- "So after one meeting I said, 'I've got a little idea for a song for the pirate ride, Walt.' He said, 'Let's hear it.' I half recited and recited and half sang it and he said, 'Hey, that's great! Get George [Bruns] to do the music.' That was my first attempt at writing lyrics and that's how I became a songwriter."
- ―X Atencio
Walt Disney valued quality artists, like multi-talented Xavier Atencio, who helped animate Disney classics, including Fantasia, and later developed music for such Disneyland attractions as the Haunted Mansion (for which he co-wrote the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts"), and Pirates of the Caribbean. Atencio recalled the day Walt first greeted him with a robust, "Hi ya', X!" Walt's acknowledgment by name (Xavier, by initial, which was his nickname at the Studio) was a thrill to the young artist and future Imagineer. X recalled, "Walt was a father image. You felt good merely having been in the presence of his dynamic personality."
Early life and Disney
Born in Walsenburg, Colorado in 1919, Xavier Atencio moved to Los Angeles in 1937, where he attended Chouinard Art Institute. Instructors gently prodded the shy, young artist to submit his portfolio to The Walt Disney Studios. The next year, he startled neighbors when he ran past their homes, from the Company's Hyperion Studio to his aunt's house, shouting "I got a job at Disney!"
Within three years, X was promoted to assistant animator on Fantasia until World War II sent him to England with the U.S. Army Air Corps. By 1945, X returned to the Studios to work on animated short subjects and in 1953, he received his first screen credit for Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, which won an Academy Award. Other films he contributed to include Jack and Old Mac, and two Oscar nominees: Noah's Ark and A Symposium on Popular Songs. X also helped animate titles and sequences for such Disney live-action films as The Parent Trap, Babes in Toyland, and Mary Poppins. He also contributed his artistic skill to the I'm No Fool series for the original Mickey Mouse Club television show.
Walt Disney Imagineering
In 1965, Walt Disney asked X Atencio to stretch his talents by relocating to Walt Disney Imagineering, then called WED (Walter Elias Disney) Enterprises, to assist in the creation of the Primeval World diorama for Disneyland. He went on to help develop dialogue and music for such attractions as Adventure thru Inner Space, the Haunted Mansion (for which he co-wrote the song "Grim Grinning Ghosts"), and Pirates of the Caribbean. For Pirates of the Caribbean, X Atencio wrote the script for the attraction—working from concepts and storyboards by fellow Imagineer Marc Davis—as well as the lyrics to George Bruns' music for the ride's theme song and famous sea chanty, Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me). Atencio once said, "I didn't even know I could write music, but somehow Walt did. He tapped my hidden talents." And always one to get into his work, X Atencio himself supplied the voices of the talking skull and crossbones (early on in the attraction) and the drunken pirate on the bridge whose hairy leg dangles above guests as their bateau sails beneath him.
Later, X Atencio contributed to the If You Had Wings and Space Mountain attractions in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, as well as the Spaceship Earth, World of Motion, and the Mexico pavilion in EPCOT. In 1983, he made several trips to Tokyo Disneyland to supervise recordings for the Haunted Mansion.
After 47 years with The Walt Disney Company, X Atencio retired in 1984, and would be named a Disney Legend in 1996. Atencio would still participate in Disney-related events as well as being part of Disney history.
When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was being filmed, X Atencio would visit the Pantano River bayou set at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The Dead Man's Chest company rolled out a red carpet for X, honoring him with his own director's chair and with Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and a long parade of cast and crew paying due homage. "Without this man," spoke Verbinski for one and all, "none of us would be here right now." On June 24, 2006, X Atencio also attended the world premiere of Dead Man's Chest held at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Xavier Atencio passed away on September 10, 2017.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
- Bring Me That Horizon: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean
- X Atencio - Disney Insider
- Xavier Atencio on Wikipedia
- X Atencio on Disney Wiki
- Xavier Atencio at the Internet Movie Database
Notes and references
- Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, pg. 33
- "Charting The Return" - Dead Man's Chest DVD
- Bring Me That Horizon: The Making of Pirates of the Caribbean, pg. 108
- POTC2 Presskit
- World Premiere Of "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest" - Arrivals - Pictures - Zimbio
- Disney Legend X Atencio, Who Helped Create Pirates And Haunted Mansion, Dead At 98