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John Ratzenberger Interview
Pixar's good luck charm, John Ratzenberger has voiced eight characters and counting for the studio. Clockwise from top left, Hamm in "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2", P.T. Flea in "A Bug's Life", the Abominable Snowman in "Monsters, Inc.", the School of Moonfish in "Finding Nemo", the Underminer in "The Incredibles", Mack the truck in "Cars", waiter Mustafa in "Ratatouille", and John in "WALL-E."

Pixar's good luck charm discusses A Bug's Life on Blu-ray and more

John Ratzenberger is most physically recognizable for his role as Cliff Clavin, the trivia-dispensing mailman who spent eleven years around the bar at "Cheers." Before that gig, Ratzenberger could be seen in small roles on very big films: A Bridge Too Far, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, and Gandhi.

Right after "Cheers" closed for business, Ratzenberger entered a new phase in his career, voicing piggy bank Hamm in pioneering computer-animated feature Toy Story. Pixar liked what they heard and he's since lent his distinctive vocals to every subsequent film from the studio. He played the Abominable Snowman in Monsters, Inc., a school of moonfish in Finding Nemo, Mack the transportational truck in Cars (whose end credits hilariously paid tribute to his Pixar past), and sympathetic reclined traveler John in WALL•E.

With Pixar and Ratzenberger's tenth film together (Up) just days away from opening in theaters to the now-expected buzz, Disney is debuting the pair's second collaboration, A Bug's Life, on Blu-ray Disc.
To promote the much-anticipated release, Ratzenberger today spoke with UltimateDisney.com about a number of topics, including the film legacy he's etched in 15 years of working with Pixar as the studio's "good luck charm."

UltimateDisney.com: What it would take for you to miss a Pixar film?

John Ratzenberger: Oh, either be dead or dying.

Along with Hamm and the Abominable Snowman, P.T. Flea is one of the meatier roles you've had at Pixar. What do you make of the character?

P.T. Flea's my favorite. Because he's so irrationally volatile. And I always just laugh at people like that. It's almost like there's some chemical imbalance. There is no gray in their emotional scale. It's either off or it's a hundred percent on. He just makes me laugh when I watch him.

John Ratzenberger's "A Bug's Life" character P.T. Flea is thrilled to reunite with the insect circus performers that have moved onto bigger things.

A Bug's Life is one of my favorites, but the consensus seems to be that it's Pixar's least amazing film. What kind of special things do you hope more people will see in it this time around?

Now that it's coming out on Blu-ray, what you're going to notice is the translucence in the leaves and there's a lot of detail. The artistry -- if you like going to art galleries and museums and you appreciate works of masters, you're going to appreciate watching A Bug's Life on Blu-ray. It's hard to describe.

Last May, I took my kids over to Belgium and we went to see the work of Michelangelo in Bruges. When you stand in front of it, it really does give off a resonance. It feels like it's alive. And I don't think it's too much of a stretch to compare the people at Pixar with people like Michelangelo. Because they are creating classics that will live forever. But you really get the sense of the artistry. You'll see the film as the animators see it when they make it, when they put the finishing touches on it. You're going to actually see it in that quality with Blu-ray.

In recent years, your live-action credits have tapered off while you've continued to be a part of every Pixar release - is this a conscious career move you're making?

Well, I've been offered things, but at certain times, what's going on with family or whatever, that I don't want to leave. I've been offered a lot of stage work in New York and London, but I don't want to go away for eight months just yet.

And also, the foundation [Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs] is really picking up steam. So I do a lot of work on that. I travel, give speeches, and visit the camps that we give scholarships for. And teach kids to work with their hands again. Because not everybody can be a journalist or an actor. Somebody's gotta install the air conditioning so we can go into the buildings, and fix the cars that get us there.
And to me, that's artistry. Someone can look at a bunch of metal pieces, nuts and bolts laying around, put them together and have it function, that's art to me.

What's a piece of little-known trivia that Cliff Clavin could offer on voicing an animated character?

You can show up in your pajamas.

Are there perks to being the good luck charm of arguably the most successful movie studio in the world?

It's probably ever too, isn't it? (Laughs) I don't know what's going on. I was at the Woodstock Festival. I was in Empire Strikes Back, and then "Cheers" and now Pixar. I don't know who my angel is that's hovering over me. But I'd like to find out what his birthday is and give him a nice present. It's been extraordinary. I show up, do my job, try not to break any furniture, and go home.

What the perks are, I have formed a friendship with some remarkably talented people -- John [Lasseter], Andrew [Stanton], Pete [Docter], Lee [Unkrich], Bob [Peterson], Brad [Bird], and everybody. I've been very privileged to get to know them on a personal level. I guess that'd be the greatest perk.

Is Toy Story 3 going to live up to the high expectations that long gaps between sequels usually bear?

You're talking about sequels other than Pixar sequels. (Laughs) You know, the beauty of Pixar is that they consciously try to outdo themselves. It's not a mistake that they are the most successful film studio in the history of film studios. They don't make a product just to make a product and get it out there. They won't do that. Because of that, whatever they come out with is going to be at least as good as the one before and usually better.

How did you get involved with the Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs Foundation and why it is important to you?

In traveling around the country for the show that I did for the Travel Channel, "John Ratzenberger's Made in America", I realized that we're running out of people who actually know how to do things. And looking at it closer, I realized, well, it's because children don't tinker anymore. They don't play outside, they don't climb trees and build treehouses and fix their own bicycles.

And the public school system has eliminated vocational training courses. Usually kids in middle school or eighth grade learn how to hammer and saw, work a wrench, work with metal. Whether you're going to be a brain surgeon or a plumber doesn't make any difference. You should have a hands-on feel for these things 'cause that's the basis of who we are as a culture. Everything we do and everything we are as a culture depends on someone's ability to put a nut and a bolt together.

So, realizing that we're running out of those people, I started this foundation and we give scholarships to camps nationwide for the summer. Just go to NutsAndBoltsFoundation.org and that tells you everything you need to know and how to contribute.

Having been informed just before the interview that I only had 10 minutes instead of the usual 15, I was then told five and a half minutes into talking with Mr. Ratzenberger to get to my final question. Final question?! But I hadn't yet asked about his part in Up, the possibility of a "Cheers" reunion, his stint on "Dancing with the Stars", how postal employees react to him, his video game work, or even his and Peter Gabriel's goatees.

In the panic, I went for what I thought would be the most interesting, asking about this 1976 Swine Flu PSA making the Internet rounds lately amidst pandemic fears. Is that really him passing the flu on to his family? His answer: "I have nooo idea what you're talking about. Whoever that is, it's not me." Our eyes have deceived us, for despite the resemblance, Raztenberger spent 1971 to 1981 in Europe.

Buy A Bug's Life on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon.com
A Bug's Life is now available on Blu-ray.
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Recent Interviews: Jason Dolley (star of Disney's Hatching Pete) • Nathan Greno and Mark Walton (creators of Disney's Bolt)
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Posted May 18, 2009.