Most people know Disney movies for the excellent songs, like “Let It Go,” or “How Far I’ll Go,” or “Under the Sea” (extraordinary song, that one). But less appreciated is the work of the composers who score these films.
Here are five Disney film scores worth a listen on their own merits – even without the singing princesses/crabs/candlesticks:
1. Mulan – Jerry Goldsmith
This score is addictive. It’s gorgeous work by Jerry Goldsmith, famous for his work on the Star Trek themes and movies like Rudy. The Mulan film score has some distinctive elements of Goldsmith (good use of brass section) paired with Chinese folk instruments. And, of course, this score brings to mind a classic hero story which will never get old.
2. Frozen – Christophe Beck
Christope Beck’s Frozen score brings together a lot of beautiful bits of musical culture – from waltzes to choral hymns – which help to capture the feeling of the story’s fictional early 19th-century kingdom of Arrendelle. My favorite is his use of the choral “Vuelie” theme, an adaptation of the melody of a hymn which apparently originated in the 1840s (the time period of the movie’s story). This is an excellent bit of sampling and remixing.
3. Atlantis – James Newton Howard
Atlantis may be one of the forgotten movies of Disney’s animation slump (the 2000s), but it has a beautiful film score that perfectly matches the spirit of 19th and early 20th century exploration. The brassy military march feel of tracks like “The Submarine” and the mysterious hugeness of tracks like “The Crystal Chamber” capture the same sense of adventure that I get from the scores to classic movies like Indiana Jones.
4. Brave – Patrick Doyle
Doyle (who also scored one of the Harry Potter movies) brings together Celtic themes and arrangements of Celtic and traditional orchestral instruments in this score for Disney and Pixar’s Brave, set in the Scotland of the Middle Ages. This score rivals the Mulan film score for establishing a strong sense of place (in this case, far way and long ago). Tracks like “The Games” are exuberant, bagpipe-rich celebrations, and “Fate and Destiny” is mysterious, wild, and thoughtful in the space of just minutes.
5. The Lion King – Hans Zimmer
Talk about a film score that captures a sense of place. In The Lion King ‘s score, Hans Zimmer blends African elements, choral singing, and Swahili (?) lyrics together with Western music for a great backing to the story of Simba’s birth, exile, redemption, and ascension to kingship.