Joe Ranft, the Great One. By Mike Gabriel
Back in the early eighties some of us in the Disney feature animation department on the main lot back then, used to put on puppet shows in an office window of the animation building with these life size cardboard cutouts of celebrities, including Eddie Fisher who acted as the host of the shows by lip syncing to old Al Jolson tracks. We called them the Eddie shows. Joe Ranft was our Santa Claus—not cardboard, but Joe in a costume— for the Christmas Eddie Shows. Mike Giamio used to have a Christmas party every year and about half way into the party a knock at door and there was Santa Claus with a big HO HO HOOooo handing out gifts and laughs. My wife Tammy remembers meeting Joe for the first time when he showed up in full Santa Claus regalia at one of those parties. She loved him immediately. We all did. Everybody who ever met Joe—for ten minutes—or for twenty-five years like me—loved Joe the minute you met him. Joe Ranft was our Santa Claus. He was a darn good Santa Claus. In fact, he was better than the real Santa Claus.
Joe Ranft, the Great One has died. The Gentle Giant. We all looked up to Joe–not just because he towered over us in height but because he towered over us in every way a human being can. He worked harder, he had more sheer talent, better ideas, better solutions to problems, he was funnier, wittier, more original, more ingenius, drew funnier drawings, he gave more time to charities and time to whoever needed help, friend or stranger. He was the Great One. The great Joe Ranft. By contrast, the rest of us looked small when we complained about any trivial nothing and Joe would furrow his brow with genuine compassion and listen and truly care and soon he was smiling and we were smiling and we were all better. Negativity and misery didn’t reside in Joe’s orbit.
Joe was a big man. His untimely death makes us all feel extremely mortal and extremely vulnerable. If a huge strong big hearted guy like Joe can get taken out in the blink of an eye we are all doomed. Joe was entirely too strong and too nice and just so big that it would be impossible to end his life. Well, he has left us and we all feel oh so small and oh so less than the great one, Joe Ranft. Any human was small next to the great one. So much less than we should be. So much less than Joe. And Joe was so much more than any human could ever hope to be.
Everything about Joe made you smile. When he walked it looked like he had springs for bones. I don’t ever remember shaking hands with Joe over the 25 years I was friends with him. You hugged Joe. You wanted some of that Joe hug whenever you saw him. There was lot of love in that Joe hug. Life was good in those big Joe arms.
His hands were extraordinarily graceful and beautiful. Pure elegance. Joe’s hands. They were a thing of beauty, large with long delicate perfectly tapered fingers. They were an artist’s hands. They were a magician’s hands. He used them so expressively when he talked. I could watch them all day long. They made magic on a daily basis. The way they drew with such a light delicate touch, drawings that made you laugh. Joe could draw virtually anything—I repeat anything and make you laugh. He never realized how brilliant an artist and painter—story sense aside—he was.
Joe could speak very very softly and quietly, pulling you into those sparkly black little eyes that twinkled their spell on you, and he could speak very very loudly and ROAR into an improve at full window shattering intensity, throwing the entire room into gut busting laughter. He knew how to modulate. His stories. His life.
Joe was patient. Joe was polite. He always let you speak and always listened and always made you feel special. Joe cared. He truly cared. Joe was generous. He gave. He gave and gave and gave. Come on Joe–how much can one man give! Well, Joe, you shamed us all with how much you gave to your fellow man here on earth. You were exemplary in every way you chose to live. You gave without ever wanting anything out of it. You gave without ever letting anybody know how much you were giving. You gave because you wanted to. You gave because you cared about others. You gave and you gave and you gave. And that giving is what finally took you away from us. It isn’t right. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make a good story.
I would like to be the first to suggest Pixar commision a larger than life bronze statue of Joe, meaning make it his actual size, walking along with
his beloved children Jordy and Sophia at his side, as one of Pixar’s founding fathers and have it placed in the gardens around their headquarters. I think it should be made from donations from everybody Joe touched in his life. If we all gave a nickel we could build a 50 ft solid gold statue of the great one—Joe Ranft–the best there ever was. The best of any of us. The best mankind has to offer.
When those of us who knew and loved Joe heard he was dead it was like hearing Santa Claus is dead. How could anybody let Santa Claus die? What kind of a world would kill off Santa Claus? Who is going to give the children of the world, children of all ages the toy stories that Pixar continues to bless us with now? The years and years that we might have been hearing Joe’s stories and falling in love with Joe’s characters are ended. But happily, the gifts he has given the world in his 45 short years, are gifts that keep on giving. Whenever we see Woody, or Buzz, or Heimlich, or Wheezy, or any of hundred beloved Pixar creations we are receiving Joe’s gifts. His stories are his gifts. And stories never die like people do. They go on. Joe’s stories will continue to generate new ideas into all those little children’s minds hearing them, seeing them, falling in love with them for the first time. Their little light bulbs of imagination will be lit by Joe’s stories. Although the Luxo Jr. light bulb is out today, and the massive open atrium of Pixar is darkened with hushed reverence for a fallen hero, that will pass. Joe’s legacy will spark new light into that still flickering filiment in Luxo Jr’s little head. Every artist there today and all the future employees, children who grew up Pixarlated by Joe’s work, will think of Joe often and be inspired to do even better. Joe would expect it of himself. And he expects it of all of us.
Sleep well Joe, your work here on earth is done. Say hi to our other Joe up there. He now has the two best story men in the game. Tell him to stop
for now. Baseball trading is over. He wins. Let us have the rest. The world needs them. There is much work to be done and we don’t have you two to
help anymore. Roll up the sleeves, boys and girls, this is doing it the hard way.