My Top 10 Best Non-Disney Instrumentals

(In keeping with the Disney theme, these are scores that are still from animated movies- just movies that have not been released by Disney.)

“Forbidden Friendship” and “Test Drive” from How to Train Your Dragon (John Powell)


“Forbidden Friendship”- This is a story about a scene in a movie, which includes a dragon and a small Viking boy learning to bond, and which has absolutely NO dialogue. It is the most wonderful and important scene of any animated movie I’ve ever seen in my life (and this is coming from a big Disney fan). I’ll defend this score and this scene to the death for how visually stunning and emotionally heartwarming it is. Everyone owes it to themselves to watch this scene, at least once. If you don’t get goosebumps, you’re not human.

It all starts with Hiccup, the little Viking boy in the movie, bringing a fish to a dragon. A dragon he injured and previously tried to kill. A dragon that not only is categorized as the most dangerous of dragons, and that no Viking has ever survived an encounter with before (“Night Fury- the unholy offspring of lighting and death itself”), but a creature that stands as the bane of every Viking’s existence and basically goes against every principle they have. Vikings kill dragons, and that’s always been their way of life. And here Hiccup comes to bring him a fish.

Hiccup throughout this whole scene willingly lets Toothless, the Night Fury, approach him, and even discards his knife after he sees it makes Toothless uncomfortable. Hiccup is now completely unarmed and knows Toothless can kill him at any moment- yet he places his trust in the dragon anyway. In this scene, his curiosity of the dragon overshadows his fear.

They end up sharing the fish, and Hiccup makes his first attempt to touch Toothless- which fails. They are still wary of each other, but they give each other space. Hiccup soon after tries to touch the dragon again, and again fails when Toothless glares at him. Two attempts, two failures, yet Hiccup doesn’t leave. Instead, he stays there for hours with no expectation that Toothless will attempt to engage him.

Then comes my favorite scene, with Hiccup sketching an outline of Toothless in the dirt. He’s a bit discouraged, but can’t bring himself to leave the dragon yet either. Hiccup is an outsider in his own village, and it appears that he feels more at ease with this most dangerous species of dragon then he does with his own family. Even if Toothless won’t interact with him, Hiccup is not ready to give up yet. And then, Toothless comes to glance over the boy’s shoulder.

Curious himself, Toothless grabs a tree branch and starts drawing too, trying to imitate Hiccup. Hiccup looks around at the dragon’s “drawing” in amazement, not quite sure what to do. He does a little bit of a dance routine as he walks around the drawing, careful not to step on the lines. He sees that stepping on the lines upsets Toothless, and wants to show respect. Unexpectedly, Hiccup turns around, and he and Toothless are face to face for the first time since Hiccup tried to kill him. They’re still wary of each other, but there’s more respect and honesty between them now.

Then Hiccup does something amazing, especially for a Viking. He closes his eyes, turns away, and reaches out to the dragon. He’s letting Toothless decide whether or not to make contact. He is placing his trust in this creature, and Toothless senses that trust. Toothless seems surprised at this gesture. There is a tense pause. And then, miraculously, Toothless touches his nose to Hiccup’s palm.

At this moment, the two trust each other completely, and this is before their friendship is even fully established. And that’s what makes this scene so utterly gut-wrenching. Hiccup is the first Viking to gain the trust, and eventually the friendship, of a dragon. The soft notes at this point in the music add to the scene, giving it more depth and beauty.

What’s more is, this scene is done entirely with no dialogue, and only a few sounds. Everything is shown in actions, and little gestures. They bond without speaking, and all the awkwardness and tension between the two melts away. There is a reason I watch this 5-minute scene over and over, and why this score is so darn POWERFUL.

Please check out the link below, as this writer explains the scene in much more detail than I do. This analysis is so spot on (and I did use it as a reference point for my own analysis):

Also, check out the scene for yourself:

“Test Drive”- I won’t write a whole novel about this score, but it is an equally powerful scene, where Hiccup rides Toothless for the first time. He is the first Viking to ever ride a dragon, and he’s scared, but determined. He tests out the makeshift tail wing he’s made for Toothless, and they struggle with it a bit at first. Hiccup has a cheat sheet on how to “steer” Toothless using the gears of the new tail, but he quickly loses the directions during the turbulence of the flight.

Then, instinct takes over. Hiccup knows what to do, grabs Toothless from falling, and they have a fantastic flight. The music soars along with the two of them as they glide through the air. It is one of the most visually stunning scenes in the movie, and you can see the delight of both Hiccup and Toothless as they realize they are doing something that has never been done before.

“Reminiscing with Grandma” and “Finale” from Anastasia (David Newman)

Both of these scores are basically just instrumental versions of the two main songs in the movie- “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December.” But that’s okay, because those two songs are amazing. Throughout the movie, we’ve seen Anastasia grow from a snarky orphan to a woman full of hope, and confidence. She just wants a sense of identity, and you can hear that in the music as she says, “I just want to know who I am. If I’m part of a family. YOUR family.” She has no desire for royalty or riches. In the end, she sacrifices her royal status for true love by eloping with Dimitri. However, it is still a happy ending. She knows where she belongs, and as the music swells at the end, Dimitri twirls her around on the boat and the two share a kiss- which is probably my favorite animated kiss. It’s nice to see them happy and in love after verbally sparring with each other the whole movie.

 “Fairy Dance” from Peter Pan (2003) (James Newton Howard)

Even though this is not an animated movie, it is still a fantasy/fairy-tale, so I’ll include it in this list. Also, it was not produced by Disney.

I love the story of Peter Pan and all the adaptations. This version of Peter Pan is not one of my favorites, but the “Fairy Dance” scene and the score that goes along with it is simply magical. It captures the young, innocent love Wendy and Peter feel for each other, even if Peter is still desperately clinging to childhood and refuses to even acknowledge the word “love.” I love the smile Peter gives Wendy as he sees her delight in watching the fairies dance, and the way his grin broadens as he leads Wendy into their own dance. They drift into the sky and twirl among the moonlight, and the whole scene is very lovely. It makes me wish I, too, didn’t have to grow up.

“Save El Dorado” from The Road to El Dorado (Hans Zimmer and John Powell)

This is the ultimate fun adventure song from a fun, adventurous movie. I love everything about this film, especially the friendship (or is it romance?) between the two main characters, Miguel and Tulio. The world of the golden, mythical El Dorado sparkles on the screen and the music builds up as our two heroes try to save the village from villainous outsiders. They pretend to be gods the whole movie, but it is during this scene that they truly become, if not godlike beings, then bold, daring heroes.

“Fairytale” from Shrek (Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell)

I’ve just realized that the composer John Powell has done a lot of music for animated films! Shrek was one of the first animated films from DreamWorks, and it is a perfect parody of fairy-tales- the film lightly pokes fun at Disney and other fairy-tale creatures, and adds a little humor for adult viewers as well. This score plays during the opening, as Shrek reads aloud from, what else? A fairy-tale. The music is magical and whimsical and then swiftly comes to an end…as the viewers realize that Shrek was reading the book from a bathroom the whole time (and probably used one of the pages to wipe his butt). I love that the soundtrack to this movie is a mix of great scores (which pair nicely with the sweet romance between Shrek and Fiona on screen) and more modern pop/rock songs.

“Derek Finds Odette” from The Swan Princess (Lex de Azevedo)

This is such a pretty score as Derek finally finds his one true love, Odette, the girl he has been searching for ever since she was cursed to turn into a swan every night. This movie isn’t the greatest animated film out there, but it still stands as a fun story with some funny lines, and the music is full of fantasy and wonder. I love the transformation scenes, though I do wish they had added more music from the ballet Swan Lake, on which it is based. The composers for Sleeping Beauty used that technique, after all.

“Entrance of the Faeries” from Thumbelina (Barry Manilow, Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman)

We get to see Cornelius’s (Thumbelina’s fairy prince) family as they make their grand entrance into the film. We are introduced to the King and Queen of the fairies, and overall it’s just a pretty, sparking scene and song. Plus, Barry Manilow did the soundtrack, and the song “Let Me Be Your Wings” is so gorgeous. Jodi Benson, the voice of Thumbelina, is also the voice of Ariel, The Little Mermaid! This movie is truly a hidden gem and the soundtrack is so highly underrated.

“Theme- The Corpse Bride” from The Corpse Bride (Danny Elfman)

Classic Danny Elfman. Quirky, fanciful, and haunting music all at the same time. I haven’t watched this movie in a while, but this score still is a big part of my “favorites” list.

What are some of your favorite animated (Disney or non-Disney) scores?

Hugs and Fishes,


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