The soundtrack or score is an essential component of any film, since music can set the mood or tone for a scene. Think about it—what would Jaws be without its iconic score, which has become practically synonymous with a sense of fear and foreboding? In addition, a soundtrack of popular songs can provide a great way for listeners to get a sampling of music from a variety of artists. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson have earned a reputation for having the gift of selecting songs that perfectly punctuate their films.
In the case of a soundtrack to a musical film or stage play, soundtracks can tell a whole story through song—and who doesn’t love belting out a good show tune? Although many people think of musicals and show tunes as a “niche” genre, back in 1950s and 60s, the soundtracks to musicals routinely outsold records by pop and rock and roll stars. In fact, the first record to be certified “gold” by the Recording Industry Association of the America (RIAA) was the soundtrack to the musical Oklahoma! in 1958, while the soundtracks to the musicals My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Camelot, and West Side Story became the best-selling records of the years in which they were released. In 1978, the soundtrack to the musical Grease was released, and it would go on to earn platinum certification eight times over and claim the title of best-selling musical soundtrack ever.
As someone who came of age during the so-called “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s, I have a soft spot for a good Disney show tune. Over the course of a 10-year period starting in 1989, Disney released a slew of animated musicals that were not only hugely popular, but critically praised. Songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Tarzan all won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in their respective years. In addition, some of the most famous 90s pop stars contributed to the soundtracks of these films. Phil Collins contributed to Tarzan, Christina Aguilera recorded “Reflection” from Mulan, Vanessa Williams sang “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas, and Elton John covered “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King. Similarly, Celine Dion recorded a version of “Beauty and the Beast” from the film of the same name. At the time, she was not yet the global superstar she would become, and her performance of this song did much to expose her to an international audience.
More recently, Mandy Moore, who was most famous for a few bubblegum pop hits in the late 90s and early 2000s, voiced the character of Rapunzel in Disney’s 2010 film Tangled; she also performed “I See the Light,” the film’s theme song, which was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Grammy. Even more successful is the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen; while the film itself has made more money than any other animated movie, the soundtrack hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart, beating out none other than Beyoncé. The theme song, “Let it Go,” won an Academy Award and was performed to much acclaim by Broadway icon Idina Menzel. Its success has already got some people talking about the beginning of a new Disney Renaissance. So perhaps the future will bring more Disney tunes in line with the classics we know and love—only time will tell!