[WATCH] ‘The Jungle Book’ composer John Debney on creating new music for a Disney classic

“I was petrified,” admits composer John Debney during our recent webcam chat (watch above) when asked about his work on “The Jungle Book,” a live-action reimagining of one of Disney’s most beloved properties. Based on the writings of Rudyard Kipling, this Jon Favreau-helmed film follows the adventures of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy raised in the jungle by wild animals. The story was previously adapted by the studio as an animated musical in 1967 that is still viewed today, so, “going into it, there were high expectations.”

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This is the fourth collaboration between the director and composer, following “Elf” (2003), “Zathura” (2005), and “Iron Man 2” (2010). “The overriding directive from Jon was that he always wanted to make sure that the score was timeless,” Debney reveals. “He would say, ‘If Walt Disney were sitting in the room with us, would Walt like this music?'”

He certainly asked the right person. The tunesmith’s history with Disney spans decades, beginning with his father, Louis Debney, who worked with the studio beginning with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and would often take his son onto the lot, giving him, “this really cool, idyllic sort of Disney childhood.” John started at the mouse house right out of college as a copyist, working his way up to arranging music for the theme parks and finally to scoring various films and television series. “The Jungle Book” represents, “the culmination of a lot of history with them, and I’m so grateful and thankful for that.”

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Debney received his first Oscar nomination for his work on Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004). In addition, he has won three Primetime Emmys: one for his main title theme to “Seaquest DSV” (1994) and two for his underscores on “The Young Riders” (1991) and “The Cape” (1997). Check out our full interview above for more about his work on “The Jungle Book.”

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