Many years ago, I got to hug Billy Crystal. He had just been accused of “selling out” as a comedian by a strident NME journalist and I was the next one in to interview him. Let’s just say I was able to reassure the actor sufficiently of his talent for him to want to embrace me. All I could think at the time was “I’m hugging the Harry who met Sally” and I’ve never forgotten it.
Now I only have to hear Crystal’s voice and I’m right back in his arms, even when he is playing a small, one-eyed green goblin thing called Mike Wazowski in Monsters University. This is the sequel, or rather prequel, to Monsters, Inc from animation giant Pixar and it has all the glib gusto of the first film, only this time the monsters are in their teens.
Mike and his soon-to-be best buddy Sully (voiced by the fabulous John Goodman) are both students at Scare U, the monster equivalent of Harvard. The institution that turns the various freakish beasts who pass through its portals into the creatures of children’s nightmares was founded by Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), a dragon-winged, centipede-bodied harridan who designed the Scare programme to separate those who can terrify and those who cannot.
Sadly, Mike falls into the latter category as he is not what you would call a natural monster, although he tries hard. Much harder than the big, blue fluffy Sully who comes from a family acclaimed for its multi-generational scaring ability, and so sails through life trading on his name. Inevitably, the strengths and weaknesses of both these richly drawn characters come into play when they decide to compete in the scare games as members of Oozma Kappa, the uncoolest fraternity on campus.
With Mike providing the important life lessons, such as using what you’ve got to the best of your ability, and Sully demonstrating the need for a conscience, the film, directed by Dan Scanlon, has enough warmth, hijinks and wisecracks for children and some friendly reminders on how to behave for adults.
Though once again I could do without the 3D (the glasses hurt) and I wasn’t mad about Ms Mirren, who can’t escape her vocal identity, it is still a lovable film. Best of all, I got to be back in Billy Crystal’s arms.