14 best musicals on Disney+ for when you need to burst out in song
While Disney has created films in many genres over its lifetime, musicals are at the heart of the entertainment studio. Thankfully, Disney+ has made many song-filled stories available for streaming, including those dreamed up by Disney and other distributors. Whether you want to sing along to an animated classic like Hercules, a popular Broadway musical like Newsies, or a live-action favorite like Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, there’s something out there awaiting your accompaniment.
Disney+’s musical collection is so abundant that we simply can’t cover every great one the streaming service has to offer — but here are a few song-filled films that are likely to be music to your ears.
1. West Side Story
Credit: 20th Century Studios
West Side Story is perhaps the most popular movie musical adaptation of all time, so Steven Spielberg had some big shoes to fill when it came time for this new adaptation. Luckily, he was more than up to the challenge (big surprise).
This lush retelling with a thoughtfully updated script by Tony Kushner is magical. Huge colorful production numbers and deeper characterizations from a slew of Broadway favorites — including Academy Award-winner Ariana DeBose, Mike Faist, and David Alvarez — all meld together to showcase a beautiful doomed love story with some of the best songs ever originally written for the stage. A returning Rita Moreno is an especially sweet treat. It’s thrilling to witness something old become new again, and that’s exactly what this sharp, inventive adaptation accomplishes. It’s something good indeed. —Erin Strecker, Entertainment Editor (*)
2. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered on the Wonderful World of Disney in 1997, and filmed musical theater productions have never been the same. The multiracial cast, including pop singer Brandy as Cinderella, the iconic Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Paolo Montalban as the Prince, and Bernadette mother-effing Peters as the Evil Stepmother, make this one of the most impactful re-imagined musical theater productions of the modern era. A beacon for diverse theater everywhere, this low-budget reimagining of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic take on Cinderella remains the dreamy epitome of inclusive theater everywhere. —Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Credit: © 2020 Lin-Manuel Miranda and Nevis Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Do not throw away your shot to stream one of Broadway’s greatest modern musicals from the comfort of your own home. This recording of Hamilton has the same energy as a live-action performance, with close-up camerawork that will make you feel like you’re in the front row. The Tony-winning show is phenomenal: a musical retelling of the life of Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) complete with some killer rhymes and excellent choreography. Be sure to sing along if you know the words — you’re at home, no one’s going to silence you. —Belen Edwards, Entertainment Reporter (*)
4. The Greatest Showman
If you’re seeking a star-stuffed musical that gives the thrill of running away to the circus, then step right up! Broadway’s Hugh Jackman headlines as the titular showman P.T. Barnum, whose big dream under the big top brings together a band of misfits including a beguiling trapeze artist (Zendaya), a bold playwright (Zac Efron), a Swedish songstress (Rebecca Ferguson), and a bearded lady (Keala Settle) who can really belt out a banger (“This Is Me”), to create a show heralded around the world. The music is rousing, the dances are so sensational that you’ll want to try them at home. However, take the “biography” angle of this one with a mountain of salt. While audiences turned out in force to be dazzled by Jackman and company, critics and historians have jeered the film’s glamorizing of Barnum, whose treatment of his stars was far worse in real life. —Kristy Puchko, Deputy Entertainment Editor
5. High School Musical
Credit: Fred Hayes / The Disney Channel / Kobal / Shutterstock
In 2006, High School Musical refused to “stick with the status quo” and discovered a young Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens for a phenomenon that would last long beyond the original Wildcats’ tenure at East High School. From the charismatic “Start of Something New” to the better-than-it-needs-to-be pop ballad “Breaking Free,” High School Musical launched careers and gave an entire generation of theater kids a slew of new audition songs. The plot may be trite and the twists predictable, but this film’s dedication to capturing that electric 16-year-old theater kid energy will always feel fresh and new. — A.N.
6. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
The first Beauty and the Beast (1991) was so remarkable that it was the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The 2017 live-action remake takes risks that few Disney fans could have expected, what with the new songs and the one-two combo of Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens as the Beast and Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson as Belle coming together to retell the tale as old as time. A lovely cast, great CGI, and a few modern twists on Belle’s origins make the live-action Beauty and the Beast a 21st-century treasure. —A.N.
7. Mary Poppins
Credit: Silver Screen Collection / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Like its protagonist, Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. Julie Andrews delivering an iconic performance? Check. Delightful songs guaranteed to get stuck in your head? Check. An exciting mix of live action and hand-drawn animation? Check! Mary Poppins, the world’s greatest nanny, takes her charges into street paintings and across the chimney tops of London in a series of magical adventures that are a joy to watch. It’s a super(califragilisticexpialidocious) time. —B.E. (*)
If you’ve ever snorted at Disney’s penchant for love at first sight or too-perfect princesses, Enchanted is the movie for you.
Giselle (Amy Adams) lives in a perfect animated fairy tale until her beloved prince’s evil stepmother banishes her to present-day New York City. The ensuing adventure is a brilliant deconstruction of Disney tropes, full of wit, charm, and excellent musical numbers. Seriously, good luck getting “That’s How You Know” out of your head once you’ve heard it. Adams in particular knocks it out of the park as Giselle, perfectly embodying a Disney Princess through a combination of earnestness and wide-eyed enthusiasm. —B.E. (*)
9. The Sound of Music
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The hills are alive with the sound of a damn good movie. Maria (Julie Andrews) may not be the best nun, but she is a great singer and a tremendous governess for the seven children of Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). She supports them, teaches them the basics of music, and even sews them play clothes out of drapes (despite the disapproval of the Captain). Andrews and Plummer give dynamite performances, and the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein still hit as hard today as they did when the film premiered in 1965. Thanks, Sound of Music, you’re one of my favorite things. —B.E. (*)
10. The Muppets
If you’ve ever asked whether you were a man or a muppet (or just want to join Kermit and friends for a spirited L.A. adventure), the 2011 Muppets movie is for you. The musical has the puppet gang and a couple of their fans (Jason Segel, Amy Adams) joining together to save Muppet Studios from being overrun by an oil tycoon. In addition to the same kooky humor fans have come to expect from the franchise, you’ll find a bunch of surprise cameos, showstopping musical moments, and old-fashioned charm. It’s fresh and nostalgic. —Brooke Bajgrowicz, Entertainment Fellow (*)
11. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
Credit: Suzanne Hanover / Touchstone / Kobal / Shutterstock
The first Sister Act is fine, but the incredibly brief franchise starring Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, and Kathy Najimy hit its peak with Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. This short, fun, musical-ish movie is the number-one choice for hungover choir teachers who needed to keep the musical kids quiet. Sister Act 2 brings the bizarre concept of a Vegas headliner masquerading as a nun to its natural, spectacular conclusion. The musical numbers are also kick-ass, including an all-nun rendition of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” several insightful performances of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and a young Lauryn Hill singing the hell out of an incredibly cool rendition of “Joyful, Joyful.” Besides that, Sister Act 2 also delivers some of the best millennial advice of all time: “If you want to be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere — you better wake up and pay attention.”
12. Into the Woods
Forget the fairy tales you think you know. The enchanting stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and his beanstalk were darkly re-imagined by Stephen Sondheim in this 1986 Broadway musical. In 2014, heralded movie musical maker Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) took these twisted tales to the big screen with the help of an all-star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, and Tracey Ullman. Each plays a fantastical figure of fairy tales, whose tragedies are spun into fast, furious, and often funny songs. Yet for all the talent on display here, nothing can top Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, baring their souls — and their ripped abs — in the hilariously over-the-top prince-off known as “Agony.” Trust us. This song number alone is worth the watching. —K.P.
13. Black Is King
Credit: Andrew White / Parkwood Entertainment
Much like the wildly talented artist who created it, Black Is King does and says a whole lot. It’s a Beyoncé visual album. It’s a companion piece to The Gift, a Bey-curated selection of music from African artists and producers inspired by Disney’s 2019 The Lion King remake. It’s a beautiful expression of Beyoncé’s particular capacity for creating magic.
Similarly, the film amounts to a reframing of the story laid out in The Lion King. “Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King…recontextualizes the metaphor of Simba’s journey to that of the African diaspora — removed from the homeland, denied the memory of our royalty, and rising to retake our cultural legacy,” Mashable’s Alexis Nedd wrote in her review. “[It’s] an invitation to revel in the diversity and beauty of the African continent and a celebration of thriving through survival.” —Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Long before he was Batman, Christian Bale was taking to the streets of Gotham (aka New York City) to fight for justice for the scrappy boys, who survived by selling newspapers on street corners. Inspired by the actual newsboys’ strike of 1899, Newsies follows 17-year-old Jack “Cowboy” Kelly (Bale) as he leads a revolution for workers’ rights, pitting his band of street-smart brothers against the mighty and educated fat cats who run the news industry. Newsies not only explodes with energetic dance numbers, catchy songs, plucky performances, and questionable New York accents, but also it carries a timeless message about perseverance and the power of the people. And if you can’t get enough, check out the Broadway musical adaptation based on this 1992 gem; it’s also on Disney+. —K.P.
*This blurb was previously used in another Mashable list.