The Best of the Rest: Ranking 19 Non-Disney Animated Musicals
We rank the best (and worst) animated musicals that did not come from the House of Mouse, and we don't even need a wishing star.
Sometimes, it’s good to remember that Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on this singing and dancing film genre, animated or otherwise. Other studios can also get in on the fun of writing—or, in some cases, curating—soundtracks set to compelling animation in adapting a beloved story. For example, 2016’s Sing saw the House that Minions Built combines pop, hip hop, and classic rock songs from the past several decades with a about dancing pigs. And not once did anyone sing about magical ice powers or traveling the sea.
Of course, just because other studios try their hand at the same kind of movie, doesn’t mean they always do it right. In this list of 19 animated musicals, you’ll find plenty of Disney knockoffs that left audiences wishing they’d just rewatched the Mouse House’s original. In other cases, the story sticks with you for years, while the songs go in one ear and immediately out of the other. However, there are those gems that manage to stand up to Disney’s one-two punch of feels and irresistible soundtrack, becoming classics in their own right.
19. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014)
Prana Animation Studios
No doubt its release was overshadowed by Disney’s Oz: the Great and Powerful the year before, as the CG-animated Legends of Oz bombed at the box office. But that’s just as well, because despite being based on a canonical Oz book, the movie feels like a bad knockoff of The Wizard of Oz, and not even the inclusion of voice talents like Glee’s Lea Michele, Smash’s Megan Hilty, or Broadway legend Bernadette Peters can redeem the emotionally shallow songs. There’s no “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” here.
Watch Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return on Amazon
18. Thumbelina (1994)
Don Bluth Entertainment
Thumbelina was one of those Don Bluth-produced animated films from the ‘90s that viewers may remember fondly as children, but when you really think about it as an adult, it simply can’t hold up to the other animated offerings. After playing Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson was forgettable in her follow-up as tiny heroine Thumbelina; thankfully, she went on to have plenty of roles after the fact. The Barry Manilow songs didn’t do her or the rest of the cast any favors. In fact, Thumbelina was the first animated film to be nominated for a Razzie award that year, winning for the song “Marry the Mole,” sung by Carol Channing. That’s got to tell you something about its staying power, or lack thereof.
Watch Thumbelina on Amazon
17. A Troll in Central Park (1994)
Don Bluth Entertainment
Another bomb from Bluth’s production company, this saccharine tale doesn’t hold up on subsequent viewings. Consider the fact that its protagonist is a troll named Stanley, who is cast out of the Troll Kingdom for having a green thumb and (gasp) making plants come to life instead of turning things to stone!
The movie’s sole redeeming factor is that it includes several disturbing moments that likely remain wedged in its young audiences’ memories. For instance, when human Gus is transformed into a troll and forced to turn Stanley to stone. Imagine a child’s horror at someone having that much power to punish a beloved friend. But Millennials devoting an entire BuzzFeed list to how much your movie scared them is probably not the legacy you intended.
Watch A Troll in Central Park on Amazon
16. Pippi Longstocking (1997)
This animated feature (from the studio who brought us Babar: The Movie) contains only four songs, all centered on Pippi’s adventures and her happy-go-lucky attitude. But while the opening song “What Shall I Do Today?” lists the seemingly endless opportunities a spunky heroine like Pippi should have, her animated adventures fall short. The Chicago Tribune described what could have been a great girl-power movie as “a second-rate Saturday morning cartoon” with a “witless” script and “mediocre” songs. If you want a Pippi adventure, rent the live-action movie so wonderfully skewered on Gilmore Girls.
15. Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Happy Madison Productions
Eight Crazy Nights seems simply like an excuse to extend the reach of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” which originated on Saturday Night Live, to the big screen. Surrounding the song is (as The Movie Report called it) “sentimentality and secretions,” with potty humor that earns only nervous laughter at fear of what’s coming next. Sandler missed both his young and old intended audiences with this animated bomb: Apollo Guide best summed up that this movie is “not suitable for children and not entertaining for most adults.”
Watch Eight Crazy Nights on Amazon
14. Quest for Camelot (1998)
Warner Bros. Animation
As Arthurian adaptations go, this one isn’t so bad, especially because it focuses on mostly original characters without turning them into Mary Sues and Gary Stus. Kayley, the daughter of one of Arthur’s deceased Round Table knights, must stop an evil lord (Gary Oldman) from gaining access to Camelot.
Along the way, she encounters a blind hermit named Garrett (voiced by Cary Elwes, certainly channeling some of The Princess Bride) and a bickering, two-headed dragon (Eric Idle and Don Rickles). However, the music is mostly forgettable with the exception of Garrett’s confident anthem “I Stand Alone” and the movie’s big love song “Looking Through Your Eyes.”
Watch Quest for Camelot on Amazon
13. The King and I (1999)
Rich Animation Studios
The King and I is the only animated feature on this list to have been adapted from an existing musical–and probably for good reason, as this movie was so poorly received. In fact, it wasn’t until researching this article that I even remembered it existed.
Critics seem to universally agree that this is the worst adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein, with both the plot and the soundtrack negatively impacted. Clearly the filmmakers must have intended this to be a version of The King and I for children, yet they should have realized that the original musical was more than entertaining for youngsters.
12. The Swan Princess (1994)
Rich Animation Studios
Out of all the movies on this list, The Swan Princess is the one that most seems to be modeled after Disney hits, perhaps with the hope of adding a shapeshifting damsel to the princess canon. The opening song “This Is My Idea,” in which young royals Derek and Odette vehemently protest their arranged marriage, is really fun and subverts the typical animated movie notion of true love. But after that, the rest of the soundtrack is forgettable, aside from the love song “Far Longer Than Forever.” Pro tip: Don’t waste your time with the two sequels, which deteriorate even more in quality.
Watch The Swan Princess on Amazon
11. Rio (2011)
Blue Sky Studios
Rio scored middling with critics, but you have to give it points for its opening number “Real in Rio,” which utilizes various jungle birds for the melody. We haven’t seen animals cooperating for a musical number this well since The Lion King‘s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” In fact, “Real in Rio” even got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 2012, but it lost out to “Man or Muppet” from The Muppet Movie (really, there was no contest that year).
Watch Rio on Amazon
10. Wakko’s Wish (1999)
Warner Bros. Animation
How do you translate a successful cartoon TV series to the big screen? Bring over the same ridiculous but beloved protagonists and antagonists; devise a plot that skewers the TV and film industry to appeal to the adults; and throw in a bit more pathos than was in the TV show.
That’s how Warner Bros. got Wakko’s Wish, a direct-to-DVD movie starring the Animaniacs, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. The choices were polarizing, with critics concluding that the movie built upon Animaniacs in some ways while lacking some of the cartoon’s magic. Ultimately, the soundtrack doesn’t hold up to the TV show’s musical earworms.
Watch Wakko’s Wish on Amazon
9. The Pebble and the Penguin (1995)
Don Bluth Entertainment
You have to credit Don Bluth for a unique premise: shy penguin Hubie searches for the perfect pebble to give his beloved Marina during mating season, only to get sabotaged by his Gaston-esque rival, Drake (voiced by Tim Curry, who makes everything better). This time around, Barry Manilow’s songs fared a bit better than his Thumbelina contributions. The Pebble and the Penguin is still exceedingly too silly to rank very high on this list, but it’s a sweet love story.
Watch The Pebble and the Penguin on Amazon
8. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
Sullivan Bluth Studios
All Dogs Go to Heaven holds a tender place in the heart of most Millennials, less for the music and more for the plot. Who didn’t root for the roguish Charlie B. Barkin to earn his wings by saving a little orphan girl from his devious canine business partner that would use her gift of talking to animals for profit? And that ending scene where he has to say goodbye…! All the tears, even upon rewatching. But yeah, I couldn’t tell you which song was my favorite.
Watch All Dogs Go to Heaven on Amazon Prime
7. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
FernGully has a limited number of songs, but more of them are memorable than other items on this list with twice as many numbers. Again, it’s Tim Curry who steals this movie: His “Toxic Love” chilled more than one young viewer and made them suddenly care more about fighting pollution. And of course, you have to smile at Robin Williams’ performance as a bat experimented on by humans who has an antenna stuck in his head, and who introduces himself with the “Batty Rap.”
Watch FernGully: The Last Rainforest on Amazon
6. An American Tail (1986)
Sullivan Bluth Studios and Amblin Entertainment
One of Don Bluth’s best and most heartfelt animated features, An American Tail beat Disney’s similarly mouse-centric The Great Mouse Detective at the box office in the year of its release. The song “Somewhere Out There” is also among the most beloved in children’s movies: Especially touching is that it’s about brother and sister Fievel and Tanya Mousekewitz believing that their love will help them reunite somehow in New York City, not just a sappy love song.
Watch An American Tail on Amazon
5. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
Comedy Central Films
You didn’t think all of these entries would be totally sanitized, did you? The South Park musical film is more successful than many of the other films on this list simply because it has more than one memorable musical number–not to mention Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s affinity for skewering musical theater conventions.
Viewers did have some warning from the first two seasons of the TV show as to the type of content the movie’s songs would have. But there’s something great about how the movie starts with a seemingly banal, “Bonjour”-esque song, only to eventually give way to “Blame Canada,” “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”, and Satan’s whimsical “Part of Your World” analog “Up There.” If you doubted “Blame Canada’s” influence on pop culture, Robin Williams performed the song at the 1999 Oscars, though it sadly lost out to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan.
Watch South Park the Move on Amazon
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Personally, I never glommed to The Nightmare Before Christmas like other kids my age, mostly because the movie actually frightened me. But it’s that blend of holiday cheer and chills that makes Tim Burton’s iconic film so compelling–and you see that in songs like “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?” Not for nothing have these songs been covered several times over by Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and more.
Watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on Amazon
3. Anastasia (1997)
Fox Animation Studios
Anastasia is the movie that, when I mention it in this context, people most often ask, “But isn’t it Disney?” Nope, but it gets pretty damn close: the songs are thoughtfully written, the characters are spunky, the animation is lush, and while it’s not an entirely accurate representation of the fate of Anastasia Romanov, it’s still a fairy tale set against Russian history.
Liz Callaway–who sang as Odette in The Swan Princess and Jasmine in the latter two Aladdin movies–is lovely, but she’s also given great material to work with: “Journey to the Past” is an uplifting anthem while songs like “Learn to Do It” carry the movie’s sense of humor. Oh, and Rasputin’s “In the Dark of the Night” makes a pretty impressive villain song to rival Disney baddies.
Watch Anastasia on Amazon
2. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
When Exodus: Gods and Kings hit theaters in 2014, my friends and I joked that moviegoers should simply rent The Prince of Egypt for better historical accuracy and a killer soundtrack. When you have Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston belting, “When You Believe,” you can’t not be carried along by the swell of emotion. This is another movie with only a handful of songs, but they all hit it out of the park. The opening number “Deliver Us” still gives me chills while “Through Heaven’s Eyes” is that rare joyous, religious song that doesn’t alienate non-religious viewers.
Watch The Prince of Egypt on Amazon
1. The Road to El Dorado (2000)
According to Wikipedia, production on The Road to El Dorado was difficult because DreamWorks Animation had devoted all of its efforts to making The Prince of Egypt two years earlier. However, I would argue that El Dorado is the better movie. The soundtrack, composed by Elton John and Tim Rice, is infectiously fun. The story plays off history without creating an alternate universe the way Anastasia did. And it’s the funniest movie on this list!
Unlike other animated films that rely on half-baked or immature humor, El Dorado‘s comic relief has depth. (It’s especially interesting if you read it as a love story between Miguel and Tulio, but that’s a whole other article.) The Road to El Dorado is the package deal, the best non-Disney animated musical there is.
Watch The Road to El Dorado on Amazon
If you think there is any animated song-and-dance film that we missed or deserves ranking let us know in the comment section below!
This article was previously published on Jan. 23, 2015.