After Hours

Geek Trivia: Name, prank, and serial number

What academic institution has been secretly referenced in every Pixar feature film ever released -- a symbolic Easter egg that perhaps only professional animators would notice?

The holiday buying season is upon us once again, and like many a geek parent, you're probably struggling with locating a family-friendly purchase that incorporates both a love for science fiction and a tacit justification for also buying yourself that new plasma-screen TV or Blu-ray DVD player. Luckily, the requisite Pixar computer-animated feature film is also upon us again, this year in the form of WALL-E, a quaint eco-awareness tale about two sentient robots in love in a post-apocalyptic Earth. This follows up last year's Pixar stocking stuffer, the rodent gourmet flick Ratatouille, and precedes next season's Pixar animated balloon-fest, Up.

It just wouldn't be Christmas without a CGI cartoon character voiced by John Ratzenberger, after all.

John who?

For the uninitiated, John Ratzenberger is merely the actor that portrayed iconic trivia geek Cliff Clavin on the long-running sitcom Cheers, for whom a certain Jeopardy! game show suicide bet is named. For uber-movie geeks, Ratzenberger was Major Bren Derlin in The Empire Strikes Back, a missile controller in Superman, and a NASA control operator in Superman II. For Pixar fanatics he's the only voice actor to appear in every Pixar feature film to date — to the point Ratzenberger is jokingly referred to as Pixar's "good luck charm," which in turn earned him a recursive mock-cameo during the credits to Cars.

Look it up. Ratzenberger has voiced each of the following roles:

  • Hamm the piggy bank in Toy Story and Toy Story 2
  • P.T. Flea the insect circus ringleader in A Bug's Life
  • The Abominable Snowman in Monsters, Inc.
  • A school of fish in Finding Nemo
  • The Underminer in The Incredibles
  • Mack the tractor trailer in Cars
  • Mustafa the waiter in Ratatouille
  • John the AXIOM passenger in WALL-E

Ratzenberger is already cast to reprise Hamm in Toy Story 3 in 2010 and Mack in Cars 2 in 2011, and to play a construction worker in Up in 2009. Think of him as the living Pixar equivalent to George Lucas's 1138 fetish in the Star Wars films.

That said, Ratzenberger isn't the only Easter egg that has so far snuck into every Pixar feature film to date. An inside reference to a famous academic institution has also shown up in each Pixar movie — if you know where to look for it.

WHAT ACADEMIC INSTITUTION HAS BEEN SECRETLY REFERENCED IN EVERY PIXAR FILM TO DATE?

Get the answer.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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