Joe Ranft
Joseph Henry Ranft

(1960-03-13)March 13, 1960
DiedAugust 16, 2005(2005-08-16) (aged 45)[1]
Alma materCalifornia Institute of the Arts
  • Animator
  • writer
  • voice actor
Years active1980–2005
Employer(s)Walt Disney Animation Studios (1980–1999)
Pixar Animation Studios (1992–2005)
Sue Barry
(m. 1985)
RelativesJerome Ranft (brother)

Joseph Henry Ranft (March 13, 1960 – August 16, 2005) was an American animator, screenwriter, and voice actor. He 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.

Ranft's first film was The Brave Little Toaster in 1987. 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[1] was born in Pasadena, California, on March 13, 1960,[1] and raised in Whittier. His parents were James and Melissa Ranft. 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, he 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 Larson's training: "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 October 1992 as their head of story.[4] There he worked on all of their films produced up to 2006; this included Toy Story (for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and A Bug's Life, as the co-story writer and others as story supervisor. 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 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.[5]

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 (40 m) into the mouth of the Navarro River where it meets the Pacific Ocean in Mendocino County, killing both Ranft and Earl instantly. Frierson survived by escaping through the sun roof, though he received moderate injuries.[6][7] Ranft 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.[8] His remains were cremated.[9]

Ranft has been recognized by colleagues and in various tributes in animated films released after his death. Henry Selick called him "the story giant of our generation."[7] 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 took over most of Ranft's voice roles following his brother's death. The 2010 Blu-Ray and DVD re-release of Toy Story 2 includes a special feature that focuses on Ranft and his accomplishments titled "Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft".[10] Ranft did early drawings for the character of Finn McMissile in an unused scene from the film Cars, and his drawings were later used in creating the character for Cars 2.[11] John Lasseter has cited Ranft as being one of the main inspirations for the character of Mater from those films, and described his influence as being "all over Cars 2".[12] In the film Inside Out, the character of Jangles the clown is based on a character created by Ranft outside of Pixar named "Buttocks the Clown",[13] according to co-director Ronnie del Carmen and story artist Domee Shi.[14] The end credits of the Pixar film Coco showcase a digital ofrenda with pictures of many Pixar employees and their loved ones who had previously died, including Ranft.[15] 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
Animator Executive
Other Voice Role Notes
1987 The Brave Little Toaster No Yes No Yes Directing No Yes Elmo St. Peters / Clown Animation Screen Story[16]
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit[17] No No No Yes No No No Animation: Storysketch
Oliver & Company No No No Yes No No No [18]
1989 The Little Mermaid[18] No No No Yes No No No Storyboards
1990 The Rescuers Down Under No Screenplay Yes No No No No Animation Screenplay [18]
1991 Beauty and the Beast No No No Yes No No No [18]
1993 The Nightmare Before Christmas No No Yes No No No Yes Igor [19][18]
1994 The Lion King No No No Yes No No No [20]
1995 Toy Story No Original Story Yes No No No Yes Lenny [20]
1996 James and the Giant Peach No No Yes No No No No [16]
1998 A Bug's Life No Original Story Yes No No No Yes Heimlich / Fly [20]
1999 Toy Story 2 No No Yes No No No Yes Wheezy / Heimlich Additional Story Material[20]
Fantasia 2000[16] 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 No No No No No No Yes Streetsquashed Rabbit [21]
Monsters, Inc. No No No Yes No No Yes Pete "Claws" Ward Additional Story Material[20]
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[16] No No No No No Yes Yes "In Memory of" Dedication
2006 Cars[22] Co-Director Yes Yes No No No Yes Red/Peterbilt

Short films and television 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[23] 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[18] Jacques
Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure Wheezy
2007 Cars Mater-National Championship Red (credit only)

Theme parks

Year Title Role Notes
2002–2018 Heimlich's Chew Chew Train Heimlich
2018–present Heimlich's Candy Corn Toss Heimlich Posthumous, archival audio[24]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h 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". YouTube.[dead YouTube link]
  3. ^ "A Brief Talk with Joe Ranft". January 9, 2013. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  4. ^ To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios
  5. ^ "Pixar Artist's Corner - Joe". Pixar. Archived from the original on December 11, 2002. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  6. ^ Scott Weinberg (August 19, 2005). "Pixar's Joe Ranft Falls to a Tragic Death". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 26, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Sheigh Crabtree (August 18, 2005). "Pixar Animation's Joe Ranft, 45". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007.
  8. ^ Solomon, Charles (May 28, 2006). "With 'Cars,' Pixar Revs Up to Outpace Walt Disney Himself". New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Two Disney/Pixar Animated Classics Come to Life as They've Never Been Seen Before TOY STORY & TOY STORY 2". Cision PS newswire. March 23, 2010. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  11. ^ Robertson, Barbara (June 2011). "The World is Not Enough". Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "9 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT INSIDE OUT". OhMyDisney. August 21, 2016. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  14. ^ Frost, John (June 16, 2015). "Easter Eggs and other hidden tributes in Pixar's 'Inside Out'". The Disney Blog. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  15. ^ Caulfield, AJ (November 27, 2017). "Easter Eggs You Missed In Coco". Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "Disney Legends « Disney D23". Retrieved May 18, 2013.
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Joe Ranft". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  19. ^ Sragow, Michael (November 23, 1999). ""Toy" story man". Salon. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d e "Pixar exec dies in car accident". Variety. August 18, 2005. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  21. ^ "Joe Ranft". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on June 11, 2016. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  22. ^ Lowry, Brian (June 4, 2006). "Film Review: Cars". Variety. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  23. ^ Amidi, Amid (2017). The Art of Pixar Short Films. Chronicle Books. pp. 41–42. ISBN 9781452165219.
  24. ^ Celestino, Mike (May 23, 2018). "Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train attraction will live on with audio tribute in Pixar Pier at Disneyland Resort". Retrieved June 19, 2022.