What’s Disney’s Best Animated Musical Soundtrack? An Investigation

Who doesn’t love Disney movies? Unless you’re a lifeless homunculus with a bag of decaying bones where your heart should be, you likely have enjoyed at least one of these timeless classics in your lifetime. Sure, they are wonderfully animated, impeccably written and full of stories that tug at the heartstrings, but what makes these movies so inherently special? The music.

This is largely thanks to intrinsically talented lyricists like Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and their melodic genius counterparts such as Alan Menken and a post-Genesis Phil Collins. They gave our childhoods a soundtrack and helped shape these movies into an experience that likely stuck with us for decades to come.

What’s interesting is that they are so, so, oh so god dang good, that we often have difficulties labeling one as the definitive best. How can you honestly say that The Beauty and the Beast soundtrack is better than The Little Mermaid? That’s too hard, and if you do have an answer, it’s based entirely on personal preference. If only there was a way to definitively state which one was best.

Now there is! Well, kind of. I mean, if you want to take the system I created below as one of value, sure you can definitely figure out which Disney soundtrack is the tops. Here’s how it works. I assembled what I believe to be the top 14 Disney soundtracks over the past 50+ years. This was based on the entire soundtrack as a whole, not one or two songs. Each of the top fourteen will be ranked 1 to 14, 1 being the best, scored in each of the following five qualifiers:

  • Quantity of Quality Songs on Soundtrack: How many hits were present on each soundtrack?
  • Strength of Musical Composition: Based on the melodic structure of the song, which was best?
  • Battle of the Best Songs From Soundtrack: Pick the best song from each and rank from 1 to 14.
  • How Integral Are The Songs In The Movie? Do they flow within the movie and move along the plot, or simply used to add a fun song?
  • Critical & Commercial Performance: Which soundtrack was most revered, via awards or album sales, or both?

Here are the top 14 selections, in chronological order:

  1. The Jungle Book (1967)
  2. The Little Mermaid (1989)
  3. The Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  4. Aladdin (1992)
  5. The Lion King (1994)
  6. Pocahontas (1995)
  7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  8. Hercules (1997)
  9. Mulan (1998)
  10. Tarzan (1999)
  11. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
  12. Tangled (2010)
  13. Frozen (2013)
  14. Moana (2016)

Now each film’s soundtrack will be ranked from 1 to 14, 1 being the best. Each will then receive points depending on wherever they are ranked. So, 1st will net 100 points, 2nd will net 95, 3rd will net 90, and continue to decrease by 5 per drop in rank (e.g. the 14th will net just 35 points). Points will be tallied at the end and then we’ll know how they stack! Fair enough? Let’s get into it!

  • Quantity of Quality Songs on Soundtrack

This section will tackle how many certified hits each soundtrack features. Sure, they all feature well-conceived songs throughout, but which ones truly resonate with us years later. For example, The Little Mermaid, in my opinion, features 4 notable hit songs: “Under The Sea,” “Part of Your World,” “Kiss The Girl” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” While Daughters of Triton is a good song, that’s not the type of track you’d pop on Spotify in 2017, like any one of the five I chose from Aladdin: “Arabian Nights,” “One Jump Ahead,” “Prince Ali,” “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.” On the flip side, Tangled ranks last on this section with just one certifiable hit track: “I See The Light,” which was nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

  1. The Beauty and the Beast
  2. Aladdin
  3. The Little Mermaid
  4. The Lion King
  5. Frozen
  6. Hercules
  7. Tarzan
  8. Mulan
  9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  10. Moana
  11. Pocahontas
  12. The Jungle Book
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Tangled
  • Strength of Musical Composition

This section covers the strength of each soundtrack’s musical capabilities. From the melodic composition to the structure and build of each track, I’m looking for which soundtrack attained the highest musical achievement. Not catchiest songs, not funniest lyrics, but more so how the instruments, execution and musical choices elevated the source material. This also ties into the world they created musically, and their use of cultural and societal cues that cultivated a sound that was not only unique, but revolutionary. For example, The Lion King created such a phenomenal and integral sound to the movie’s backdrop in Africa with an opening number in Zulu that’s truly transcendent. On the other hand, look at Frozen. For a movie with such amazing lyrics and humorous songs, the structural elements commonly seen in a musical are simply not there; these are essentially just dramatic pop songs. “Let It Go” and its opening piano are hauntingly beautiful, yes, but they do not hold a candle to the pounding African drums that coincide with the stampeding elephants during “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.”

  1. The Lion King
  2. The Little Mermaid
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  5. Moana
  6. Hercules
  7. The Beauty and the Beast
  8. The Princess and the Frog
  9. Pocahontas
  10. Mulan
  11. Tarzan
  12. The Jungle Book
  13. Frozen
  14. Tangled
  • Battle of the Best Songs From Soundtrack

This is fairly self-explanatory, but to be terse: by solely looking at the best song from each soundtrack, how do they stack up against each other? While Pocahontas didn’t have a large volume of songs, it did a lot with a little and “Colors of the Wind” is one of the most powerful, important songs in the Disney canon without question. On the other end of things, “Almost There” is certainly a cute and enjoyable song from Randy Newman, but I doubt you could argue it has the staying power or the intensity of songs like “Circle of Life” or the severely enjoyable, can’t-help-but-sing-along-to “I’ll Make a Man Out Of You” from Mulan.

  1. The Lion King (Circle of Life)
  2. Frozen (Let It Go)
  3. Mulan (I’ll Make a Man Out Of You)
  4. Pocahontas (Colors of the Wind)
  5. Aladdin (A Whole New World)
  6. Be Our Guest (Beauty and the Beast)
  7. The Little Mermaid (Part of Your World)
  8. Tarzan (You’ll Be In My Heart)
  9. Moana (How Far I’ll Go)
  10. Hercules (Go The Distance)
  11. The Jungle Book (The Bear Necessities)
  12. Tangled (I See The Light)
  13. Princess and the Frog (Almost There)
  14. Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hellfire)
  • How Integral Are The Songs In The Movie?

Moving along, this section tackles how integrated the soundtrack was to each movie. Obviously with The Beauty and the Beast, songs like “Belle” and “Something There” are actually used to advance the plot, while Tarzan used its music to add emotional value to scenes that otherwise could have been understood without.

  1. The Beauty and the Beast
  2. Aladdin
  3. The Little Mermaid
  4. Hercules
  5. The Lion King
  6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  7. Moana
  8. The Princess and the Frog
  9. Mulan
  10. Tangled
  11. Frozen
  12. Pocahontas
  13. The Jungle Book
  14. Tarzan
  • Critical and Commercial Performance

Lastly, I took a look at the critical and commercial performance of each soundtrack. This included performance on the Billboard 200 charts (when applicable) and its nominations or winnings of awards, largely the two categories at the Academy Awards: Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

  1. The Lion King
    • Received 3 Oscar Nominations and One Win for Best Original Song, Won Best Original Score, Album peaked at 1 on Billboard 200 and it was the #1 album in 5 countries.
  2. The Beauty and the Beast
    • Received 3 Oscar Nominations and One Win for Best Original Song and Won Best Original Score
  3.  Aladdin 
    • Received Two Oscar Nominations and One Win for Best Original Song, Won Best Original Score
  4.  The Little Mermaid 
    • Received Two Oscar Nominations and One Win for Best Original Song, Won Best Original Score, Album peaked at #32 on Billboard 200
  5.  Pocahontas
    • Received One Oscar Nomination and One Win for Best Original Song, Won Best Original Score, Album peaked at #1 on Billboard 200.
  6. Frozen
    • Received One Oscar Nomination and One Win for Best Original Song, Album peaked at #1 on Billboard 200.
  7.  Tarzan
    • Received One Oscar Nomination and One Win for Best Original Song, album peaked at #5 on US Billboard 200.
  8. Moana
    • Received One Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song and Album peaked at #2 on US Billboard 200.
  9. The Princess and the Frog
    • Received Two Nominations for Best Original Song and Received One Grammy Nomination
  10. Tangled 
    • Received One Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song and album peaked at #44 on US Billboard 200 peaked.
  11. Mulan 
    • Received one Oscar Nomination for Best Original Score and album peaked at #24 on US Billboard 200.
  12. Hercules
    • Received One Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song. 
  13. The Jungle Book
    • Received One Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song.
  14. Hunchback of Notre Dame
    • Received One Oscar Nomination for Best Original Score and album peaked at #11 on US Billboard 200.

The Verdict:

  1. The Lion King: 465 Points
  2. The Beauty and The Beast: 455 Points
  3. Aladdin: 450 Points
  4. The Little Mermaid: 430 Points
  5. Frozen: 340 Points
  6. Hercules: 335 Points
  7. Moana: 330 Points
  8. Pocahontas: 325 Points
  9. Mulan: 320 Points
  10. Tarzan: 290 Points
  11. The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 290 Points
  12. The Princess and the Frog: 285 Points
  13. Tangled: 230 Points
  14. The Jungle Book: 220 Points

There you have it, the duo of Elton John and Tim Rice managed to secure the top spot and the coveted title of Best Disney Animated Musical Soundtrack. Of course, this is all subjective. We all have our own personal preference. Personally, I’d go with Aladdin. “Prince Ali” f*cks my shit right up.

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