While Disney animation has had more than its share of hits over the years, there's been nothing quite like Frozen. It's the highest-grossing animated movie around the world the studio has ever had. While a great deal of that success comes from the film's story, which subverts many of Disney's own tropes, you can't overlook the importance of the music in Frozen either.
The soundtrack to Frozen became the first soundtrack album to accumulate one million downloads. It's incredibly successful, but is it actually the best Disney soundtrack?
A couple of years after Frozen, Disney's next "princess" would debut on the big screen in Moana. While Moana would not set the records that Frozen did, it still became an incredibly popular film, in large part because of its music. Let's take a look at the soundtracks and see which one truly is the best.
Let It Go: You can't talk about Frozen without discussing "Let it Go." The song is far and away the biggest hit in either movie from a popularity standpoint. There's a reason for that: it's really, really good. Elsa sings the song after leaving home as she decides that she's going to embrace her magic rather than hide it. It's an anthem and it's an inspiring song as any song of this ilk should be.
Do You Want To Build A Snowman?: One of the earliest songs heard in Frozen, "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" is the song the movie uses to jump us forward in time. After Elsa has been sequestered away, Anna sings it as she tries to reconnect with her sister. It's an interesting song because what starts out as the fun and lighthearted romp from a child transforms over the course of the song into an absolutely melancholy tune sung be a young woman. The question, "do you want to build a snowman?" starts out as a joyous invitation and becomes a tearful plea.
For The First Time In Forever: Every great animated Disney movie, and most musicals in general, have what's called the "I Want" song. The song in which the protagonist sings about their dreams which will drive the plot of the story. In Frozen, that song is "For the First Time in Forever." It's mostly sung by Anna as she revels in the excitement of seeing the castle gates opened for the first time in years. However, it also shows us what Elsa wants, which is for all this to just end, showing how the sisters will conflict later in the story.
Love Is An Open Door: Sung by Anna and her new beau Hans, "Love is Open Door" is one of the more interesting pieces of music in Frozen because it fulfills two roles that we normally see songs have in Disney movies. First, it's the love song, as the pair sing about how they're falling in love with each other. However, it's also the villain song. Disney villains almost always get great songs to sing and if you pay attention to the lyrics, you realize that what Hans is really saying is that Anna's love is an opportunity that he can take advantage of.
In Summer: Whether you like or loath "In Summer" is going to depend entirely on how you feel about Olaf the Snowman as a character. Olaf's childlike innocence might not work for everybody, but for those who would like to give Olaf a warm hug, the song is great. The boundless enthusiasm Olaf has for something he knows nothing about, the heat of summer, is hilarious and the tune has the wittiest lyrics of any song on the Frozen soundtrack.
Fixer Upper: The final song to appear in Frozen is sung by the side characters the trolls. It sort of works like a secondary love song, though it's played exclusively for laughs rather than to build romance in any meaningful way. It's a cute tune with some funny lines, but it's probably not anybody's favorite song.
Frozen Heart: The first song in Frozen is an underrated tune because it's the one that actually sets the tone for the entire movie. "Frozen Heart" opens the entire movie as a group of men sing while they work harvesting ice. The booming male voices off set the female voices that dominate the rest of the film. And the song's repeated title line "beware the frozen heart" hints at the larger conflicts that will come later in the movie.
For The First Time In Forever (Reprise): The reprise of "For the First Time in Forever" is the moment when Anna realizes that her sister truly needs her help. Elsa only wants Anna to go away, continuing to believe that's the only way to keep her safe. It's a brief interlude but an interesting juxtaposition on the previous version of the song.
Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People: It's brief and its silly, but it's also fun. Frozen doesn't have talking animals the way many Disney movies do, so when it comes to Sven, Kristoff speaks for him. Kristoff performs the song as entertainment for himself and his reindeer while they find a place to sleep for the night.
How Far I'll Go: "How Far I'll Go" is Moana's "I want" song. It's all about the call the young Moana feels pulling toward the ocean. What makes this song a bit more unique in Disney history is that Moana is more torn than the usual Disney heroine. She knows she has responsibilities at home and she wants to live up to those responsibilities. She doesn't want to leave her life behind, she wants both, and she's not sure how to make that happen. She almost wishes she didn't feel the need to voyage, but she just can't help it.
You're Welcome: Who would ever guess that one of the catchiest Disney songs in recent memory would come from The Rock? And yet, Maui's one solo tune in Moana, "You're Welcome" is the biggest ear worm on the Moana soundtrack. It's got a great tune and punchy lyrics, and isn't short on ego, so of course it works for The Rock.
Shiny: Moana doesn't have a traditional villain that our heroes battle and defeat at the end of the story, so the closest thing to a villain song comes from the giant crab Tamatoa voiced by Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clement. It's the biggest musical number in the film and Clement owns the performance, going full glam rock with it.
Where You Are: "Where You Are" is the Moana song that gives you all the backstory you need to understand the story. In just a few minutes you have a complete understanding of Moana's life on the island. We learn what is expected of her, and begin to see that she's conflicted about it. It's got a great melody, too. Similar to one of Frozen's songs, it take us through multiple time periods, and emotions, from the beginning to the end.
We Know the Way: Sung by the great Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who co-wrote much of the Moana soundtrack, the song comes in two parts. One part is a combination of Samoan and Tokelauan, and the other half is written in English. It's a great piece that uses native languages of the South Pacific in order to properly set the story. It's a wide, sweeping, and open song that feels like you're traveling the wide open ocean.
How Far I'll Go (Reprise): While the original rendition of the song is girl conflicted about what the right choice is, the reprise to "How Far I'll Go" is a woman who has made her choice. She's both excited to be setting off on her journey and determined due to its nature. There's no turning back from this moment and you can feel it in the way Moana sings.
I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors): At her darkest point, Moana is visited by the spirit of her grandmother. Finally, Moana's torn soul -- that wants to help her and also travel the sea -- finds peace by realizing that she can do both. She understands who she is now, and she chooses to continue her journey. It's an incredible song that will stir something inside you every time you hear it.
We Know the Way (Finale): Moana's finale piece is a return to the voice of Lin-Manuel Miranda in a triumphant finale song that seems Moana and her family traveling the oceans looking for new islands to settle. Moana's people have entered a new era in their lives and Moana is the reason.
An Innocent Warrior: "An Innocent Warrior" probably isn't a song you're going to sing in the car unless you're fluent in several polynesian languages, but the fact that you don't know the words doesn't make the song any less beautiful. Played as Moana has her first encounter with the ocean as a living entity, we see the baby Moana having fun playing with the water, but while she is playing the lyrics of the song tell us about the journey that stands in front of the girl and how important it will be.
Logo Te Pate: Another song you can't sing along to unless you speak Tokelauan, "Logo Te Pate" is the montage song that plays over a collection of scenes that shows Maui training Moana to become a wayfinder. It's an upbeat number and the lyrics, even if you don't understand them, give you a feeling of excitement. We know things are looking better for our heroes.
Know Who You Are: All of Moana is about the title character finding out who she is. In the end, success in her quest comes from helping somebody else find themselves. Te Fiti, whose heart Moana needs to restore, is also the monster who has been blocking Moana's path. The young girl finally realizes this and we get a soulful song that's liable to bring a tear to your eye.
Tulou Tagaloa: The first song of Moana is only played over the opening Disney logos, and isn't technically part of the movie, but it is part of the soundtrack, and it's a lovely (albeit brief) tune. Translated from Samoan, the lyrics are about welcoming you so that you may witness and understand how beautiful this world is, make this song the perfect way to start the story of Moana.
Which One Is Better?
This certainly is a tough call. With Frozen you have one of the most iconic songs that Disney has ever produced in "Let it Go" and if we were judging based on which soundtrack at the best single song, that would determine our winner.
However, when taken as a complete soundtrack, the edge has to go to Moana over Frozen. Everything on the Frozen soundtrack feels like something that would belong at home on the Broadway stage, and of course, Frozen is now a successful Broadway show as well as a movie, and while that's not a bad thing by itself, Moana's soundtrack just has more variety.
In addition, the fact that the lyrics to many of Moana's songs include actual Polynesian lyrics, gives the songs a better sense of place. No matter when or how you hear the soundtrack to Moana, you feel like you've been transported back to the movie when you hear somebody sing in Tokelauan.
Both Frozen Moana have soundtracks that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. But in my opinion, Moana's is ever-so-slightly better.