At this point, that I’m a huge fan of Disney movies should not be a surprise to anyone. Though I’m not one of those huge fanatics who goes to Disneyland every year or pays a ludicrous amount of money on collectible figurines or anything, like most people on the internet, I grew up watching Disney films, and watching lot of their mid to late 90’s stuff still remains a cherished aspect of my childhood. For that reason, I loved their newest effort, Frozen, and found it to be a return to classic form for the studio. One of the best aspects of the film was the fact that it was a full fledged musical—and a really good one at that. So after being reminded of just how great the music of Disney animated films could be, I decided to take a look back at some of my favorites, and to make this list much easier, the best soundtracks of the last 20 years or so for the brand.
By 20 years, I mean the years of 1993-2013; so sorry, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Also, by “soundtrack,” I mean the music that accompanied the film—it doesn’t have to solely be music made for it, or sung by characters in the film itself. It’s just a list of the soundtracks that made the biggest impact on the film’s they were featured in. But enough dilly dallying—let’s do this.
Okay guys, listen: taken from an original song perspective, Lilo & Stitch doesn’t deserve a spot on this list. The few original songs on its soundtrack (“Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” and “He Mele No Lilo” ) aren’t much to talk home about, even if they served their part well in the film overall. But what makes this soundtrack so brilliant (and the film as well, by the way) is the implementation of Elvis Presley. Though sampling a good portion of his music in a film about the bond between a little girl and an alien in Hawaii doesn’t make a lot of sense at first, it works perfectly in the film itself—to the point I can’t even imagine a Lilo & Stitch existing without it. It’s offbeat yet charming—which matches the sensibilities of the film perfectly, if you ask me.
Here’s one such example, which uses the tune “Devil in Disguise” to great effect:
Or the great record player gag, as seen here:
Ah yes, the soundtrack that inspired this list in the first place—I’m beyond thrilled that this film has a soundtrack good enough to find placement here, as I’ve been listening to it in full practically everyday of the past few weeks (oh come now, it’s a short album—and I do a lot of computer work, okay?) But in my mind this soundtrack has only gotten better the more I’ve listened to it, with not a single dud in the entire thing. In fact I would have placed this higher on the list, but…well, it’s only a few weeks old. I need to see its staying power first before I can praise it to the high heavens. I won’t swoon too much over this one (I’ve done plenty of that for the site already), but I hope the sure to be success of this soundtrack inspires Disney to create even more music-based features in the future…lord knows we can use them now a days.
Here’s the star track of the show, the absolutely amazing Let It Go, performed brilliantly by Edina Menzel:
And the super fun, classic Disney tune “Fixer Upper”:
Let’s continue with one of Disney’s most forgettable films of the 90’s—Tarzan. Well the film isn’t up to the standards of the stuff that came earlier in the decade (or even the year after…I heart The Emperor’s New Groove), it’s still a good, if not great Disney flick—and its soundtrack can stand with the best of Disney music. Featuring songs written and performed by the great Phil Collins, there’s a lot of great tunes in Tarzan—maybe not as emotionally impactful as Elton John’s work on The Lion King (more on that later), but still well made and addictive to listen to. I mean, who could possibly forget the likes of “You’ll Be In My Heart,” “Two Worlds, and “Son of Man?” Also, I heard that like everyday as a kid, since I watched A Bug’s Life on VHS every chance I could pretty much get…damn you Movie Surfers. Damn you to hell.
Here’s my personal favorite, the aforementioned “Son of Man”:
And the sole Phil Collins-less track of the bunch, the incredibly addictive and really fun to listen to “Trashin’ the Camp”:
Okay, fuck it, I’m breaking my arbitrary rules…cause like, Aladdin man. And besides, Aladdin came out in November 1992—it was only like a month away from the 1993 cutoff, right? And furthermore, how could I possibly mention modern Disney music without mentioning the absolute wonder that is the soundtrack to Aladdin? It’s a highlight of my youth and, though I’m sure nostalgia blinds me a bit in this department, stuff like “One Jump Ahead” or “A Whole New World” (of course) would be fantastic songs no matter what age I heard them. Even the more Broadway fluff type pieces (“Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”) are terrific fun that only Disney is really capable of crafting on an animated plain.
Here’s my already mentioned favorite track, “One Jump Ahead,” that introduces the Aladdin character pretty wonderfully in my opinion:
And “A Whole New World” because…well, it’s “A Whole New World”; how could I NOT mention it?
Ah, but here we are, number one on the countdown—honestly, are you surprised at all to see The Lion King take first place. All the music of the film isn’t just brilliant; it’s iconic cinema as a whole. The opening prologue to the strings of “Circle of Life” is one of those moments that will forever be a part of cinema history, and represents the pure magic of the Disney brand at its finest. Not only are the Elton John/Tim Rice songs a joy to listen to, but just hearing the music in and of itself is enough to get an emotional response out of me. It’s pure beauty really, and combined with one of Hans Zimmer’s (and hell, Disney’s itself) best score, The Lion King is an absolutely flawless soundtrack from opening song to closing.
Here’s that opening song as an example—but seriously, do you really need to listen to “Circle of Life” again? It’s practically a cultural staple at this point:
And one of the best villain based songs of the Disney catalog, the terrifically mischievous “Be Prepared”:
And that’s that, the best Disney soundtracks of the past few decades. I had a couple I had to regretfully keep off the list (most notably Mulan and Hercules), but overall I’m quite pleased with my picks. But what say you? Am I completely wrong about this whole thing like I so often am, or spot on with all my choices? Please let me know in the comments!