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.

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 subtly inserted Pixar catchphrase is the alphanumeric code A113, which refers to classroom number A113 at the California Institute of the Arts. CalArts is the alma mater of many noted professional Hollywood animators and production artists, and classroom A113 in particular served as host to character animation classes for several years.

CalArts alumni include Pixar cofounder John Lassetter and animation director Brad Bird. It was Bird that inaugurated the practice of inserting the Easter egg into every professional animation project he directs. Lassetter picked up the practice with the original Toy Story, and the pair made sure that A113 is worked into every Pixar feature ever to hit the big screen.

If you’re looking for A113 in each Pixar film, here’s where to find it:

  • The license plate number on Andy’s family’s minivan in both Toy Story films. Toy Story 2 also features an overheard boarding call for LassetAir flight A113, a reference to both the Easter egg and John Lassetter.
  • The product code on a cereal box building in the city in A Bug’s Life
  • A background sign near the trash compactor in Monsters, Inc.
  • The model number of the scuba diver’s camera in Finding Nemo
  • On Nomanisan Island, Mr. Incredible is held prisoner on level A1, cell 13 in The Incredibles.
  • Mater’s license plate number, as well as the number of the train that almost crushes Lightning McQueen, in Cars
  • Git, the lab rat’s specimen tag in Ratatouille
  • The code for Auto, the AXIOM computer’s prime directive in WALL-E

And the A113 references don’t stop with Pixar. Since Brad Bird (and other CalArts alumni) work throughout the animation industry, you’ll find some version of A113 Easter eggs on television in various episodes of American Dad!, Harvey Birdman, The Simpsons, Powerpuff Girls, Tiny Toon Adventures, South Park, and Bobby’s World. Besides Pixar films, movies that boast A113 Easter eggs include The Iron Giant, Lilo & Stitch, The Brave Little Toaster, and Aladdin.

That’s just not some nigh-ubiquitous numeric name-dropping; it’s an elaborately encoded example of Easter egg-straordinary Geek Trivia.

The quibble of the week

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Check out this week’s quibble.

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