Disney’s For Scores podcast debuted last Fall and each episode dives into a composer who has leant their talents to projects across Disney’s brands. The most recent episode was an interview with John Debney, who grew up in the company and has created scores for countless projects including Hocus Pocus, The Princess Diaries, The Emperor’s New Groove, Iron Man 2, and The Jungle Book.
If you haven’t listened to For Scores before, the John Debney episode is a great place to start. He shares a lot of information about his father Louis Debney, who was hired by Walt Disney in 1936 and served as a clapper on the live action reference footage for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He rose through the ranks and became a producer on such projects as The Mickey Mouse Club, Zorro, and The Wonderful World of Color.
John Debney shares some of his earliest memories of growing up at the studio, including meeting Walt Disney on several occasions and even spending time in his Disneyland apartment above the firehouse. Through his father, John also got to spend a day with the Sherman Brothers who talked to him about his interest in music.
While pursuing music as a career, John Debney worked for Disney in the copy department where he met musical legends like Buddy Baker, who became his mentor. During this time, John Debney did some orchestrations for Disney Parks. A project he remembers fondly involved archiving hand-written scores that were stored in the morgue that went as far back as Snow White. He was allowed to take them home to study them.
Leaving the studio in the 1980’s, John ended up freelancing on a project that would professionally pair him with one of his earliest mentors, Richard Sherman on the Disney Channel series Welcome to Pooh Corner. He would routinely work for Disney throughout the years and The Princess Diaries was his first of seven films directed by Gary Marshall. His relationship with Jon Favreau began on Elf which ultimately lead to The Jungle Book.
Hosted by Jon Burlingame, this episode of For Scores could’ve easily been over an hour without getting stale. It offers great insight into John Debney’s unique upbringing within the Disney company, but primarily focuses on his work for The Princess Diaries and The Jungle Book, leaving out much of his Disney work and not even mentioning Hocus Pocus in the process, which is my favorite of his scores. My fingers are crossed for a second installment of this episode someday.
If you enjoyed this episode of For Scores, you may also enjoy a brief interview I had with John Debney on the red carpet of The Jungle Book from 2016 where he shares more about his days at the studio and talks about adapting the George Bruns music from the animated classic.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.