Germaine Franco (‘Encanto’ composer) on becoming the first woman to score a Disney animated feature: ‘I am the first woman, but I’m not the last’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“My task was to find a cohesive element that would tie the whole story together,” explains composer Germaine Franco of her work on “Encanto.” Her score had to mesh with original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda and incorporate authentic sounds from the Colombian setting. She succeeded in these missions by bringing a distinctive Latina voice to her art. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

The Madrigal family is at the center of Disney’s latest animated musical. They reside in an enchanted house and the land has bestowed them with magical gifts. “We talked from the very beginning about the idea of magical realism,” says Franco, “which is a literary device used in a lot of Latino theater.” This magic feels organic, from the earth, and was an essential piece of the puzzle for the composer. In her research, she discovered that Colombians do have “encantos,” areas that touch “a realm besides the one we’re in now…and you can access it if you’re quiet enough.”

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The key ingredient to evoking this specific type of magic resided in a familiar quality. “Somehow, giving it a female voice gave me entrance into that realm,” reveals Franco. So, in addition to the authentic Colombian instruments that populate and texture her score, the composer also recorded a full Colombian choir. Their voices are interspersed throughout the film’s musical themes. “There’s a quality that the voice has that takes you into another world sometimes,” she notes.

“Encanto” is a milestone for Walt Disney Animation Studios because it’s their 60th feature film. But it’s an even greater milestone because Franco is the first female to score one of their animated movies. It’s a fitting accomplishment for a woman who also holds the honor of being the first Latina invited into the Academy’s music branch. “I felt it was a responsibility on my part to bring the Latina voice to the character, through the music,” she explains.

“I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to open the door for other women, and women of color,” says Franco. Though she confesses she tries not to think about this statistic too much, noting that she is “one of many” when considering the entirely Latinx cast and other Latina creatives on the team. It’s all a sign, Franco believes, that the industry is truly changing and letting more audience members see themselves represented on the screen and behind it. “So yes, I am the first woman,” notes Franco, “but I’m not the last.”

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