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EMERYVILLE, Calif. — It’s been a dozen years since the release of Pixar’s Monsters, Inc., but it didn’t take much for Billy Crystal to get back into the spirit to voice Mike Wazowski for the follow-up film Monsters University. He’s seen Monsters, Inc. many times with his grandchildren. What was important to him was that he wanted to do a movie suitable for all grandchildren.
Crystal’s sad there aren’t a lot of movies in theaters that he considers true family films.
“We are seeing the disintegration of the family movie into these blockbuster things that kids should not be exposed to. The explosions, the carnage, the violence that’s all taking place in movies. There are less and less of these kind of family movies being made, movies that are truly for everybody,” Crystal said during an interview at the Pixar Studios.
What Crystal sees as a family film is his new G-rated animated movie Monsters University, which offers a look at Mike Wazowski and James P. “Sully” Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) as they arrive at college. Sully has the potential to be a Big Monster on Campus, but no matter how hard Mike tries he looks destined to failure.
Crystal was told a second Monsters movie going to be made three years ago at a 50th birthday party for Pixar Studio chief creative officer John Lasseter.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘We have the sequel. It’s a prequel.’ And then he walked away,” Crystal says. “It was a great idea because it would show us something we had never seen. Another adventure with them would have been fine, but it’s not what they do at Pixar. It has to be a great story.”
Crystal always hoped to do Mike’s voice again, but he figured chances were slim. Since the animation company’s first major film release in 1995, Toy Story, it has produced 13 films. The Toy Story and Cars franchises — before Monsters — were the only ones to have sequels.
Getting to work on Monsters University was fun for Crystal, who loves the Mike character. This time, it felt even more special.
“What I loved about coming back to him was that I got to play him at a special time in his life. I got to play him at 18,” Crystal says. “He goes through things in this movie that he didn’t go through in the first movie. I totally relate to his determination and don’t-tell-me-I-can’t attitude. When he handles disappointment, he handles it really well and that makes him an adult.”
A tradition Crystal started in Monsters, Inc. continued with Monsters University. Most animated films have actors record their lines separately. When Crystal showed up at the recording studio for the first time, he was shocked that Goodman wouldn’t be in the booth with him because Mike and Sully had so many scenes together.
He was told Goodman had already recorded his lines and left.
“So, if I had something new to say, I can’t do it because he’s not here to answer it,” he says. “I told them that wasn’t going to work.”
The studio called Goodman to see if he could return and record with Crystal and he agreed. From then on they did everything together.