'Toy Story' Writer Dies When Car Tumbles Into The Ocean

Joe Ranft also had a hand in 'Lion King,' 'Bug's Life,' 'Beauty and the Beast.'

Woody, Buzz, Simba and Jack Skellington, along with dozens of other classic animated characters, have lost one of the key figures responsible for their existence, and Pixar will undoubtedly never be quite the same.

Animation fans around the world are mourning the shocking death of Joe Ranft, the Oscar nominee who co-wrote the "Toy Story" screenplay as well as scripts for "The Lion King," "A Bug's Life" and "Beauty and the Beast." The 45-year-old Pixar and Disney veteran died Tuesday when the car he was riding in veered off a highway in Mendocino County, California, and tumbled down a cliff into the ocean. Another passenger was also killed, while a third managed to escape the vehicle with moderate injuries, according to The Associated Press.

Ranft, whose résumé reads like an exploration into the animation renaissance of the past 20 years, began his career drawing sketches for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and then served as storyboard supervisor for Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas." He quickly ascended to the upper echelon of the story department at Walt Disney Feature Animation, where his "Beast" and "King" were enormous successes, both financially and critically.

Heading up the story department at Pixar, where he worked for more than a decade, he not only wrote several of the studio's groundbreaking films, but also provided the voices for Wheezy the Penguin in "Toy Story 2," Jacques the French fish in "Finding Nemo" and Heimlich in "A Bug's Life."

"We are sorry to confirm that Joe Ranft died ... in a car accident," the animation studio said in a statement. "Joe was a beloved member of the Pixar family, and we will miss him."

Ranft grew up in Whittier, California, and attended Cal Arts, where he studied animation and was taught by several Disney veterans. His pursuit of a career in animated films was shaped by an interest in movies, cartoons, drawing and performing magic. His final work will appear in Pixar's next film, "Cars," starring the voices of Paul Newman and Owen Wilson and due in theaters on June 9, 2006.

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