John Ratzenberger is well known for playing mail carrier Cliff Clavin on the sitcom Cheers. He had read for the part of Norm Peterson, but after the audition, he sensed that they were not going to give him the part. Sensing an opportunity, he asked if they had written a bar know-it-all, which the producers decided was a great idea. Ratzenberger also came up with the idea for Cliff’s trademark white socks, which he wore as a tribute to French comedian Jacques Tati. Cliff became known for his outlandish stories of plausible half-truths, uninteresting trivia, and misinformation, and in general for being a pretentious blowhard. Cliff and Norm, the primary customer characters, became iconic bar buddies. Ratzenberger provided the voice for an animated version of Cliff on The Simpsons sixth-season episode “Fear of Flying”.
His first role was a patron in The Ritz (1976). Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ratzenberger appeared in various minor roles in major feature films, including Firefox; A Bridge Too Far, as Lieutenant James Megellas; Superman, as a missile controller; Superman II, as the NASA control man; Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as Major Bren Derlin; Motel Hell as a drummer; Outland as a doomed mine worker named Tarlow; and Gandhi, playing an American lieutenant.
Ratzenberger has had a voice part in all of Pixar’s feature films made to date, ranging from main characters to characters who appear in only one scene. His roles include:
- Hamm the Piggy Bank in the Toy Story series (1995, 1999, 2010, 2019)
- P.T. Flea, the Circus Ring Leader in A Bug’s Life (1998)
- The Abominable Snowman in the Monsters, Inc. series (2001, 2013)
- The school of Moonfish in Finding Nemo (2003)
- The Underminer in The Incredibles (2004)
- Mack the truck in the Cars series (2006, 2011, 2017)
- Mustafa the waiter in Ratatouille (2007)
- John in WALL-E (2008)
- Tom the construction worker in Up (2009)
- Gordon the guard in Brave (2012)
- Fritz in Inside Out (2015)
- Earl the velociraptor in The Good Dinosaur (2015)
- Bill the crab in Finding Dory (2016)
Ratzenberger’s tenure at Pixar was parodied during the end credits of Cars, where his character, Mack, watches car-themed versions of Pixar films (Toy Car Story, Monster Trucks, Inc., and A Bug’s Life). Mack notes that all the characters Ratzenberger has played were excellent until he realizes that they are performed by the same actor.
Although technically not Pixar films, Ratzenberger also voiced Harland the jet tug in DisneyToon Studios’ Planes (2013) and a mustached plane named Brodi in its sequel, Planes: Fire & Rescue.