The Best Disney Soundtrack Ever, As Determined By a Totally Scientific, In No Way Subjective Ranking of Songs

The Best Disney Soundtrack Ever, As Determined By a Totally Scientific, In No Way Subjective Ranking of Songs

Jon Gorey
Jun 16, 2017
(Image credit: Disney)

My best friend unwittingly fired the opening salvo in what would become a fiery, two-month-long debate between us. It wasn't about politics, or sports—it was about Disney soundtracks.

But before we get to that, I'll recap a viral Twitter thread that happened this week that prompted me to share this story.

On Tuesday, author Seanan McGuire tweeted a thread that is delightful in a dozen different ways. While at the airport, she noticed a little girl rightfully having a fit because the mom only packed her brother's favorite movies:

The brother chimes in: "I like Moana, she likes Moana, we should do Moana!" — and a singalong begins as the mom tries to contain them. "YOU'RE WELCOME YOU'RE WELCOME YOU'RE WELCOME!"

Then, McGuire tweets, "Little girl now singing 'How Far I'll Go' while little boy has launched into 'Let It Go.' Mom appears to need a drink. YOU EARNED THIS, MOM." (She has. If you've ever flown with a young child, you'll understand.)

Before long, a German grandmother is teaching the kids Disney songs in German. Then another grandmother sings them "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" in Japanese.

If the thought of an impromptu, multi-lingual, multi-generational Disney singalong at the airport doesn't make you smile, I honestly don't know what will. 'Hamilton' creator, star, and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who co-wrote the songs on 'Moana,' seemed to enjoy it. But I'm also interested in the kids' song choices.

My friend texted me out the blue one day to say 'Moana' was the best Disney soundtrack since 'Beauty and the Beast.' At the time, I'd only seen 'Moana' once, in the theater (with our five-year-old — I'm not a Disney fanatic or anything), and I balked. For one thing, 'Beauty and the Beast'? I'm sorry, but Angela Lansbury's vocals don't exactly give me goosebumps. You could make a compelling case for 'The Lion King,' but I'd argue that 'The Little Mermaid' was the best soundtrack of that era.

Still, I was more taken aback by his dismissal of 'Frozen.' Sure, 'Let it Go' is a great song — but it's got five other legitimate hits as well. That's incredibly deep for a Disney film. And the 'Frozen' soundtrack sold 4 million copies, making it one of the top-selling soundtracks of all time, and it did so in the sales-starved iTunes era. I argued it was easily the best since 'Little Mermaid.'

(Image credit: Disney via Imgur)

But Adam shot back, "That's preposterous. We bought the [Moana] soundtrack and listen to it on repeat. Every song is a banger."

Now, I'm a musician and songwriter — or at least I used to be — so I felt like I had some credibility in the matter. Though Adam, a producer for Antiques Roadshow, does have a keen ear and sense for pop music and culture. "I'm unconvinced, but willing to give it a chance once we buy the video," I texted him.

A few days later, Adam sent us a copy of the 'Moana' DVD from Amazon. He was getting full-on evangelical about it.

And I tell you what: It really is a bangin' soundtrack. It tickles your ears but keeps you on your toes. 'How Far I'll Go' (which Miranda wrote in his childhood bedroom) is a sweeping ballad of self-discovery, and 'We Know the Way' is an instant but lasting earworm. And Dwayne Johnson, The Rock himself, kills it on 'You're Welcome' — a song that, like 'Frozen's 'Do You Want to Build a Snowman,' does hero's work by advancing key plot points inside a pitch-perfect pop song.

I grew so conflicted I geeked out and created a Google spreadsheet where we could rate each song on a scale of 1 to 10 and calculate the average and total points for each soundtrack. I was shocked to find that, scientifically, I liked 'Moana' even better than 'Little Mermaid.' And while 'Frozen' scored more total points because it has an extra song, 'Moana' had the higher average:

(Image credit: Jon Gorey)

I was confused by Adam's relatively poor ranking of Ursula's 'Mermaid' epic, 'Poor Unfortunate Souls.' That's one of the best villain songs of all time, I thought, but he gave 'Shiny' — the 'Moana' crab's jangly, David Bowie-inspired romp — a better score. "'Shiny' is an actual song I would want to listen to outside the movie, and also good in the film," he said. "'Poor Unfortunate Souls' has to be in context. Is that fair? I don't know."

(Image credit: Disney)

Anyway, I'm not ready to say 'Moana' is the best Disney soundtrack ever — I remain swayed by the sheer depth of great songs in 'Frozen' and the objective data of its soundtrack sales. But 'Moana' is the one I want to listen to more... and that says it all, doesn't it?

When I asked Adam (always gracious in victory) if he wanted to go on the record for this post, he said, "I want to be documented on being on the right side of history and insist my full name is used, so my children can point to something someday and see that I made a stand." It's fair to say I didn't change his mind as much as he changed mine.

What about you? I know you've got opinions. So let us have it: What do you think is the best Disney soundtrack of all time?

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