Dis­ney icon made magic for kids of all gen­er­a­tions

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By John Wen­zel

Ju­di­anne Atencio ap­pre­ci­ates that her child­hood was un­usual. Unique, even.

“We knew it very, very early on,” she said from Den­ver last week. “My fa­ther worked at Dis­ney for his whole ca­reer, and we al­ways say our fam­ily his­tory and Dis­ney his­tory are so in­ter­twined.”

For the Atencio fam­ily, that his­tory in­cluded all-ac­cess vis­its to Dis­ney­land at­trac­tions, where the fam­ily of­ten wound up after church on Sun­day morn­ings.

“We knew we grew up priv­i­leged,” she said. “The big treat was to get the Dis­ney clas­sics my

fa­ther worked on as big reels of cel­lu­loid film. He’d come home on the week­ends in the 1960s with a stu­dio pro­jec­tor, long be­fore VHS or DVDS, and we’d watch them to­gether.”

Ju­di­anne Atencio hap­pily re­lived some of those mem­o­ries last week after her fa­ther, Fran­cis Xavier Atencio, died on Sept. 10 at the age of 98 at his home in Los Angeles.

De­spite hav­ing re­tired from Dis­ney in 1984, Atencio’s death lit up na­tional media out­lets and Dis­ney’s own PR ma­chine, lead­ing to an out­pour­ing of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the man sim­ply known as “X” to his friends and for­mer col­leagues.

No cause of death has been de­ter­mined, but Ju­di­anne said her Colorado-born fa­ther needed 98 years “just to squeeze it all in.”

Atencio’s pro­fes­sional rè­sumè in­cludes a num­ber of in­flu­en­tial films, some of which he cut his artis­tic teeth on as a young Dis­ney an­i­ma­tor: “Pinoc­chio,” “Fan­ta­sia” and “Mary Pop­pins,” all of which Atencio con­trib­uted to over a decades-long ten­ure that cul­mi­nated with his in­duc­tion into the Dis­ney Leg­end pro­gram in 1996.

Atencio wrote the lyrics to songs that count­less chil­dren can sing by heart, such as “Yo Ho (A Pi­rate’s Life),” on the orig­i­nal Pi­rates of the Caribbean at­trac­tion at Dis­ney­land (with mu­sic by Ge­orge Bruns), and “Grim Grin­ning Ghosts” for the Haunted Man­sion (with mu­sic by Buddy Baker), which was also fea­tured in Pixar’s Os­car-win­ning 2015 film “Inside Out.”

Born Sept. 4, 1919, in Walsen­burg, Atencio came from a long line of south­ern Colorado and New Mex­ico de­scen­dants that stretches back 500 years, ac­cord­ing to Ju­di­anne, who re­searched the Atencio fam­ily tree. Its branches in­cluded Span­ish pioneers, but also French Cana­dian fur trap­pers who made their way down the Santa Fe Trail.

“As papa said, ‘If they tell Amer­i­can his­tory from west to east, we’d all be hav­ing tamales for Thanks­giv­ing, be­cause there was a lot go­ing on over here while all those pil­grims were get­ting all the ink,’ ” Ju­di­anne said.

Atencio moved to Los Angeles in 1937 to at­tend the Chouinard Art In­sti­tute and, a year later, was work­ing at Dis­ney’s orig­i­nal Hype­r­ion Av­enue stu­dio — but only after re­luc­tantly sub­mit­ting his port­fo­lio at an in­struc­tor’s prod­ding, ac­cord­ing to a Dis­ney blog post.

He was, as a few of his obit­u­ar­ies have pointed out, still a teenager, but nonethe­less older than Walt Dis­ney Co. as a whole (even if only by four years).

Atencio worked as an an­i­ma­tor on the 1940 clas­sic “Pinoc­chio,” in which he was able to first see his work on the big screen, and be­came as­sis­tant an­i­ma­tor on “Fan­ta­sia” be­fore leav­ing to join the Army Air Corps dur­ing World War II. There he earned the rank of ma­jor and served in Bri­tain an­a­lyz­ing aerial sur­veil­lance for mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence.

“It’s crazy be­cause that gen­er­a­tion didn’t talk a lot about what they did,” Ju­di­anne said. “He didn’t storm Nor­mandy, but he did serve in Bri­tain. He didn’t tell us that un­til it was grand­par­ent’s day (at school) for my sis­ter’s daugh­ter.”

Atencio re­turned to the U.S. when the war ended in 1945 and con­tin­ued work­ing on an­i­mated shorts for eight years, some of which won or were nom­i­nated for Os­cars (in­clud­ing 1953’s “Toot, Whis­tle, Plunk and Boom”), se­quences for the orig­i­nal Mickey Mouse Club and stop-mo­tion se­quences for early-1960s Dis­ney fea­tures such as “The Par­ent Trap,” “Babes in Toy­land” and “Mary Pop­pins.”

Sens­ing his po­ten­tial in a new role at the com­pany, Walt Dis­ney trans­ferred Atencio to what’s now known as Walt Dis­ney Imag­i­neer­ing (then WED En­ter­prises) in 1965 to work on the Primeval World dio­rama for Dis­ney­land. The Ana­heim, Calif.-based theme park had been open for a mere decade at that point.

“I went over there re­luc­tantly be­cause I didn’t know what I was get­ting into, and no­body there knew what I was sup­posed to do either,” Atencio said at the time, ac­cord­ing to Dis­ney archives. “About a month later, I got a phone call from Walt. He told me ‘I want you to do the script for the Pi­rates of the Caribbean.’ ”

Atencio’s work ex­tended to Space Moun­tain at the Magic King­dom and Space­ship Earth, World of Mo­tion and the Mex­ico pav­il­ion at Ep­cot.

Many of the rides Atencio worked on were later mod­i­fied or up­dated, but his voice can still be heard in sev­eral places, es­pe­cially in Dis­ney­land, ac­cord­ing to The Huff­in­g­ton Post.

While Atencio re­tired in 1984 and was named a Dis­ney Leg­end a dozen years later, he would con­tinue to con­sult on projects for years to come — in­clud­ing the “Pi­rates of the Caribbean” film se­ries.

“There’s a great pic­ture my sis­ter took of X and Johnny (Depp) on the set of the first ‘Pi­rates,’ and when my fa­ther got there the whole pro­duc­tion was wait­ing for Johnny,” Ju­di­anne said. “But Johnny didn’t want to come out and meet my fa­ther un­til he was fully in his Jack Spar­row cos­tume, be­cause he wanted the full ef­fect for my fa­ther. … His song ‘Yo Ho’ also worked its way into more than one of those movies.”

“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.

“The thing that he en­joyed the most and up to his last vis­its to Dis­ney­land was al­ways watch­ing peo­ples’ re­ac­tions,” Ju­di­anne added. “That was where he could re­ally still see the au­di­ence and how much they loved it. They’d al­ways come out singing his song.”

Atencio is sur­vived by his wife, Mau­reen; his chil­dren Tori Mccul­lough, Ju­di­anne, and Joe; his stepchil­dren Brian Sheedy, Kevin Sheedy and Eileen Haubeil; son­sin-law Mike Mccul­lough and Chris Haubeil; and daugh­ters-in­law Kathy Atencio, Tr­ish Sheedy and Beth Sheedy.

He was pre­de­ceased by his wife, Mary, and his son Jerry, and leaves be­hind nine grand­chil­dren — all of whom will no doubt be­come fa­mil­iar with his work one day, whether they re­al­ize it or not.

“The thing that he en­joyed the most and up to his last vis­its to Dis­ney­land was al­ways watch­ing peo­ples’ re­ac­tions. That was where he could re­ally still see the au­di­ence and how much they loved it. They’d al­ways come out singing his song.”

Ju­di­anne Atencio, daugh­ter

Xavier “X” Atencio, shown in 1981, worked for Walt Dis­ney for 47 years as an an­i­ma­tor and on Pi­rates of the Caribbean.

Courtesy of Dis­ney

Xavier “X” Atencio, right, in the 1960s joins fel­low Dis­ney Le­gends and Imag­i­neers, from left, Marc Davis, Richard Irvine and Claude Coats in re­view­ing con­cept art­work for Coun­try Bear Jam­boree at Dis­ney­land and the as-yet-un­opened Walt Dis­ney World.

Xavier “X” Atencio trans­ferred from the Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios, where he worked as an an­i­ma­tor, to Walt Dis­ney Imag­i­neer­ing in 1965. He wrote “Yo Ho (A Pi­rate’s Life For Me)” for the Pi­rates of the Caribbean ride.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.