You can’t separate the magic of a Walt Disney movie from the soundtrack that accompanies it.
More often than not, it’s the music that enhances our understanding of the Disney viewing experience, and with The Little Mermaid remake now on release, featuring music by original film composer Alan Menken, we’re digging deeper into the archives. .
Here, then, are the best and most memorable Disney soundtracks from the studio’s storied history.
The best Disney soundtracks
10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
In tenth place and starting the top 10 is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney’s bracingly mature adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel benefits greatly from Alan Menken’s highly dramatic score, one of his best for a Disney animation.
Vanguard choral songs and passionate strings arias pair perfectly with songs co-written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz (‘Out There,’ ‘God Help the Outcasts,’ ‘Hellfire’), which lament the tragedy and celebrate the humanity of the titular Quasimodo. Both Menken and Schwartz were Oscar nominated for their efforts.
9. Frozen (2013)
After Frozen, it was impossible for any Disney addict to just “let it go.” The Oscar-winning power ballad was composed by husband-and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and memorably performed by Idina Menzel in her role as Queen Elsa.
It honors and updates Disney’s long tradition of song as a liberating form of outward expression. But let’s not forget the stalwart efforts of composer Christophe Beck, whose strong underscore is layered with elegant notes of wintry charm and propulsive adventure.
8. Aladdin (1992)
In 8th place is Aladdin. Alan Menken’s third Disney project is a riot of Middle Eastern mysticism and inspired Robin Williams in his role as Genie. The latter’s boisterous ‘Friend Like Me’ is just one of the gems on the Aladdin soundtrack, which Menken collaborated on with lyricist Tim Rice after Howard Ashman’s death in 1991.
The romantic duet ‘A Whole New World’ clinched the Oscar and Menken’s (also an Oscar winner) colorful underscore swirls and eddies like the sands of Agrabah. In 2019, Menken successfully revised his work for Guy Ritchie’s live-action remake.
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7. Mulan (1998)
Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping score for Mulan revisits the same methodology as his masterful work on The Secret of NIMH (1982): treat animation as you would live action. Goldsmith’s trademark mastery of brass is enriched with subtle electronic interludes and majestic character writing, honoring Mulan’s evolution into a classic Disney hero.
Goldsmith shared his latest Oscar nomination with songwriters Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, whose eclectic contributions range from the humorous (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You”) to the empowering (“Reflection,” performed by Christina Aguilera).
6. The Lion King (1994)
Composer Hans ZimmerThe Oscar-winning work is the beating heart of the orphaned lion Simba’s redemption, unerringly dramatic as it taps into the story’s undercurrents that imitate Hamlet.
Of the coral in motion requiems to celebratory African instrumentation, plus vocals from Lebo M and Carmen Twillie, Lion King it remains one of Zimmer’s greatest achievements. The same could be said for songwriters Elton John and Tim Rice, who bagged their own Academy Award for the romantic ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
We Name Zimmer One of the Greatest Film Composers of All Time
5. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Here’s the movie that kicked off Disney’s ‘renaissance’ period, rescuing the company from the slump. Oscar-winning music by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman gets at least 50% of the credit for that, eliminating years of creative stalemate through artful songwriting, a vibrant sense of Broadway sensationalism, and intricate instrumentation. of calypso.
In its larger-than-life capacities, The Little Mermaid soundtrack transformed the eponymous Ariel into more than just another animated character—it became emblematic of a bold new era of Disney animation. In 2023, Menken revisits and updates his work, tweaking existing songs and creating new ones in collaboration with Moana’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.
4. Fantasy (1940)
In 4th place is Fancy. Most Disney movies get an original, non-diegetic soundtrack from one or more people, but the groundbreaking Fantasia offers something different. This Disney musical anthology features eight animated interludes from a repertoire of beloved musical themes, conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed largely by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which includes artists such as Tchaikovsky (‘the nutcracker suite‘) and Stravinsky (‘the ritual of spring‘). It’s a somewhat unusual but intriguing take on the Mouse House, and has been credited with introducing younger audiences to a rich variety of classic staples.
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Emotional and gleamingly beautiful Disney animation, one of the studio’s crowning achievements, emerges from the back of Alan Menken’s soundtrack. The title track, which accompanies the famous computer-assisted dance between the Beast and Beauty, has the sensitive tones of Angela Lansbury, and the theme acts as the backbone of Menken’s sumptuous underscore.
Darkly dramatic and painfully romantic by turns, one imagines that the soulful tone of Menken’s work was influenced by the tragic passing of collaborator Howard Ashman mid-production (Tim Rice later chimed in).
2.Mary Poppins (1964)
The work of the Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, is the musical backbone of this live-action Disney classic. Her imaginative songwriting is infused with even greater levels of nuance, courtesy of Julie Andrews’ unrivaled, mellifluous voice, which ranges musically from whimsical (‘A Spoonful of Sugar’) to incredibly soulful (‘Feed the Birds,’ which Walt Disney described as his personal favorite).
The construction of the soundtrack was notoriously difficult, overseen by prickly Mary Poppins auteur PL Travers, but Sherman’s work has more than stood the test of time.
we name Mary Poppins one of the best movie musicals of all time
1. The Jungle Book (1967)
And the title of best Disney soundtrack goes to The jungle book. Who would have thought that toe-tapping jazz would mesh so effectively with Rudyard Kipling’s classic source material? This beloved Disney animation (the last one Walt Disney supervised in his lifetime) swings for the fences, tonally speaking, and evokes what is probably the catchiest and most popular Disney soundtrack of all time.
From ‘Bare Necessities’ to ‘I Wanna Be Like You’, the film features enough classic tracks for several Disney movies combined, further buoyed by the bona fide presence of jazz artists including Louis Prima. With contributions from composer George Bruns and the Sherman brothers, it’s a funky and highly entertaining example of how music emboldens the Disney brand.
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