Anyone who was old enough to watch the TV show Cheers in the 1980s will recognize John Ratzenberger as the know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin. But more people would recognize his voice than his face today.
Ratzenberger has voiced 15 different characters in 22 out of the 23 animated films that Pixar has released over the last 25-plus years. And while you won’t hear his voice in its latest release, Ratzenberger still left his mark on the film.
John Ratzenberger in the Cheers Bar
In this video, we’re going to look at John Ratzenberger’s journey from a seat in the Cheers bar to being one of the most recognizable voices in Hollywood. Be sure to watch until the end of the video to find out how Pixar included him in their latest film.
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Cheers is one of the most iconic TV shows of all time. It had a talented cast of characters, each of whom made a mark on pop culture. One of the funniest of them all was the know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin, played by John Ratzenberger.
The Overflowing Knowledge
Despite being a bit of a sad sack as an adult mailman who still lived with his mother, Cliff thought of himself as an intellectual. He was overflowing with claimed knowledge, regaling the rest of the bar with facts and trivia.
How much of that character’s success came down to the show’s writers and how much was Ratzenberger’s contribution? Both played a role but the show’s producers gave him a lot of leeway.
Before becoming a television star, he started out as a member of the improv troupe Sal’s Meat Market. This improvisation experience helped Ratzenberger come up with the crazy facts and trivia that Clavin recited in every episode.
Cast Member Shines
According to Ratzenberger, it took a couple of years for the producers to realize they could trust him not to mess it up but once they did, they let him run with it. He says it’s easy to improvise comedy but the art is knowing when to shut up and let other people talk. That’s a hard thing to learn according to Ratzenberger.
This ability to let other cast members shine while delivering hilarious lines himself was part of what made Cheers such a great show. Each member of the cast had plenty of talent but the combination of everyone was greater than the sum of its parts.
John Ratzenberger had other minor roles in hit movies over the years, including The Empire Strikes Back and Superman I and II but his Hollywood fame really hit its stride when he starred as Hamm the pig in the original Toy Story movie from Pixar.
He played Hamm with the same attitude and voice as he used for Cliff Clavin, which worked so well that Pixar offered him a role in their next film. That pattern continued for nearly all of Pixar’s movies over the next 25 years.
Hamm – Toy Story 1, 2, 3, and 4
Toy Story was Pixar’s first feature-length film and Ratzenberger had a significant role as Hamm, a plastic piggy bank who lives in Andy’s room with fellow toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Ratzenberger reprised the role of Hamm in all three of the Toy Story sequels as well as some half-hour made-for-TV specials. And technically, he has a second role in the series as Hamm’s villainous alter ego, Evil Doctor Porkchop.
P.T. Flea – A Bug’s Life
Ratzenberger’s second role with Pixar was the selfish, greedy owner of a traveling bug circus – P.T. Flea. His character in A Bug’s Life actually has more in common with the real-life circus pioneer P.T. Barnum than Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the same in The Greatest Showman.
After a bug circus show goes wrong, Flea fires his troupe who go on to help defend the ant colony from the evil Hopper.
Yeti – Monsters Inc. and Monsters University
After his role as a flea, Ratzenberger got to play a character on the opposite end of the spectrum, Yeti the Abominable Snowman. Of course, Yeti will be the first to tell you he can’t stand the name. “Do I look abominable to you?” he asks when he meets Mike and Sulley.
Yeti plays a small but memorable role when Mike and Sully get banished to the Himalayas, where he treats them to snow cones in his cave. He returned in the prequel Monsters University, where he shows Mike and Sulley the ropes in their new jobs with Monsters Inc.
The Underminer – The Incredibles 1 and 2
Ratzenberger had another small but popular role in both Incredibles movies as the villain The Underminer. He only appears for a few moments at the end of the first film but the role was popular enough to get a video game named after him.
The Underminer opened the sequel, which picks up right where the original left off with Mr. Incredible battling The Underminer. He manages to escape, which Ratzenberger was quite happy to learn when he received the script.
Mack – Cars 1, 2, and 3
Mack the Truck from the Cars movies is Ratzenberger’s second most frequent recurring character in Pixar’s films. The 1980s Super-Liner semi truck is responsible for transporting racer Lightning McQueen to his races. He arguably has the most important role in the franchise since his falling asleep on the road lands McQueen in Radiator Springs.
Mack also provides one of the funniest Ratzenberger moments in all the films when Mack is watching the Cars equivalent of several Pixar movies during the closing credits. When he realizes the same voice actor is used in each film, he exclaims, “What kind of cut-rate production is this?”
Construction Worker Fenwick – Onward
One of Pixar’s most recent releases, Onward features John Ratzenberger as one of the construction workers, Fenwick.
In his brief appearance, Fenwick has to help keep Barley Lightfoot, played by Chris Pratt, away from a condemned fountain that he’s convinced holds some kind of enchanted secret. Like many of Ratzenberger’s characters, Fenwick is in for quite the surprise.
Juan Ortodoncia – Coco
While many of Ratzenberger’s roles in Pixar films are brief, Juan Ortodoncia in 2017’s Coco is the smallest. He only has one word of dialog, saying “Gracias.”
Fish School – Finding Nemo
Most of Ratzenberger’s appearance are as a single character but in Finding Nemo he played an entire school of fish.
When Marlin and Dory need directions, they get help from a passing school of moonfish. They use their collective ability to form various shapes to create visual aids in their explanation of how to reach Sydney. It’s one of Ratzenberger’s most impressive voice roles and a funny moment from Pixar’s first film to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Bill – Finding Dory
In Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo, Ratzenberger didn’t reprise his role as a school of fish. Instead, he played a crustacean named Bill. He’s a hermit crab seen clipping grass with his claws right before Dory slips into a pipe that takes her to her aquarium home.
His voice was re-tuned to be higher than normal so this role is a little harder to spot than most.
Earl – The Good Dinosaur
While most of John Ratzenberger’s Pixar roles are good guys or passers-by, he plays another villain in The Good Dinosaur.
Ratzenberger plays Earl, a member of Bubbha’s velociraptor gang who are out to get the friendly Apatosaurus Arlo and his human friend Spot. He only has a single line of dialog but it might be the cruelest of all his roles, with Earl threatening to kill Arlo as he’s about to pounce on him. Fortunately, a T-Rex intervenes, handing the raptors their tails.
Fritz – Inside Out
In Inside Out, Ratzenberger plays another construction work of sorts. In this film he’s in the role of Fritz, a hard hat and utility belt wearing worker that lives in the mind of a young girl.
He shows up at the end of the 2015 film to install an upgraded control console that includes a button labeled PUBERTY. It seems Riley is in for an interesting couple of years.
Gordon – Brave
It’s a bit harder to identify Ratzenberger in the role of Gordon in Brave because he’s speaking with a Scottish accent. In this film, he plays a spear-carrying guard outside Princess Merida’s castle.
Ratzenberger has shared in interviews that he lived in Scotland for several years, giving him a unique insight into the Scottish accent and its regional dialects.
Construction Foreman Tom – Up
John Ratzenberger played a construction worker three time in Pixar movies, with Construction Foreman Tom from Up being the third. This is also one of the few characters he’s played that provides exposition to help move the film forward.
Ratzenberger plays Tom, the foreman of the construction site surrounding the home of elderly Carl Fredricksen, who refuses to leave his house despite many monetary offers.
John – WALL-E
In what might have been his least challenging, most meta role in all the Pixar films, Ratzenberger plays a man named John in WALL-E.
The robot WALL-E accidentally helps John break free of the AXIOM’s distractions, fall in love with Mary, and help defy the ship’s computer to return humans to Earth for the first time in centuries.
Mustafa – Ratatouille
In Ratatouille, Ratzenberger plays Mustafa, a top waiter at the Parisian restaurant Gasteau’s. Once again, he doesn’t sound entirely like himself because he’s speaking with a French accent.
Background Character – Soul
While Ratzenberger doesn’t lend his voice to Pixar’s newest film, Soul, he does have a small part in the movie. The animators created a background character in one scene that looks like Ratzenberger and later confirmed that was their intention when questioned on it.
Which is your favorite John Ratzenberger character from the Pixar films? Let us know in the comments below!
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