FOR ALL the lines he ever drew for Disney, X Atencio might best be remembered instead for the first musical lines he ever wrote.
Atencio began working for Walt Disney in 1938, but it was three decades later that the boss asked him to script the Pirates of the Caribbean ride for the Anaheim theme park. That assignment led the animator/voice actor to pen the lyrics for the rollicking, rum-happy tune “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me),” set to the music of George Bruns with a nod to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”
As a WED Imagineer, Atencio would also script the park’s popular Haunted Mansion attraction — work that included his writing the lyrics to the Buddy Baker tune “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song),” which was on the soundtrack of Pete Docter’s 2015 Oscar-winning film, “Inside Out.”
Francis Xavier “X” Atencio, whose contributions to the company spanned a half-century — leading to his induction as a Disney Legend in 1996 — died Sunday after living most of his life in the Los Angeles area, according to Disney. He was 98.
“X was an enormous talent who helped define so many of our best experiences around the world,” Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a statement. “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.”
Atencio, who was born in 1919, headed from his native Colorado to Los Angeles while still a teenager and attended Chouinard Art Institute. Quickly showing talent, he was hired as an artist at Disney in 1938, doing uncredited animation on 1940’s “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” shortly before serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
He also was an animator on the Oscar-winning 1953 short “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom,” Disney’s “crash course” on Western musical instruments, and helped create notable stop-motion sequences for such films as “Babes in Toyland” (1961) and “Mary Poppins” (1964).
Atencio is survived by his wife, Maureen; three children and three stepchildren; and nine grandchildren, according to the Associated Press.