John Debney & Germaine Franco

Composers of Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images


John Debney’s career seemed destined for Hollywood, the son of Disney Studios producer Louis Debney, John grew up in nearby Glendale, California where he got early inspiration for film and music growing up on the Disney Studio lot. The child of two musicians, John showed an early aptitude for music and began guitar lessons at age six, later playing in rock bands throughout college. Debney earned his B.A. in Music Composition from California Institute of the Arts in 1979, and after four years immersing himself in the business at Disney Studios, Debney made a professional entry into the industry, composing for TV, working with Steven Spielberg and Mike Post on shows such as Star Trek: The Next GenerationTiny Tunes, and Sea Quest DSV. Debney continued his hands-on training, working with Hanna-Barbera composer Hoyt Curtin, and went on to score major television projects such as which he won an Emmy for Best Main Title.

Debney’s first big film break came in 1997 with an offer to work on Liar Liar with director Tom Shadyac. With the success of this blockbuster comedy under his belt, Debney went on to work on a variety of different major films including ElfIron Man 2Spy Kids (1 & 2), and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Debney and Shadyac continued to collaborate, going on to do Bruce Almightyin 2003 and the spinoff Evan Almighty together. In 2005, Debney formed a successful partnership with director Robert Rodriguez, creating scores for his movies Sin City and Machete.

Although Debney was widely known within the industry as a versatile and talented composer, the world wouldn’t discover him until he composed the landmark score for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Enticed by the idea of working on a project that held deep, spiritual meaning for him, Debney’s score, which blended symphonic orchestra, a wide range of world instruments, and the beauty of the human voice, connected on an emotional level with viewers and listeners, and rose to #1 on Billboard’s charts for Soundtrack and Christian Albums, and #19 on the Billboard Top 200. The record was certified gold by the RIAA and won the Dove award for Best Instrumental Album, as well as garnering Debney an Oscar nomination.

Shortly after the movie release, Debney premiered “The Passion of the Christ Symphony” in Rome, Italy, a highly successful performance featuring an 83-person choir and a 96-piece orchestra, plus solo musicians and guest vocalists from both the film and the classical worlds, which received a 15-minute standing ovation from the audience. In the tradition of classical composers, John Debney enjoys conducting his own work and has conducted some of the world’s greatest orchestras. “A big part of the joy in what I do is that I consider it an honor to stand in front of live musicians and have the opportunity to hear my music played by these talented people.”

Debney’s most commercially successful work to date is Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreaureleased in 2016. Debney credits the success of the movie to the fact that both the film and the score, “Embraced the history” of the original. Long-time collaborator, Jon Favreau and John Debney have worked on a variety of films together including Elf, Zathura, Iron Man 2, and The Jungle Book. Among John Debney’s other most recent works are scores for Draft DayStoneheart Asylum and HISTORY’s Emmy-nominated Hatfields & McCoys as well as the HISTORY’s most recent mini-series Houdini, and A&E mini-series Bonnie & Clyde.

Considered one of the most prolific and successful composers in Hollywood, Debney has won 3 Emmy’s and been nominated for 7, he is also an Academy Award nominee, and the youngest recipient of ASCAP’s prestigious Henry Mancini Lifetime Achievement Award.

Germaine Franco is the first Latina composer invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences music branch and to receive the Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature (COCO). She was nominated for a Black Reel Award for her work on Dope, and is the first female composer to be hired by DreamWorks Animation and Pixar. She is a Sundance Music Sound Design Fellow, a Women In Film Music Fellow, and an Advisory Board Member of Women in Media. At the 2018 ASCAP Screen Music Awards, Franco was recognized with the Shirley Walker Award. Univision honored Germaine Franco on International Women’s Day 2018 as one of “15 Latinas Who Are Changing The World As We Know It”, alongside Rita Moreno, and Emma Gonzalez.

Germaine composes music and songs that reflect her extensive training as an orchestral musician, her electronic music programming prowess, her multi-instrumental expertise and her love of world music. Franco divides her time working on studio blockbusters and independent features. She has scored and/or written songs for a variety of award-winning and high-profile features, animations, and documentary projects.

Recently, Germaine co-composed the score for Paramount’s Dora and The Lost City Of Gold live action film with John Debney, directed by James Bobin, produced by Kristin Burr and executive produced by Tamazin Simmonds and Eugenio Derbez. Franco and Debney worked side by side to create a dynamic score with full orchestra, Andean flutes, ancient conch shells and chants. They incorporated Quechua lyrics for choir, as well as a Latin pop band.

Germaine Franco also scored the feature film Little for Universal Pictures with Tina Gordon Chism, which was released in theaters in April 2019. Her collaboration with Tina Gordon Chism marked the first time that two women of color collaborated as composer and director on a studio feature with a budget of twenty million dollars. Little was produced by Kenya Barris, Will Packer, and James Lopez, and executive produced by Marsai Martin. Germaine’s score to the upcoming animated feature for Curious George 4, directed by Doug Murphy for Universal Animation, will be released on Hulu.

In 2018, Franco was one of three female composers to score a major studio project with her work on Tag, directed by Jeff Tomsic for New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Additionally, she completed the feature Life-Size 2 produced by Stephanie Allain for Freeform and the TV series Vida for the Starz.

Franco’s work on Disney•Pixar’s Oscar®-winning animated feature Coco was multifaceted, encompassing more than four years of creative collaboration with filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, and Darla K. Anderson. Germaine wrote five original songs including “Un Poco Loco” and “Proud Corazón” with co-director Adrian Molina. She arranged, orchestrated and co-produced the Oscar®-winning song of 2018. Franco contributed additional music and co-orchestrated the score to give it an authentic Mexican sound.

Additional film credits include, Dope directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Open Road Films), Margarita (HBO Canada), Walk with Me: On the Road with Thich Nhat Hanh, and Shovel Buddies (Awesomeness Films).

Franco also composes for immersive reality (4D) and theme park attractions, including DreamWorks Animation and Universal Creative’s Kung Fu Panda – The Emperor’s Quest currently playing at Universal Studios Hollywood. In 2016, she was composer, and music producer for DreamWorks Animation’s Motiongate Dubai. 

Pop Disciple Podcast John Debney Germaine Franco Composer Dora And The Lost City of Gold

Listen to the score for Dora And The Lost City of Gold.


Watch the trailer for Dora and the Lost City of Gold.


This episode of The Pop Disciple Podcast is hosted by Paul Goldowitz.

Production, Editing, Mixing, Mastering | Paul Goldowitz
Select Cues Throughout The Episode | John Debney, Germaine Franco
The Pop Disciple Podcast Theme and Outro Music | Paul Goldowitz

Special thanks to John Debney, Germaine Franco, White Bear PR, and Costa Communications.