An Emmy-winning composer best known for his playful comedy, animation, and adventure scores, John Debney grew up on Hollywood studio lots of the '60s and '70s as the son of a Disney producer. While his credits for Disney went on to include films such as Hocus Pocus (1993), Inspector Gadget (1999), and The Princess Diaries (2001), more dramatic settings for his music included movies like Sudden Death (1995), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and The Passion of the Christ (2004). The latter earned Debney an Academy Award nomination for best score. He made his debut in the Marvel Universe in 2010 with Iron Man 2, and the 2016 live-action version of The Jungle Book (also with Disney) became his fourth collaboration with director Jon Favreau.
John Debney has been part of the Disney family since he was born in Glendale, California in 1956. The son of Disney Studios producer Louis Debney, he grew up playing and writing music while spending time with his father at work. He even knew Walt Disney. Upon graduating from the California Institute of Arts, he began working at the Mouse House in the copying department. His earliest compositions were used for Epcot's international pavilions and rides. He also worked with Hanna-Barbera composer Hoyt Curtin, contributing music to The Jetsons and The Flintstones. From there, Debney went on to score such television shows as Fame, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. His first major film score opportunity was the Disney comedy-fantasy Hocus Pocus, released in 1993. In 1994, he won an Emmy for his theme to Seaquest DSV. He won again in 1997 for his work on The Cape: Pilot.
As Debney transitioned to more and more film work, he composed music for horror films such as 1997's The Relic and I Know What You Did Last Summer, while also working on comedies like the same year's Liar Liar (starring Jim Carrey) and 1999's Dick. His first collaboration with director Robert Rodriguez came with the 2001 action-comedy Spy Kids. That year also featured Debney's work in Cats & Dogs, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Disney's The Princess Diaries, among other films. He returned for the sequels Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (2002) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), and in 2005, he was nominated for an Academy Award for The Passion of the Christ. Unlike the whimsical orchestral style he was becoming associated with, that score was influenced by Middle Eastern music and incorporated various regional folk instruments. For 2005's more theatrical Sin City, he collaborated with Robert Rodriguez and composer Graeme Revell on the film's score. The year also saw the release of the Disney animated feature Chicken Little, with music by Debney.
Following Elf and Zathura, the composer joined director Jon Favreau for a third time on 2010's Iron Man 2, Debney's official Marvel debut, at least as main composer (he had contributed additional music to Spider-Man 2 and 3). Examples of his diverse work over the next few years included the Farrelly Brothers' The Three Stooges (2012), the thriller Alex Cross (2012), the Ivan Reitman sports drama Draft Day (2014), and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015). He reunited with both Disney and Favreau for the 2016 live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, then contributed to 2017's The Greatest Showman as score co-composer with Joseph Trapanese. That year, he also helped launch the TV series Young Sheldon and The Orville. In 2018, he joined the popular video game franchise with Madden NFL 19, and he rounded out the decade with scores for films including Isn't It Romantic, The Beach Bum, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold, all released in 2019. ~ Marcy Donelson & Neil Z. Yeung