Joe Ranft
Joseph Henry Ranft[1]

(1960-03-13)March 13, 1960[1]
DiedAugust 16, 2005(2005-08-16) (aged 45)[1]
Alma materCalifornia Institute of the Arts
  • Screenwriter
  • animator
  • storyboard artist
  • voice actor
Years active1980–2005
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1980–1999)
Pixar Animation Studios (1991–2005)
Sue Barry
(m. 1985)
RelativesJerome Ranft (brother)

Joseph Henry Ranft (March 13, 1960 – August 16, 2005) was an American screenwriter, animator, storyboard artist and voice actor, who worked for Pixar Animation Studios and Disney at Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disney Television Animation. His younger brother Jerome Ranft is a sculptor who also worked on several Pixar films.

He received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay nomination as one of the writers of Toy Story (1995), and was also the co-director on Cars (2006), his final work before his death.

Early life

Joseph Henry Ranft was born in Pasadena, California on March 13, 1960,[1] and raised in Whittier. As a child, Ranft developed a love for magic, storytelling, film and comedy. At age 15, he became a member of the Magic Castle Junior Group. After graduating from Monte Vista High School, Whittier, in 1978, Ranft began studying in the character animation program at the California Institute of the Arts alongside John Lasseter and Brad Bird.[1] After two years, Ranft's student film Good Humor caught the attention of Disney animation executives, who offered him a job.


In 1980, Ranft joined Disney as a writer and storyboard artist. During his first five years with Disney, Joe worked on a number of television projects[1] that were never produced. Later in his Disney career, he was promoted into the Feature Animation department, where he was mentored by Eric Larson. Ranft later spoke about training under the Disney legend: "He always reminds me of just the fundamental things that I tend to forget. You know, it's like, animation is so complex; 'How many drawings are in there?' and stuff, but Eric always comes back to like; 'What does the audience perceive?'"[2]

Around this time, he studied under and began performing with the improvisational group, The Groundlings.[3] Ranft stayed with Disney throughout the 1980s, writing the story on many animated features, including Oliver & Company, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. He also worked on The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 for Hyperion Animation and James and the Giant Peach in 1996 for Allied Filmmakers.[1]

Ranft reunited with Lasseter when he was hired by Pixar in 1991 as their head of story.[1] There he worked on all of their films produced up to 2006; this included Toy Story (for which he received an Academy Award nomination) and A Bug's Life, as the co-story writer and others as story supervisor. His first film was The Brave Little Toaster (1987), and his final film was Cars (2006). He also voiced characters in many of the films, including Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life, Wheezy the penguin in Toy Story 2, and Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo.[1]

In the movie Monsters, Inc., Ranft had a monster named after him (J.J. Ranft) as most of the scarers in the film were named for Pixar staff. Ranft used a German accent to voice Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life and a French accent to voice Jacques the shrimp in Finding Nemo. He was also given lead story credit on The Brave Little Toaster (1987) and voiced Elmo St. Peters, the appliance salesman.[citation needed]

His favorite writers were Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe. His favorite magicians were John Carney, Daryl, Michael Ammar, Ricky Jay and Jimmy Grippo.[4]

He was posthumously honored in 2006 as a Disney Legend and in 2016 with the Winsor McCay Award, the lifetime achievement award for animators.

Death and legacy

On August 16, 2005, Ranft, 45, and his friend Eric Frierson, 39, were passengers in Ranft's 2004 Honda Element, which was being driven by another friend, Elegba Earl, 32. Earl suddenly lost control and crashed through a guard rail while northbound on Highway 1.

The SUV tumbled down a cliff and plunged 130 feet (43.333 yards) into the mouth of the Navarro River where it meets the Pacific Ocean in Mendocino County, California, killing both Ranft and Earl instantly. Frierson survived by escaping through the sun roof, though he received moderate injuries.[5][6] Ranft, who was 45, died during the production of Cars, which he co-directed and voice acted in. The film and tie-in game are dedicated to his memory, as is Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, on which Ranft was executive producer.[7] His remains were cremated.[8]

Henry Selick called him "the story giant of our generation."[6] In honor of Ranft, in Selick's animated film production Coraline, the moving SUV that moves Coraline into her new apartment is emblazoned with a "Ranft Moving, Inc." logo. The movers themselves are modeled after Ranft and his brother Jerome, who voiced one of the movers. Jerome even took up most of Joe’s voice roles following his brother’s death.

The 2010 DVD re-release of Toy Story 2 includes a special feature that focuses on Ranft and his accomplishments. Additionally, the 2020 film Soul includes his name on a wall of previous mentors to the character 22.


Feature films

Year Title Director Writer Story
Story Artist Directing
Other Voice Role Notes
1987 The Brave Little Toaster[9] No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Elmo St. Peters/Clown
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit[10] No No No Yes No No No Animation: Storysketch
Oliver & Company[11] No Story No No No No No
1989 The Little Mermaid[11] No No No Yes No No No Storyboards
1990 The Rescuers Down Under[11] No Screenplay Yes No No No No Animation Screenplay
1991 Beauty and the Beast[11] No Story No No No No No
1993 The Nightmare Before Christmas[12][11] No No Yes No No No Yes Igor
1994 The Lion King[13] No Story No No No No No
1995 Toy Story[13] No Original Story Yes No No No Yes Lenny
1996 James and the Giant Peach[9] No No Yes No No No No
1998 A Bug's Life[13] No Original Story Yes No No No Yes Heimlich/Fly
1999 Toy Story 2[13] No No Yes No No No Yes Wheezy/Heimlich Additional Story Material
Fantasia 2000[9] No No No Additional No No No Additional Artist: Story
2000 Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins No No No No No No Yes Wheezy Direct-to-video
2001 Monkeybone[14] No No No No No No Yes Streetsquashed Rabbit
Monsters, Inc.[13] No No No Yes No No Yes Pete "Claws" Ward Additional Story Material
2003 Finding Nemo No No No No No No Yes Jacques
2004 The Incredibles No No No No No No Yes Additional Voices
2005 Corpse Bride[9] No No No No No Yes Yes "In Memory of" Dedication
2006 Cars[15] Co-Director Yes Yes No No No Yes Red/Peterbilt

Short films and TV specials

Year Title Writer Puppeteer Other Notes
1982 Fun with Mr. Future Yes No No
1983 Hansel and Gretel No Yes No TV Special
2006 Mater and the Ghostlight[16] Original Story No Yes End Credits Designer


Year Title Role Notes
2007 The Pixar Story Himself "In Loving Memory of" Dedication, Very Special Thanks
2009 Waking Sleeping Beauty caricaturist "In Memory of" Dedication

Video games

Year Title Voice Role
1996 Toy Story Animated Storybook Lenny
1998 A Bug's Life: The Video Game Heimlich
2002 Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena Pete "Claws" Ward
2003 Finding Nemo: The Video Game[11] Jacques
Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure Wheezy
2007 Cars Mater-National Championship Red (credit only)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Woollcombe, Alan (August 23, 2005). "Joe Ranft". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 14, 2010. Retrieved January 24, 2010.
  2. ^ "Eric Larson, Disney Family Album: Part Three".
  3. ^ Cody, Bill (June 22, 2011). "John Lasseter Talks 'Cars 2' and the Memory of His Friend and Collaborator, Joe Ranft". ComingSoon.Net. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  4. ^ "Pixar Artist's Corner - Joe". Pixar. Archived from the original on December 11, 2002. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  5. ^ Scott Weinberg (August 19, 2005). "Pixar's Joe Ranft Falls to a Tragic Death". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 26, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Sheigh Crabtree (August 18, 2005). "Pixar Animation's Joe Ranft, 45". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007.
  7. ^ Solomon, Charles (May 28, 2006). "With 'Cars,' Pixar Revs Up to Outpace Walt Disney Himself". New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  8. ^ Solomon, Charles (August 18, 2005). "Joe Ranft, 45; Artist for Pixar Animated Films, Voice of Heimlich in 'A Bug's Life'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d Soloman, Charles (August 18, 2005). "Joe Ranft, 45; Artist for Pixar Animated Films, Voice of Heimlich in 'A Bug's Life'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "Disney Legends « Disney D23". Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Joe Ranft". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  12. ^ Sragow, Michael (November 23, 1999). ""Toy" story man". Salon. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e "Pixar exec dies in car accident". Variety. August 18, 2005. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  14. ^ "Joe Ranft". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  15. ^ Lowry, Brian (June 4, 2006). "Film Review: Cars". Variety. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  16. ^ Amidi, Amid (2017). The Art of Pixar Short Films. Chronicle Books. pp. 41–42. ISBN 9781452165219.