Let's see how Encanto stacks up against some of Disney's greatest soundtracks. Prepare for arguments...
Encanto set new milestones for Disney this year when ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ became the first Disney song to top the UK Singles Chart, hanging onto the spot for seven consecutive weeks. It’s the biggest song of the year so far, and the soundtrack is also 2022’s biggest compilation album. It’s no surprise to anyone, of course, that Disney knows how to make a great movie musical. But where does Encanto rank against fan favourites like Tangled or classics like Cinderella?
It wasn’t an easy feat – there’s almost as much competition in this family as in the Madrigals themselves – but we’ve ranked Disney’s best 20 movie musical soundtracks. This one’s all about the songs, so plot, characters and animation have all been disregarded. Sequels have been ignored too, because we’ll bet you can’t name a single song from The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride...
Scraping into the top twenty is Coco, which isn’t exactly a movie musical so much as it is a film with songs. It’s snuck onto the list regardless because the songs it does include are beautiful, sometimes funny, often tender, and in the case of ‘Remember Me’, downright sob-inducing.
Best song: ‘Remember Me’
19. Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty soundtrack is fittingly dull. It’s based on a ballet, so the chances of any karaoke material were admittedly slim – still, it’s a shame that Aurora never truly gets a moment to shine in this one. There are some pretty chorus numbers and a rogue drinking song, but other than that George Bruns does a decent job of putting the listener to sleep.
Best song: ‘Once Upon A Dream’
18. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Disney’s original princess gets a little more to do in her soundtrack and the dwarves have some kid-friendly nonsense songs that make for a nice contrast to Adriana Caselotti’s impossibly tremulous soprano. However, this first outing from Disney isn’t anywhere near the stuff that would eventually be dominating the charts. Snow White’s wistful solo is undoubtedly the high point of the album.
Best song: ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’
17. The Jungle Book
The lively soundtrack to 1967’s The Jungle Book is irresistible in its best moments but unremarkable in others. There are moments of lyrical brilliance, however, and the lines ‘I mean the bare necessities/That’s how a bear can rest at ease’ should win their own award.
Best song: It should be ‘I Wan’na Be Like You’… but it’s ‘The Bare Necessities’. Sorry.
There’s not a huge amount of album potential here but what we do get is lovely. ‘A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes’ is one of Disney’s prettiest lullabies, and whilst ‘Bibbidi-Bobbido-Boo’ might (understandably) drive some listeners insane on repeat listens, I quite like it. The star of the soundtrack, however, is the short but sweet duet shared by Cinderella and her prince. Just try to forget that said duet partners are insanely recent acquaintances.
Best song: ‘So This Is Love’
Again, focusing solely on the songs and not on any actual historical context, this is a strong album. Deft and only occasionally heavy-handed exposition is handled through chorus numbers, with Pocahontas’ solos standing out as high points. The tragedy is that if Pocahontas and John Smith’s duet ‘If I Never Knew You’ hadn’t been cut, this soundtrack would probably have ranked higher.
Best song: ‘Just Around The Riverbend’ (with ‘Colours Of The Wind’ in close second)
14. The Little Mermaid
A lot of praise has to go to Alan Menken for taking the usually forgettable ‘villain song’ slot and giving us ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, and the choice to replace the prince/princess duet with Samuel E. Wright singing ‘Kiss The Girl’ was also inspired. The Little Mermaid has a few strong entries – just not quite enough to sneak above the others on this list.
Best song: ‘Kiss The Girl’
13. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
The 1996 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel is one of Disney’s less-popular animations, perhaps because, in places, it really isn’t for kids. ‘Hellfire’, in which Judge Claude Frollo struggles with the sin of lust and blames Esmerelda for what he is feeling, is a fantastically unsettling song into which Stephen Swartz manages to smuggle the word ‘licentious’ – not exactly Disney’s usual fare. The Hunchback of Notre Dame also contains a couple of strong solos, including ‘God Help The Outcasts’ and ‘Out There’. It’s the kind of stuff I’d love to see them do again.
Best song: ‘Out There’
Another entry that tends to go under the radar most of the time, but every few years, like clockwork, the internet will gather to remember just how much Phil Collins knocked it out of the park with this one. Not a musical exactly, the album is more of a collection of songs by Collins that loosely narrate the events of the film, and each track is emotive, uplifting and better than the Tarzan soundtrack ever deserved to be.
Best song: ‘Strangers Like Me’
11. The Princess And The Frog
Just missing out on the top ten is Randy Newman’s soundtrack for The Princess And The Frog. There are some excellent voices in this cast and Newman knows how to pen a jaunty tune like no other. Big storytelling numbers such as ‘Down In New Orleans’ and ‘Friends On The Other Side’ make this album what it is, but Tiana’s introductory solo is the cherry on top.
Best song: ‘Almost There’
We admit, we expected this one to rank much higher. Imagine our amazement when we went to relisten to the soundtrack and realised that what we had remembered as a fantastic musical is exactly four songs and a lot of instrumental. What caused this lapse in memory? Well, they may be only four songs, but they’re four excellent songs. We challenge you to find a fault with any of them.
Best song: ‘I’ll Make A Man Out Of You’
Alan Menken leans into gospel in the Hercules soundtrack, giving us huge tunes such as ‘Zero To Hero’ and ‘A Star Is Born’. Solid enough tracks already, but the addition of ‘Go The Distance’ and ‘I Won’t Say (I’m In Love)’ – the latter of which is, in our opinion, one of Disney’s best songs of all time – take this album from good to great and land it firmly in the top ten.
Best song: ‘I Won’t Say (I’m In Love)’
We know what you’re thinking – how is it that Encanto only made the eighth spot? Well, whilst ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is a truly fantastic ensemble number and Lin Manuel Miranda’s lyricism is always impressive, Disney’s most recent outing doesn’t churn out a steady stream of stellar tracks at quite the same pace as some of its predecessors. Like we said, the competition is tough.
Best song: ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’
7. Mary Poppins
The only non-animated musical on this list, 1964’s Mary Poppins found long life on Broadway and the West End thanks to a brilliant soundtrack that transferred seamlessly to the stage. Songs full of joyful nonsense such as ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ exist peacefully alongside poignant moments like ‘Feed The Birds (Tuppence A Bag)’, and the Banks parents get some wonderful pieces of satire with ‘The Life I Lead’ and ‘Sister Suffragette’. In fact, they’re both so good that we can’t choose between them.
Best song: ‘Sister Suffragette’/‘The Life I Lead’
6. The Lion King
Another Disney musical with a hugely successful stage adaptation, the studio’s take on Hamlet includes staples such as ‘Circle Of Life’, ‘Hakuna Matata’ and ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’, all of which made their way into the mainstream. The Lion King’s best song, however, is the marginally more underrated duet between young Simba and a frazzled animated bird voiced by Rowan Atkinson. It’s an addictive listen.
Best song: ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’
5. Beauty And The Beast
It’s not an Oscar-winning score for nothing. Not only does Beauty and the Beast have the best opening number of any Disney musical, but the soundtrack jumps from strength to strength, between ‘Be Our Guest’, ‘Gaston’, and the titular track. It’s such a consistent album that it’s hard to pick a highlight, but in the end it has to go to ‘Beauty And The Beast’, a superb ballad that doesn’t overstay its welcome but gets right to the heart of the story in under three minutes.
Best song: ‘Beauty And The Beast’
Anyone who’s been a parent to a young child in the last ten years is probably tired of the Frozen soundtrack, but oversaturation doesn’t prevent this from being a fantastic collection of songs. If ‘Frozen Heart’ had never happened then ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?’ would probably have beaten ‘Belle’ out for best opening number (what an emotional journey that one is) and that funny/sweet formula is perfected time and time again as the film winds on. We will admit, though: we’re sick to death of ‘Let It Go’.
Best song: ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?’
Into the top three now, and taking home bronze is 1992’s Aladdin. Alan Menken gifts us with so many great tracks – ‘A Whole New World’, ‘Friend Like Me’, ‘Arabian Nights’ – but it’s Robin Williams that gifts us with ‘Prince Ali’. What could have been your average middle-of-the-movie song becomes the film’s strongest outing thanks to Williams’ ability to turn into twenty different people in under three minutes. Overall, it’s a fantastic body of work and one that two decades later still feels like it could have been written yesterday.
Best song: ‘Prince Ali’
In second place is Disney’s take on Rapunzel, and it’s only here because the top slot couldn’t be anything else. Alan Menken’s score is complete perfection, elevated only by Mandy Moore’s vocals. ‘When Will My Life Begin?’ is an invigorating opening (I challenge you not to get excited when that electric guitar comes in) ‘I See The Light’ might be our favourite Disney duet, but both of them are beaten out by the utter excellence that is ‘I’ve Got A Dream’. Not a single lyric in that song is even a near-miss.
Best song: ‘I’ve Got A Dream’
Forget Hamilton – this is Lin Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece. No Disney soundtrack is as emotionally rich as Moana. There’s the surging coming of age ballad ‘How Far I’ll Go’, the uplifting, propellant ‘We Know The Way’, and some excellent comic relief in ‘Shiny’. Dwayne Johnson stumbling his way through ‘You’re Welcome’ is unexpectedly charming (and insanely catchy), and the various Polynesian language tracks, written in Samoan, Tokelauan, and Tuvaluan among others, are stirring, atmospheric and consistently beautiful. ‘Know Who You Are’, the minute-and-a-half track that comes towards the end of the film, is particularly breath-taking and usually the point we begin crying. It’s hard to pick just one standout here, but Auli’i Cravalho’s Oscar-nominated solo has to take the crown.
Best song: ‘How Far I’ll Go’