A prominent voice actor was recently kicked to the curb, and PIXAR fans are demanding answers.
While Disney continues on its path (or downward spiral) toward self-awareness, finding itself, inclusion for all (except for some), and breaking the heart of Walt Disney by ignoring and defiling his legacy, at least one of the company’s subsidiaries remains a bit more steadfast.
Disney and PIXAR first partnered in the release of the studio’s Toy Story in 1995, though the House of Mouse didn’t formally acquire PIXAR Animation Studios until January 2006 in a landmark $7.4 billion deal–the first major acquisition executed by CEO Bob Iger, who had only been at Disney’s helm for a few months at that time. And while it’s true that The Walt Disney Company owns PIXAR, the two entities carry out their daily operations and creative processes in very different ways.
Thank goodness for that.
And thank goodness there are at least two things PIXAR can be trusted to do–continue to bring creative new stories to the box office (as opposed to Disney’s remake rip-offs) and include a John Ratzenberger cameo in all of their films. These have been some of PIXAR’s hallmarks over the years. Until they weren’t.
Besides high quality, there’s one more thing that people can always count on with Pixar – the voice of John Ratzenberger. He began his career with the animation giant in their very first film by voicing Hamm in Toy Story and its sequels. Following that, every Pixar movie over the next 25 years featured a voice performance from Ratzenberger. Some were major or supporting roles, and some were just quick cameos. But his voice was always there. Until it wasn’t.
Who is John Ratzenberger?
John Ratzenberger is best known for his portrayal of postal worker Cliff Calvin on the NBC sitcom series Cheers, which debuted in 1982 and ran through 1993. But when his run with Cheers was over, Ratzenberger joined forces with PIXAR, breathing life into many of the studio’s most memorable characters by lending his voice to them onscreen.
In the Toy Story franchise, Ratzenberger played the role of Hamm. He also voiced P.T. Flea in A Bug’s Life (1998), the Yeti in Monsters, Inc. (2001), the School of fish in Finding Nemo (2002), The Underminer in The Incredibles franchise beginning in 2004, Mack in PIXAR’s Cars franchise beginning in 2006, and other roles as well.
Ratzenberger’s Cameos in PIXAR Films
Over the years, as the studio produced more and more films, there were some in which Ratzenberger didn’t have a major role, but fans could hear his unique voice as cameos in PIXAR’s films. In fact, after only a few films, fans began to listen intently for Ratzenberger’s voice cameo to be among the first to find it–a lot like some fans look for PIXAR’s iconic A113 placement in each film. This continued all the way through to PIXAR’s 22nd film, Onward, which was released in March 2020.
But since then, Ratzenberger has been radio silent, having made no voice cameos in a PIXAR film since 2020, and there’s been no explanation as to why the studio might have chosen to abandon a 25-year-long tradition.
The Explanation for Ratzenberger’s Absence
In one scene [in “Soul”], we see a cameo of an office worker who resembles a young Ratzenberger from his Cliff Clavin days. The employee has no lines, meaning that Ratzenberger himself is technically not involved with “Soul.” Docter noted they wanted to do something new with Ratzenberger’s cameo rather than the traditional voice role.
Any hope that this was a one-time omission was shot down, as Ratzenberger was entirely absent from “Luca,” “Turning Red,” “Lightyear,” and “Elemental.” He did reprise his role as the Yeti on the TV spinoff “Monsters at Work: in 2021, but he’s been silent since.
Sadly, the reason for Ratzenberger’s apparent departure from his usual cameo role in PIXAR’s films is simply not known. Beyond what PIXAR’s Pete Docter shared in his statement, neither the studio nor John Ratzenberger has made a public announcement about a formal parting of ways, if there has, in fact, been one.
So, for now, it seems PIXAR fans will have to continue to take delight in creating their own theories about why Ratzenberger no longer gifts his voice to PIXAR. And we’re willing to bet the fan theories are far more interesting and exciting than the truth anyway.