John Ratzenberger started in small roles such as Major Derlin in "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)


As Cliff Clavin, Ratzenberger epitomized the local bar know-it-all


Unlike his screen characters, he doesn't have a heavy New England accent


If Cliff Clavin was in a bar fight, he'd do well -- Ratzenberger practices karate


Ratzenberger is one of the founders of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs


John Ratzenberger 

By Bill Kallay

If you've ever seen a Pixar feature film, you've heard the voice of actor John Ratzenberger. His distinctive and comical character voices have graced every Pixar feature since "Toy Story" in 1995, to the recent acclaimed "Up" in 2009.

For the Blu-ray disc release of "A Bug's Life," FSTDVD had a chat with Ratzenberger on his roles, as well as his personal project, Nuts, Bolts & Thingmajigs. Ratzenberger is every bit the gentleman he portrays on his show, "John Ratzenberger's Made in America." Down-to-earth and funny, he's certainly not the Cliff Clavin character we've seen on "Cheers," but he's an all around great guy, minus the heavy Cliffy accent.

Bill Kallay, FSTDVD: You’ve done voice work in every Pixar feature film. What brings you back to Pixar?

John Ratzenberger: When they call, I show up. Because I’d already done Toy Story with them, how am I going to turn down another chance to work with these guys?

FSTDVD: Pixar’s a class act.

Ratzenberger: Everybody up there (at Pixar) brings a real childlike enthusiasm. They still approach their work like kids in a sandbox.

FSTDVD: That must be a lot of fun for you to just go into an environment like that where you know the work’s going to be good.

Ratzenberger: That’s what creativity is all about, I think. If you’re having fun with it, it’s bound to come out good.

FSTDVD: I've noticed that director John Lasseter seems to be very extroverted, even animated. But director Andrew Stanton seems to be the more calm between the two of them. How different are John and Andrew to work with?

Ratzenberger: Andrew gets very enthusiastic, as well, when he’s directing. Again, I always use the analogy of kid’s in a sandbox. There’s a gleefulness with them all. It really is glee. I think they don’t take for granted the unique position that they’re in, due to obviously their talents and hard work. But they don’t take it for granted.

FSTDVD: Tell us about P.T. Flea. What kind of energy did you bring to him?

Ratzenberger: We’ve all met or known people that have anger issues, I guess. (laughter) Their anger controls them. Most of the time if there’s a problem, rational people say, “Okay, take a breath. How can we get through this rationally?” But P.T. Flea is the type who just goes berserk at the drop of a hat! I always think that’s funny. This little flea here is nuts. It was so much fun playing him for that reason. On the speedometer of his emotions, he’s got zero; he’s got 100. There’s nothing in-between.

FSTDVD: Who do you try to base your characters on?

Ratzenberger: What I try to do is somebody I’ve known, whether it’s the recent past or in the past, and try to channel that. It could’ve been a school teacher, or a friend’s uncle. The Cliff character that I created for “Cheers,” that was on a specific person. Usually because it’s easier for me that way.

FSTDVD: What are some of the traits that you were attracted to in P.T. Flea?

Ratzenberger: I like his bravado. I would imagine in the world of A Bug’s Life, that there were other traveling circuses that were really good. Well, he’s in charge of one that isn’t really any good at all. His delusion is thinking that he’s going to discover or create one of the biggest acts in the world. It’s like entering an old used car into the LeMans race thinking you’re going to win. We all know people like him.

FSTDVD: Have you seen the Blu-ray of A Bug’s Life?

Ratzenberger: Yes I have. There’s a big difference. The translucence of the leaves, for instance, it looks like sun coming through leaves. But you really see the artistry. You appreciate the artistry. You see the film as the original animators see it.

FSTDVD: What’s your feeling of how the film holds up now?

Ratzenberger: “The Magnificent Seven” holds up. “Dumbo.” “Bambi.” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Because all the Pixar films are from the heart. They’re all about really touching their audience, and they do. That’ll never go out of style.  

FSTDVD: Shifting gears, you’re involved with Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs.

Ratzenberger: That’s a foundation started about three-four years ago. It comes off my traveling around the country with a show that I did for Travel Channel called John Razenberger’s Made in America. I discovered that literally we’re running out of people who know how to build things and make things. We give scholarships to camps nationwide to teach kids how to tinker again. When’s the last time you saw kids out in the backyard building a tree house?

In every single industry, there’s no exception to this rule, started with one person inventing one thing. There’s no exception to that rule.

The other rule is that every single one of those inventors started off as children tinkering. And there is no exception to that rule, either. People don’t start getting fascinated with that stuff when they’re in college. It all starts when they’re kids. So that’s the basis of the foundation.

FSTDVD: And you’re one of the founders?

Ratzenberger: Yes. I came up with the name because I always thought that everything we are in the Western civilization, as a culture, depends on someone’s ability to put a nut and a bolt together. Everything. Even a loaf of bread. Someone’s got to make the machines that wraps the bread and puts on a twist tie, etc.

Special thanks to Click Communications and BHVE/Pixar

Photos: © BVHE/Pixar. All rights reserved.

"Wall-E" premiere picture by Bill Kallay. © William Kallay. All rights reserved.

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