The Canon’s Best Original Soundtracks

One of the most memorable aspects of the Disney animated canon is the music. Even though I already reviewed the music for each movie in the main countdown, I thought it would be worthwhile to recognize the best of the best. Please note that I am including original soundtracks only, so the two Fantasia movies, the Elvis songs from Lilo & Stitch, and a few others are not eligible for inclusion here. Since I already reviewed each movie’s music in the main countdown these will be brief summaries.

#10. Cinderella and The Princess and the Frog (tie)

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Some may accuse me of cheating by having a tie. Well, get over it because it’s not the only one on here. Between the two movies are three Oscar-nominated songs. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” “Down in New Orleans,” and “Almost There” are all quite good and deserved their nominations. The other songs in Cinderella are pretty fun too. It has earned its status as a classic and beloved soundtrack. Randy Newman’s work on The Princess and the Frog is also quite good. “Friends on the Other Side” is a great villain song and my favorite form the movie. The other songs are quite fun too. These two are unfortunately overlooked by better, more popular soundtracks, but they’re still great and you should check them out if you haven’t already.

#9. Tangled

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Here we have Alan Menken’s triumphant return to the animated canon. While he had been a staple of the Disney Renaissance in the early years, he left after Hercules and unfortunately wasn’t heard from again until Home on the Range. After that failure he was again gone from the canon’s movies until this. It’s so good that Home on the Range can easily be forgiven. While none of the songs reach the unforgettable status of his earlier work, they’re still very good. It’s a shame “I See the Light” didn’t win the Oscar. “Mother Knows Best” is my favorite in the movie, and a most worthy addition to the canon’s villain songs. If you haven’t checked this one out, get on it.

#8. Pinocchio

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Here we have Disney Golden Age magic at its best. As I said in the main review the Oscar-winning “When You Wish Upon a Star” is the quintessential Disney song, and starts the movie off right. The others are all classics in their own right. They’re catchy and fun for the entire family. “Little Wooden Head,” “Give a Little Whistle,” and the rest are all great examples of Disney seamlessly integrating music and storytelling while being entertaining at the same time. This is truly a treasure.

#7. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

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Here we have some of the Sherman Brothers’ finest work. Like Pinocchio they’re all catchy family fun. The theme song, “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers,” “Heffalumps and Woozles,” and the rest are all infectious in the best way. These are best songs in the entire Winnie the Pooh franchise. Even the Lopezes’ songs from the 2011 movie, while good and in the spirit of these originals, can’t match them. If you’ve never heard these gems before, get on it.

#6. Hercules and Mulan (tie)

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Here are two unfortunately overlooked entries from the latter part of the Renaissance. Hercules marked the last time Alan Menken would work on one of the canon’s movies until Home on the Range. It’s excellent, and it’s a shame “Go the Distance” didn’t win the Oscar. They’re all fun, catchy, and relate the story very nicely. Mulan likewise is full of great songs. As I said in the main review “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is my favorite song in the canon. That alone would get this movie a spot in the top ten soundtracks, and when you add the others it really earns its place here.

#5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan (tie)

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Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz did a fantastic job with the soundtrack on Hunchback. Every one of the songs wins, yes even “A Guy Like You” (see full review). Also, as mentioned in the full review, “Hellfire” is the canon’s best villain song, and “God Help the Outcasts” provides a great contrast between genuine prayer and using God as a genie. Music is the movie’s weakest point in the four main categories (see “Introduction” in Part 1) and it’s still very strong! The chanting interspersed throughout really adds to the movie. Phil Collins’ work in Tarzan is just excellent. This soundtrack doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It was the last movie in the canon to win a Best Song Oscar until Frozen, and so marks a fitting end to the best era in Disney history.

#4. The Jungle Book

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Here we have the Sherman Brothers at their best. The songs are catchy, fun, tell the story, and easily help make up for the movie’s flaws in the animation department. As mentioned in the main review, the best song in the movie—the one nominated for the Oscar—was not written by the Sherman Brothers. Terry Gilkyson hit it out of the park with “The Bare Necessities.” It’s a shame it didn’t win.

#3. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (tie)

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Ah, here we have the golden first half of the Renaissance, when Disney music dominated the Oscars. Between these three movies are seven Oscar nominees for Best Song, and three winners. “Under the Sea” marked the first time a canon film won the Oscar since Pinocchio way back in 1940. Yes, it was almost 50 years before the canon got its second Oscar win for Best Song! All three movies are superb. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are one of the best songwriting duos in the history of cinema, and who else but Tim Rice could prove a worthy successor to Ashman and finish the songs for Aladdin? If you’ve never heard these songs, you need to get on that!

#2. Frozen

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This should be no surprise since I mentioned in the main review I thought Frozen was the second best original soundtrack in the canon. “Let It Go” is nothing short of amazing and deserved its Oscar win, the canon’s first since Tarzan won for “You’ll Be in My Heart” in 1999. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,”—the best exposition song in the canon—got robbed; it definitely a deserved an Oscar nomination. All the songs are fun, and infectious in the best way. Even the weaker songs like “Fixer Upper” and “Frozen Heart” are still plenty enjoyable. This is one of the best examples of songs-as-storytelling in the canon. It has earned its critical acclaim.

#1. The Lion King

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Again, this should be no surprise since I mentioned in the main review that I thought this movie has the best original soundtrack in the canon. Here we have a fitting end to golden first half of the Renaissance. With this movie Elton John and Tim Rice produced three Oscar nominees for Best Song, and one winner. They’re all great. Hans Zimmer’s score is epic, and the African music interspersed throughout really adds to the atmosphere. There is no finer original soundtrack in the canon. It’s pretty much perfect. I doubt any future entries will ever top this masterpiece.

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The Canon’s Best Original Soundtracks