Toy Story remains arguably the quintessential Pixar picture, with its emphasis on themes of friendship, offering sophisticated storytelling and possessing unparalleled creativity. Similarly, the score Randy Newman developed to complement the movie is exemplary in what makes music so important. It does not detract, but rather adds, to push the storyline. His playful arrangements fit to match the small-sized scope of the film, filled with wonder. The nifty themes are as iconic as the scenes they belong within, as epitomized in the “Soldier’s Mission” theme found below. The easily-identifiable pulse defines the awe. Newman’s Toy Story, an Oscar-nominated score, is not only his best work for Pixar, but perhaps one of his greatest scores ever, for its atypical musical cues and unstoppable thrust mean excitement every second.
Download these tracks: “Andy’s Birthday;” “Soldier’s Mission;” “Hang Together” and “Infinity and Beyond”
#9 – The Parent Trap, 1998 (Alan Silvestri)
Ever romantic, teasing and impressive, Alan Silvestri’s work for The Parent Trap stands as a gleeful time whenever you listen to it. It’s a diverse mix of what the musician can pull off best, which is smooth comfort – as found in “Table for Two” – light jazz and even a heavy dramatic dose when necessary. The kiddish enthusiasm, most evident in “Changes,” displays the innocent side of the famed composer. Parent Trap’s feel-good mentality could not have existed had Silvestri not provided this deeply-moving and fun orchestration.
Download these tracks: “Changes;” “Hallie Meets Mom;” “Table for Two;” and “Finale”
#8 – Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, 1993 (Bruce Broughton)
Transport yourself to the natural landscapes of the west, with its mountainous highs and valley lows. Now imagine the feelings that run through those environments are just as vast. Thanks to Bruce Broughton’s emotionally-overwhelming and transfixing score, Homeward Bound is truly an emotional roller coaster. The adventure film, a nostalgic favorite, has its despondent moments, for sure, but when you least expect it the merry fervor emerges out of nowhere. I tear up most every time I listen to the “Reunited” piece, for it stirs up the memory of watching Shadow surface from behind the hill, back into his family’s loving arms. The quaint, but rousing music by Broughton is responsible for that reaction. And for that I am happy and appreciative of what the sensitive musical touch can do to a listener.
Download these tracks: “My Name is Chance;” “The Journey Begins;” “Reunited”
#7 – Dinosaur, 2000 (James Newton Howard)
The paramount theme for Dinosaur, which helps open the gorgeous-looking film, signifies how powerful a composer James Newton Howard can be. “The Egg Travels,” with its tribal energy, shrewdness and enormous scope, shows what movie magic is. When you are spellbound by the sights and sounds, you know you are in another world. For two minutes and forty-three seconds, Dinosaur lends that touch. While the rest of the film may not be as huge and special as this opening, Howard’s consistently engaging and unusual orchestration presents why he is often one of Hollywood’s most sought composers.
Download these tracks: “The Egg Travels;” “The End of Our Island;” “They’re All Gone;” and “Breakout”
#6 – The Incredibles, 2004 (Michael Giacchino)
Michael Giacchino materialized into Pixar’s composing world with The Incredibles, its score as riveting and heart-pounding as composers do. Giacchino is not only an outstanding musical force to be reckoned with, a man who invents new, fast-paced ways of conveying danger and drive, but also one who plays against tradition. He gives Incredibles a sense of style with its 60s-retro sound, threatening, but also daring. “The Incredits,” featured below, allows Giacchino to run wild with instrumentation and movement.
Download these tracks: “The Glory Days;” “Life’s Incredible Again;” “100 Mile Dash;” and “The Incredits”
#5 – Finding Nemo, 2003 (Thomas Newman)
Bring over the electric instrumentation and Thomas Newman’s prevailing handle for how to move an audience through sound, and you have Finding Nemo, an Oscar-nominated score. Many of Newman’s tracks are short and simple, but his influence can be found in every jolt. Let those horns roar and the emotion overwhelm the psyche. Newman’s touch underscores each scene in the film, as his varied instrumentation of frenzy and vulnerability characterize the journey Marlin experiences in his travels to find his lost son. “News Travels,” featured below, lays bare the strong expression Newman inserts into his music.
Download these tracks: “Field Trip;” “Filter Attempt;” “News Travels;” and “Swim Down”
#4 – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003 (Klaus Badelt)
Yo ho, mates. Klaus Badelt’s swashbuckling and heavy score for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, the film that rejuvenated a film brand (pirates) and started a new Disney franchise is as stimulating as any film score I have listened to in years. The thunderous booms and might found in the tracks call to mind what most action movies hope to have in seamless fashion, but fail to accomplish. Pirates works because the feral, frenetic tracks strengthen the scenes they complement, never shying away from the perpetual movement. The subsequent films’ scores draw from the original, and even contain new flair that play to the setting. “He’s a Pirate,” featured below, is the titular track from the film, and the one Disney slides into each promotional effort. It’s also the one I could listen to all day long and smile widely as I recall the first time I heard that tune.
Download these tracks: “The Medallion Calls;” “Skull and Crossbones;” “One Last Shot;” and “He’s a Pirate”
#3 – John Carter, 2012 (Michael Giacchino)
Say what you want about John Carter, whether you have seen it or just bash it for no apparent reason, but the film is fantastic fun and Giacchino’s awesome score only heightens the reason I love this movie. The heavenly sounds come in full supply, only amplified in fuller force by the other rhythms in the film. One is the lovely rickety rhythm that plays as Carter senses being watched during the opening scene featuring our hero. Another, “Get Carter,” featured below, evokes the Westerns of Hollywood yonder, by demonstrating a pulsating movement of trepidation and triumph. Listen to this score. Buy the score. Thank Giacchino for what he has contributed to the film scoring community.
Download these tracks: “A Thern for the Worse;” “Get Carter;” “Sab Than Pursues the Princess;” and “John Carter of Mars”
#2 – The Lion King, 1994 (Hans Zimmer)
Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning score for The Lion King, Disney’s grandest animated film – at the box office, at least; and in many respects in our hearts, too – takes my second-favorite spot. I respect the gift the composer lent to this dramatic and commanding movie, all the more enhanced by tracks like “This Land,” featured below, and the monumental “To Die For.” His strings and African cues provide a unique sound, one only Zimmer could produce to give King its soul and pride. Few films can be recognized as easily as The Lion King for its poignant score, definitely verifying its standing as one of the best ever within a Disney production.
Download these tracks: “This Land;” “…To Die For;” and “King of Pride Rock”
#1 – Tron: Legacy, 2010 (Daft Punk)
Let the games begin. The grid not only contains lightcycles, but also my vote for the best Disney film score in the past 20 years. Sure, it’s untraditional. Absolutely, it’s feverish. But at its heart Tron: Legacy is a passionate, sincere exercise in how breaking against the “typical” soundtrack can make a film special for all the right reasons. Electronic instruments define may of the signature tracks, both stylish and sophisticated in tone. Yet some possess the beautiful standards one may detect in film storytelling that embraces family. “Father and Son” takes a slow, melodic pace that remains sentimental and exquisite. It’s such a shame that a score as infectious as Tron: Legacy‘s, by the exceptional Daft Punk, never garnered an Oscar nod, but its record-breaking sales indicate the public’s positive reception.
Download these tracks: “The Game Has Changed;” “Outlands;” “Flynn Lives;” and “Father and Son”
Honorable mentions: I loved Michael Giacchino’s Up as much as anyone who cried during the “Married Life” scene, but I felt the inclusions on my list are more representative of his talent. Alan Menken’s Pocahontas almost made my list, for its luminous spirit show what Menken can deliver, but ultimately I felt I wanted to recognize some lesser-known Disney scores. And yes, I adore Treasure Planet by James Newton Howard, but both Atlantis and Dinosaur platform his specialty more effectively.
What should have made my list? What Disney film scores of the past 20 years do you listen to all the time? Share your thoughts.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.