be able to top The Lion King? Sound off in the comments section.
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