If you’ve watched a Pixar film, chances are you’ve heard John Ratzenberger’s voice coming from one of its characters. Since voicing Hamm the Piggy Bank in Toy Story, he’s gone on to play multiple characters across the company’s 24-year history, including P.T. Flea in A Bugs Life, Mac in Carsand the Abominable Snowman in Monsters Inc. Now Ratzenberger is reprising his role as Hamm once again for the upcoming sequel Tory Story 4. Here is an exclusive interview between Mxdwn and Ratzenberger himself.
Q: In many respects, you’re the Pixar equivalent of a Stan Lee cameo, having voiced members of the supporting cast since the original Toy Story. What do you think the biggest pleasure of coming back to these films has been personally?
Ratzenberger: The biggest pleasure out all the Pixar films- I’ve done a lot of public speaking tours the past twenty five years and the biggest pleasure I received was going up to the podium in front of 2,000 people and realizing they knew my voice. So that was a surprise for me. But that’s very satisfying.
Can you tell me a bit about how you were convinced to play all these Pixar roles?
Ratzenberger: Let me ask you this: is there anybody on this Earth who, if they were invited to voice a character in a Pixar film, would turn down that role? Yeah, there’s no convincing for that role, it’s Pixar.
Q: Most people, myself included, originally expressed skepticism that Toy Story 4 even had to be made. The third entry seemingly wrapped up Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy’s toys’ journey without much loose ends. What makes this story different from the past three entries?
Ratzenberger: Well the spirit of Toy Story is Pixar’s job. And Pixar challenges themselves every film with the same challenge: to make this film better than the one before it. And they’ve never let us down. Pixar doesn’t let you down, that’s for sure.
Q: Probably the most timeless aspect of the Toy Story franchise is its central theme: the idea of toys coming to life and their long-term relationship with bringing happiness to children. What has this franchise meant to you since voicing the character of Hamm?
Ratzenberger: Well, again, Pixar is the most successful film studio in Hollywood history. Even the awards they’ve won- there’s no precedent for that. So to work with the greatest film studio is an honor.
Q: You are a grandfather yourself. What is the most satisfying reaction to seeing your grandchildren grow up with this franchise?
Ratzenberger: Well they enjoy it just like any other kid. They’re usually around 5-6 years old when they finally realize that it’s my voice. So for me, I get the same satisfaction that I would get from them if they were strangers. They enjoy it over and over and over again. So that’s the satisfaction I get. I’m lucky to have grandchildren They’re not lucky because their grandfather is Hamm or Mac or PT Flea… I’m lucky that they’re my grandchildren.
Q: While my generation might know you predominantly from Pixar, you’re better known by our parents and grandparents as Cliff Clavin from Cheers. Looking back at that show over twenty-five years later, what do you make of its legacy on the sitcom genre and network television?
Ratzenberger: Well before Cheers, you never saw any sitcom set in a bar. And since Cheers, every single sitcom has got bar scenes in it where the cast goes to recount their day. So now the bar room is standard in all sitcoms. But the challenge Cheers laid out for Hollywood is that on Cheers, you never saw the joke coming. Every sitcom, right up to today, you know what the joke is going to be. When I watch a sitcom, I know what the joke is going to be a minute or two before the joke comes. On Cheers, you never saw the joke coming, because the writing was so precise and intelligent.
Q: One Cheers episode my parents continue to bring up was the one where Cliff went on Jeopardy and, by sheer luck, all of the show’s categories tied into his knowledge of irrelevant facts. Then he lost it all, inspiring the term “Clavin’s Rule.” Was there any chance you watched James Holzhauer’s 32 game, 2 million dollar winning strek the past two months and thought back to this episode?
Ratzenberger: Oh, I don’t have to watch the winning streak to think back to this episode. I’ve pretty much watched Jeopardy every time I can. So before and since Cheers I’ve always been a Jeopardy fan. And to this day I’ve been undefeated in Trivia Pursuit, just so you know. But throughout my life I’ve always been a reader, I like history, especially Medieval European history. I lived in Europe so I was able to gather a lot of experience through my travels for ten years. So yeah I watch Jeopardy and thought that Jim did a great job.
Final Question: How long do you hope to continue being part of Pixar films for voice cameos, including the next film Onward? They’re as much a part of the company’s appeal as its characters and tearjerker moments.
Ratzenberger: As long as I’m above ground. I’ll do Pixar films as long as they offer me roles in the films. Why would I ever want to stop?
Thank you Mr. Ratzenberger, it’s been an honor talking to you. I can’t wait to see Toy Story 4 myself.
Ratzenberger: Oh, you’re going to like it. It’s a wonderful movie. Thank you.