It’s that time again! Family films are typically of the animated variety, meaning any feature that’s not live-action has the unfortunate black mark of being only for children. But these films have the incredible power to connect to both young and old. Animation is simply a type of art form filmmakers use to tell their stories, and every once in a while, the narrative is something that both kids and their parents can connect to. Some of the best and most inventive musical scores have been written for animated films. In many cases, they are an integral part to the story telling.
There are so many great scores in this genre, but I have whittled it down to ten!
Let’s start with the honorable mentions…
Michael Giacchino’s The Incredibles
James Horner’s The Land Before Time
Hans Zimmer’s The Lion King
Alan Silvestri’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Thomas Newman’s Wall-E
Randy Newman’s Toy Story
John Williams’ The Adventures of TinTin
DINOSAUR by James Newton Howard
One of my all time favorite scores in general. This is one of James Newton Howard’s finest scores. Grand, epic, heartwarming, and thrilling, this score will satisfy all.
HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME by Alan Menken
This was one of my first film score discoveries when I was a child. I remember going on a road trip with my grandparents in the RV with my yellow boom box in hand. I wore out the cassette tape listening and memorizing this score by Menken. In my opinion, it is one of Disney’s most underrated and appreciated films. It is also Alan Menken’s most sophisticated score. It is different. It is dark. But man, what a journey.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Danny Elfman
One of the best… period. I have the good fortune to know Danny and his music will always have a special place in my heart. This film and score are bona fide Christmas classics! The underscore and all of the songs are classic Elfman. Elfman lent his voice to the character of Jack Skellington, along with other characters, and his singing enhances his music even more.
MULAN by Jerry Goldsmith
Very rarely are we treated to a straight up rousing and powerful scores in animated features. This is an exceptional score of tremendous emotion and excitement. First off, toss out all the songs written by Wilder and Zippel. They are bleh compared to other songs in the Disney catalog. We are talking about Goldsmith. The one and only, Jerry Goldsmith. This is an interesting story… When Disney Records released the album, it contained very little of Goldsmith’s incredible score. Fans wanted Goldsmith’s music. When Disney sent the studio press album to voters around Oscar time, which contained much more music from Goldsmith, fans went nuts, spending hundreds to thousands of dollars to get their hands on this score. Fortunately, we can hear it all in its glory now. Such a great score by one of the best ever in the business.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON by John Powell
John Powell has composed some of the best animated scores out there including Shrek, Rio, Robots, Happy Feet, Mars Needs Moms, Kung Fu Panda, Ice Age, Chicken Run, and more. He has left a legacy of wonderful scores that kids now are falling in love with. How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorites of his. It is one the best scores written in the last twenty years. The magic in the score and the film for that matter, is that the journey, along with the story, flows flawlessly from one theme to the next, captivating the listener cue to cue. Can’t rave enough about this incredible score.
PRINCESS MONONOKE by Joe Hisaishi
What is a Princess Mononoke? I hear that a lot when I mention about film and score. It is a shame that it is unknown to many. This is in fact a landmark in cinema and the score definitely contributes. Hisaishi creates a thrilling blend of European and Japanese sounds and it perfectly fits the film like a glove. Do yourself a favor and check out this incredible film and score!
AN AMERICAN TAIL by James Horner
This was one of Horner’s first scores right before he burst out of the bubble. And burst he did, writing some of the most incredible and important scores in all of film music. I love this score. It is so charming and a lot of fun. It has some great songs penned by Horner, most notably Somewhere Out There, one of my favorites.
THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER by Bruce Broughton
The film was unsuccessful unfortunately. One surprise was Disney went with all score, rather than including songs to enhance the story. It is very much in the style of Carl Stalling, with the music accentuating every move on screen. I think it is a great and clever score by Bruce Broughton and one that deserves a bit more attention.