Five Highlights from the Career of Francis Xavier Atencio

by | Sep 18, 2017 | Disney History, Disney Parks and Resorts, Lists and Trivia

When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls…Whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still…That is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight….
With these immortal words, guests of Disneyland and Walt Disney World enter the realm of the Haunted Mansion and get a first hand taste of Francis Xavier Atencio’s genius. A Disney Legend, Atencio joined the company in 1937 at the age of 18. For the next 47 years, Atencio contributed to the worlds of Disney film, music, and park attractions.
In honor of Atencio (known to most simply as “X”) here are five key moments in his long Disney Career.

1. Pinocchio

Atencio worked as an animator on the 1940 feature film Pinocchio. He served as an “in-betweener”, or second assistant, to animator Woolie Reitherman (one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men). Together, they worked on the characters of Monstro the Whale and Jiminy Cricket.

2. Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom

In 1953, Atencio received his first screen credit for his work on the educational film Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. The ten minute short won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). It explored the world of orchestra and featured performances by voice actors like Thurl Ravenscroft and Bill Thompson, along with animation by Disney luminaries like Ward Kimball, Marc Davis and Art Stevens.
In an interview in later years, Atencio recalled that Kimball invited him onto the film because it featured Atencio’s style of animation, what he referred to as “pointy nose characters as opposed to fat little bunnies.”

3. The Parent Trap

In 1961, Atencio worked on two Disney classics. He used stop motion animation in the toy soldier sequence of “Babes in Toyland” and the titles for the “The Parent Trap”. The latter featured an elaborate mini-drama that foreshadowed the rest of the movie. It used characters made of wooden spoons, pipe cleaners, and even empty toothpaste tubes. In June of 1961, Walt Disney presented a behind the scenes look in the special “Walt Disney Presents: The Title Makers” which offered a glimpse of Atencio and his fellow animators at work.

4. Pirates of Caribbean

After moving to WED Enterprises in 1965, Atencio worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, writing the lyrics to the now famous “Yo ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me.” Prior to composing the piece, Atencio had never written a song and noted that he wasn’t even aware that he possessed the talent to do so. He also worked on the script for the attraction, referring to a slew of classic pirate films (among them The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, and Blackbeard the Pirate) for inspiration. Stretching his contributions even further, he contributed the voice for the talking skull and crossbones seen early in the attraction and for the drunken pirate seen sitting on a bridge.

5. The Haunted Mansion

Along with this work on Pirates of Caribbean, Atencio will likely be best remembered for the Haunted Mansion. He wrote the script for the ride and co-wrote the playful ditty, “Grim, Grinning Ghosts”. In early, rejected versions of the script, Atencio incorporated a raven or cat narrator, which followed guests throughout their journey (somewhat similar to the raven heard on 1969’s “The Haunted Mansion” album with Thurl Ravenscroft and Ronny Howard). Atencio also provided the “pardon the interruption” voice that speaks whenever the doom buggies are stopped mid-ride.

Though Atencio passed on September 10, 2017, his contributions to the world of Disney stand as a testament to his creative genius.