Top 10 Opening Songs in Animated Movies That Didn't Have to Go THAT Hard
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Jonathan Alexander
These animated opening songs didn't have to go THAT hard. For this list, we'll be looking at the inaugural musical numbers of animated films that have no right being this epic or catchy. Our countdown includes "Anastasia," "Shrek," "The Lion King," and more!
Top 10 Opening Songs in Animated Movies That Didn't Have to Go THAT Hard
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Opening Songs in Animated Movies That Didn’t Have to Go THAT Hard.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the inaugural musical numbers of animated films that have no right being this epic or catchy.
Which opening songs are your favorite to hum along to? Drop the first lines in the comments and see if anyone can guess what it is!
#10: “This Is My Idea”
“The Swan Princess” (1994)
This toe-tapping opener covers a lot of ground, but it’s a testament to the hum-worthy melody and charming lyrics that we never feel left behind. The song establishes Derek and Odette as two people who do not want to get married, under any circumstances, despite the not-so-subtle prodding of their parents. The alternating perspectives effectively characterize our leads, all the while tracking a clear progression in their relationship. It admirably balances story and character with a catchy rhythm that will leave you humming long after the credits roll. It may not be Derek or Odette’s idea of fun, but it sure is a good time for us.
#9: “Real in Rio”
Upbeat, exciting, and bursting with life, the titular song that begins this animated feature is one of the most striking in modern memory. Accompanied by suitably festive animation and lighting, the dynamic tempo helps achieve the cardinal rule of storytelling to show and not tell. It may be called “Real in Rio,” but the spirited execution and energetic rhythm demonstrates the beauty of the tourist hotspot in a way words couldn’t, and the film is all the better for it. Much of the story’s emotional weight hinges on the effectiveness of this number. Rest assured, though, with a song like this, we’re ready for a long vacation in Rio.
#8: “El Dorado”
“The Road to El Dorado” (2000)
It may be named after a literal City of Gold, but this cult-hit’s stellar soundtrack is almost just as valuable. Music supervisor Marylata Jacob approached the film’s sound with worldly aspects in mind to respect the eastern influences of the story, but that wasn’t the only ingredient that led to this immaculate opening number. With composition by Elton John and Tim Rice, it's no wonder this debut song is a delightful earworm we’re more than happy to let hang around. For as brief as it is, the tune manages to perfectly represent the aesthetic and influences of the film, capturing a distinct flavor of music not often heard in western cinema.
#7: “This Is Halloween”
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
As a film unlike anything else, well, ever, it’s fitting that the starting number boasts an ironclad grip on the gleefully weird tone that makes this holiday mashup so popular to this day. If the stunning stop-motion animation didn’t hook you, this delightfully oddball song absolutely would. Like the film overall, this number somehow finds a marriage between the cheer of Christmas and the spookiness of Halloween. The end result is a tune that’s both merry and a little uncomfortable. Not that it matters too much. Regardless of the holiday, we’ll happily sit through the hijinks of Jack Skellington if it means we can dance to this song one more time.
#6: “A Rumor in St. Petersburg”
You’d be forgiven for assuming this animated princess tale is among the Disney catalogue, especially since its grand introduction feels right at home alongside some of the classics. The song has a certain enchanting quality that makes it impossible to resist. A brilliant rise and fall of harmonies gives real excitement to the talk of the princess’ return. The bombastic chorus also lends the vocals a gritty yet dignified tone that sells the grim state of the world. St. Petersburg is practically its own character here, and brought to life by expressive animation and clever rhymes, marks this number as one of the standouts from any animated opener, Disney or not. Well, we guess Disney does own Fox now.
#5: “The Gospel Truth I/Main Title”
Standing out amongst the action, romance, and tragedy to come, this movie starts with an undeniably rocking musical number. It’s hard to think of any other opening song that reaches the same levels of funky fun as this, with all the personality, charm, and soul that represents iconic composer Alan Menken at his apex. The beat introduces us to the world of Gods and monsters, but it's easy to forget that when you’re lost in this high-energy chorus. It’s pure fun, through and through, and ends up as a high point in a film with an already legendary soundtrack. Greek Gods and gospel jazz - now that’s a match made in Olympus.
We dare you to find a film series that does a good, old-fashioned insert song better than “Shrek.” And we don’t think anything can top this iconic anthem and all its head-banging glory. Shrek’s daily routine is as crass and foul as he is, but with this fitting tune behind him, you can’t help but feel a little endeared. The punk-rock beat fits almost too well with the ogre’s demeanor, painting him as an unlikely hero more than content with his simple lifestyle. Smash Mouth would spice up any movie, but with such clear care in its placement here, it’s no wonder this lives on as one of the greatest utilizations of an insert song in film history.
#3: “The Bells of Notre Dame”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)
This song has no cheerful character intros, no quirky lyrics, and certainly no fun. Despite lacking everything we expect from the start of a musical, this ends up being one of the greatest, and most memorable, beginning numbers of any animated film, period. There’s a chilling grit and rawness on display here, executed through repetitive phrasing, gruff vocals, and a haunting rhythm. The grim chorus mixed with angelic sounds give so much emotional weight to the story unfolding. Both beautiful and a bit frightening, all the while boasting a mastery of tone, this song is an extraordinary kickoff to an underrated gem. And it culminates in a final stretch of notes that are downright unforgettable.
#2: “Circle of Life”
“The Lion King” (1994)
When it comes to the greatest film openings of all time, this song is impossible to overlook, and for good reason. The African-inspired vocals are so iconic, just uttering the first phrase will have everyone in the room chanting along. It’s a feat not just of animation, but of composition too, with a melody that evokes so much beauty in a way only music can. It continues to build masterfully into a chorus that sums up the themes of the story in a way that’s both cathartic and breathtaking. In all its spine-tingling, exemplary glory, few films begin with this much heart, but that’s the benefit of a fantastic song in the right hands.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“According to Plan,” “Corpse Bride” (2005)
This Doesn’t Just Boast Top-Rate Animation, But Also Quirky Lyrics & a Catchy Tune
“United We Stand,” “Quest for Camelot” (1998)
As Grand, Exciting, & Powerful as a Song About Camelot Deserves to Be
“Two Worlds,” “Tarzan” (1999)
One of the Most Emotionally Resonant Openings in Disney’s History
“Down in New Orleans,” “The Princess and the Frog” (2009)
Both Tiana & the Famous City Are Expertly Brought to Life in This Jazz-inspired Number
“One of a Kind,” “Vivo” (2021)
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Unrivaled Lyricality Is Put to Excellent Use Here
#1: “Deliver Us”
“The Prince of Egypt” (1998)
Nothing can prepare you for the staggering presentation of human will exhibited in this unforgettable sequence. There is an incredibly potent, unfiltered quality to the straightforward lyrics that build atop each other into a powerful anthem that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless. The song is astoundingly resonant even before Moses’ mother joins in. However, once she does it is her harmony that elevates the number to something even greater. It somehow captures the cruel realities of its story while adding in a hint of hope, resulting in a song that’s emotionally effective in a way that’s hard to put into words. It’s so daring, beautiful, and tragic that it's hard to believe it’s just the first few minutes of a feature-length film.