Germaine Franco became the first female composer of a Disney animated feature when she joined “Encanto,” but that was also unfortunately during the pandemic, which meant she could not go to Colombia for research. Instead, she brought Colombia to her.
“I started listening to music from the early 1800s all the way to current pop and just had so many different videos and scores and songs … What I found was that we have so much in a common, a lot of the Latin American countries, but they’re very different in a different way,” Franco tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Composers panel (watch above). “I also bought a bunch of instruments. I had a marimba made in Colombia. It’s called a marimba de chonta. It’s a special marimba that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s made out of a palm tree, so I had it built and shipped to me. I also got a lot of string instruments, like bandolas and tiples. And I actually bought a Colombian harp. I was just like, ‘Well, I can’t go there. Let me bring all the instruments to me.'”
The 60th film by Walt Disney Animation, “Encanto” follows the Madrigals, a family who lives in a magical house, casita, and whose every member is blessed with a magical gift, except Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz). By the time Franco joined the film, Lin-Manuel Miranda had already written all the songs, which Franco used as a starting point to compose her lush score that’s seamlessly woven in.
“My first work was to explore his songs and just figure out, ‘OK, what kind of language is Lin using for the film?’ And then I started writing away from everything, just making suites and making demos and ideas away from picture,” she explains. “But I knew I had to work within the structure of the songs, where they were in the picture as a whole, so one of my tasks was to do intros into the songs and make sure that the score would go seamlessly out of the songs. But also I worked on themes that would kind of have the same language and the same feel so it didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, score starts here and now here’s another song,’ so we were in the same world.”
And while Franco did not have a hand in the unexpected smash hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” she had a lot of fun writing Bruno cues, particularly when Mirabel first enters her ostracized uncle’s mysterious tower and learns of his startling vision.
“Bruno was always this enigma in how we treated him — the very first time they say his name, before you hear the song, there’s a little weird flute. There’s some odd little woodwinds, so there were little hints, motifs going in,” Franco says. “And then as she’s walking, sneaking around, she opens that door and she goes in for the very first time into the tower, I changed harmonic and tonal shifts because she was in, like, an altered reality and I wanted that to feel very earthy. So you can hear my beautiful friend Pedro Eustache doing these great flutes. … I really wanted that connection to the earth because there are so many indigenous people still living in Colombia and I wanted to honor that. … I wanted his world to feel like a place that no one ever had experienced before, and big, huge.”
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