Joe Ranft

Joseph Henry "Joe" Ranft (March 13, 1960 – August 16, 2005) was an American screenwriter, animator, storyboard artist, director, voice actor and magician, 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.

Joe Ranft
Joe Ranft behind the scenes in Finding Nemo
Joseph Henry Ranft

(1960-03-13)March 13, 1960
DiedAugust 16, 2005(2005-08-16) (aged 45)
Cause of deathInjuries sustained in a single-vehicle traffic collision
EducationMonte Vista High School
Alma materCalifornia Institute of the Arts
  • Screenwriter
  • animator
  • storyboard artist
  • director
  • voice actor
  • magician
Years active1975–2005
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1980–99)
Pixar Animation Studios (1991–2005)
Sue Barry (m. 1985)
RelativesJerome Ranft (brother)

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.

Early lifeEdit

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 final film was Cars. 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 legacyEdit

On August 16, 2005, Ranft and his friend Eric Frierson were passengers in Ranft's 2004 Honda Element, which was being driven by another friend, Elegba Earl. Earl suddenly lost control and crashed through a guard rail while northbound on Highway 1. The SUV plunged 130 feet into the mouth of the Navarro River 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] Ranft is survived by his wife Sue and their two children, Jordan and Sophia, and his brother Jerome.[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.


Year Title Voice role Notes
1987 The Brave Little Toaster Elmo St. Peters also screenwriter story artist and directing animator[9]
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit Story artist[10]
Oliver & Company Story[11]
1989 The Little Mermaid Storyboards[11]
1990 The Rescuers Down Under Animation screenplay and story supervisor[11]
1991 Beauty and the Beast Story[11]
1993 The Nightmare Before Christmas Igor[12] also storyboard supervisor[11]
1994 The Lion King Story[13]
1995 Toy Story Lenny the Binoculars[12] also story/story supervisor[13]
1996 James and the Giant Peach Storyboard supervisor[9]
Toy Story Animated Storybook Lenny the Binoculars[14]
1998 A Night at the Roxbury Hottie Dancer[13]
A Bug's Life Heimlich[13] also story/story supervisor[13]
A Bug's Life: The Video Game Heimlich[14]
1999 Toy Story 2 Wheezy[13] also story supervisor[13]
Fantasia 2000 Additional art, story[9]
2000 Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins Wheezy[14]
2001 Monsters, Inc. Peter "Claws" Ward also story artist[13]
Monkeybone Streetsquash Rabbit[15]
2002 Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena Additional Voices[14]
Treasure Planet Pirates[14]
2003 Finding Nemo: The Video Game Jacques the Shrimp[14]
Finding Nemo Jacques the Shrimp[11]
Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure Wheezy[14]
2004 The Incredibles Crowd Member[11]
2005 Corpse Bride Executive Producer[9]
2006 Cars Red and Peterbilt[16] co-director, story, screenplay, story supervisor, and dedication[16]
Mater and the Ghostlight Story[17]
2007 The Pixar Story Himself also Dedication


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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 g "Joe Ranft". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Sragow, Michael (November 23, 1999). ""Toy" story man". Salon. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h "Pixar exec dies in car accident". Variety. August 18, 2005. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Joe Ranft at Behind the Voice Actors". Retrieved 2017-11-04.
  15. ^ "Joe Ranft". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  16. ^ a b Lowry, Brian (June 4, 2006). "Film Review: Cars". Variety. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  17. ^ Amidi, Amid (2017). The Art of Pixar Short Films. Chronicle Books. pp. 41–42. ISBN 9781452165219.

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