X Atencio, the legendary Disney animator and Imagineer who worked on “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” and helped bring the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions to life at Disneyland, died on Sept. 10. He was 98.
Atencio worked for Disney from 1938 through 1984. He left the studio temporarily during World War II to join the Army Air Corps. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1996.
Atencio was a favorite of Walt Disney’s for his versatility as an animator, tunesmith, writer, and innovator who brought indelible touches to some of Disneyland’s best-loved attractions.
“X was an enormous talent who helped define so many of our best experiences around the world,” said Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering. “Some may not know that when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Yo Ho’ 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. That was how X worked—with an enthusiastic, collaborative attitude, along with a great sense of humor. His brilliant work continues to inspire Imagineers and bring joy to millions of guests every year.”
Born in Walsenburg, Colo., Atencio shortened his first name from Francis Xavier to the more distinctive “X.” He moved to Los Angeles in 1937 to attend the Chouinard Art Institute and eagerly sought a job at Disney’s original Hyperion Avenue studio. His first work appeared in 1940’s “Pinocchio.”
After the war, Atencio spent eight years working on short subjects. He gravitated to Disney productions dedicated to music including 1953’s “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” and 1962’s “A Symposium on Popular Songs.” He worked on the “I’m No Fool” series of informational shorts for the original “Mickey Mouse Club” TV series. And he produced stop-motion sequences for 1961’s “The Parent Trap” and “Babes in Toyland” and 1964’s “Mary Poppins.”
At Walt Disney’s behest, Atencio transferred to WED Enterprises (the forerunner of Disney Imagineering) and was assigned to write the script for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which led him to pen the ride’s memorable song, “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).” He also co-wrote the “Grim Grinning Ghosts” song for the Haunted Mansion. Later, Atencio worked on attractions at Walt Disney World and Epcot Center in Florida.
Atencio’s survivors include his wife Maureen, six children and stepchildren and eight grandchildren.