Disney Legend Francis Xavier ‘X’ Atencio died September 10 at the age of 98. X leaves behind a great legacy throughout Disney movies and theme parks. He joined Disney in 1938, and worked on ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Fantasia.’ He briefly left Disney to join the Army Air Corps in the war effort, and returned to Disney in 1945.
He worked on several animated short subjects, and earned his first on-screen credit for the Academy Award-winning ‘Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom’ in 1953. You might be saying to yourself, ‘that sounds familiar,’ and it should! This short focuses on the various sounds musical instruments make. It is also where we first meet Professor Owl, who would make appearances in the Disney Sing-Along Song videos.
The thing that X is most famous for, however, is his work with WED Enterprises, later known as Walt Disney Imagineering. When asked about his early days at WED, he said, ‘Nobody knew what I was supposed to be doing. I just kind of flubbed around and then latched on to Claude Coats, who was one of my favorite guys, and helped him do the design for Primeval World.’ The Primeval World diorama opened in 1966, and was recently refurbished with new effects and lighting as part of the rerouting of the Disneyland Railroad.
He also contributed to the scripts of Pirates of the Caribbean and Adventures Through Inner Space, and voiced some characters in Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. The voice in the coffin in the Haunted Mansion conservatory saying ‘let me out of here’ is X! He is also the voice of the skull and cross bones before the first drop/waterfall in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Atencio also wrote the lyrics to ‘Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)’ and ‘Grim Grinning Ghosts.’ These two songs are constantly playing at Disney Theme Parks worldwide, and are definitely guest favorites! Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, said ‘some may not know that when X wrote the lyrics for ‘Yo Ho’ that he had never actually written a song before. He simply proposed the idea of a tune for Pirates of the Caribbean, and Walt told him to go and do it. X worked with an enthusiastic, collaborative attitude, along with great sense of humor.’
And his sense of humor was definitely heard in ‘Yo Ho.’ He took his inspiration for ‘Yo Ho’ from reading books and the movie ‘Treasure Island.’ Atencio’s lyrics were meant to be fun, and they definitely are! How many times have you tried to sing the correct lyrics to ‘Yo Ho?’ Are you the one who sings it like this: ‘Yo ho, yo ho! A pirate’s life for me. We something, something, something, something, drink up me hearties yo ho?!’ Come on, admit it! We’ve all done it, and that’s perfectly okay! How many times have you left either Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion humming the song? That’s how fun and simple those songs are to sing! They may now be over 50 years old, but they remain timeless, and will remain Disney classics for years to come.
X also wrote dialogue and songs for several classic Epcot attractions, including El Rio del Tiempo at the Mexico Pavilion, World of Motion, and Spaceship Earth. He made another contribution to Walt Disney World with ‘If You Had Wings’ at Magic Kingdom.
X Atencio retired from The Walt Disney Company in 1984, and was named a Disney Legend in 1996. After retirement, he continued to be a mentor to those in Animation and Imagineering. He also contributed to panels at various Disney events, including the Disneyana Convention, D23’s Destination D, and the D23 Expo.
We will always remember X Atencio for his contributions to Disney Animation and Disney Theme Parks. Thank you X for allowing us to be playful spooks and plundering pirates in a place filled with magic, fantasy, and imagination.