Book Review: “Two Guys Named Joe”

Two Guys Named Joe

"Two Guys Named Joe" is available in bookstores now

Many people wonder about the success story of Pixar Animation Studios. The studio’s rise from near-extinction to critical and financial success is a fairy tale that is fascinating to learn about. Then there is the larger Walt Disney Studios that is known for its animated classics such as Snow White and Dumbo. In theatres, we get to see the final products, but there are the unsung heroes (unkown to many in the audience) who work laboriously to bring us the memorable characters and emotional storylines. Two of those individuals, Joe Ranft of Pixar and Joe Grant of Disney, helped to change the way the animation industry is viewed. Tragically, in 2005, the world lost both of these artists. In his book, Two Guys Named Joe, renowned animation historian John Canemaker recounts the lives of the “two Joes” assisted by the narrations of those who loved them. After reading the book, you may not only grow fond of Ranft and Grant, but you will be moved by the realization of how much we owe both of them.

The book is separated into two parts, with the first half focusing on Joe Ranft and the second half on Joe Grant. Filled with pictures and beautiful sketches done by the two as well as others, Two Guys gives us a glimpse into their personalities as well as their capabilities. Canemaker went through archives to show many pieces that have not been widely seen before. Even with the many Pixar art books that are available, this new book brings us artwork from Ranft we have not seen.

The following is a small portion of the master storytellers’ resumes:

  • Joe Ranft was the directing animator on Brave Little Toaster; storyboard supervisor on Nightmare Before Christmas; story supervisor on Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 2. Complete list here.
    • Ranft was also capable of great voice acting, seen as the voice of the memorable Heimlich in A Bug’s Life, Jacques in Finding Nemo, and Wheezy in Toy Story 2.
  • Joe Grant was often referred to as Walt Disney’s “right-hand man”, working as a character designer on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and The Lion King. Complete list here.
    • Grant was also involved in writing many of Disney’s classics, working on Fantasia, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp.

Canemaker provides life stories from the childhoods of Grant and Ranft, then moving through their successful animation careers. Many who read this great book may consider the highlight to be the gorgeous artwork. The art is indeed great, but to me, I never tired of reading what they meant to those who had the privilege to spend time with them. Everyone adored Ranft (often referred to as the heart of Pixar), and it is incredibly touching to sense the level of love and respect people had (and still do) for him. It is also heartbreaking (and tear-inducing) to read of the effect his sudden loss had on those around him. Similarly, Grant’s dedication to his work commanded (and still does) a level of awe for the mind-boggling amount of classics he worked on.

In 2005, the world lost two legends, but the spirits of Joe Ranft and Joe Grant live on in Two Guys Named Joe, their work, and those they left behind. They changed animation forever, and it is safe to say that Pixar and Disney would not be where they are today without them. John Canemaker does a superb job teaching us who they were and what they meant to the animation industry. I cannot recommend the book enough.

Below is a short video of Canemaker talking about his new book:

Two Guys Named Joe from Disney Editions is available in bookstores now.

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