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The Anime Movie You Didn't Realize Starred Billy Crystal

When Billy Crystal voiced Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc., it was momentous both for the actor — who got a role tailormade for his jittery everyman persona, in the biggest production of his career — and for the movie itself, which benefitted immensely from the comedic credentials and sharp timing of Crystal and John Goodman, and thereby helped establish Pixar as the go-to American animation studio for grown-ups as well as kids. Crystal's performance as Mike is still making waves to this day, as evidenced by the fan anticipation for his return on the Disney+ spin-off series Monsters at Work.

Mike Wazowski isn't the only notable character Crystal has voiced in his life, though. After Disney took over as Studio Ghibli's sole international distributor in 1996 (via The New York Times), Crystal was one of the many previous collaborators tapped again by the Mouse House to provide English-language voices for the U.S. releases of the Japanese studio's films. Like Monsters, Inc., Crystal's Ghibli turn gave him the opportunity to show off all the charisma and expressiveness that made him a Hollywood superstar, ultimately going down as one of the key roles of his later film career.

Billy Crystal voices Calcifer, the fire demon who gives Howl's Moving Castle its magic

If you've seen Hayao Miyazaki's epic fantasy Howl's Moving Castle, you might remember it best for young-turned-old protagonist Sophie, or for the array of singular humans and creatures embroiled in its dense war plot. But the whole movie wouldn't exist in the first place without Calcifer, the little ball of fire who lives in the castle's hearth.

A fire demon whose powers allow the castle to stand tall and move as it does, Calcifer is the first resident Sophie meets when she enters the castle at the beginning of the movie. He is bound up in a contract with wizard Howl, which prevents him from leaving the hearth, and offers Sophie a deal: if she can free him from the contract, he will free her from the curse that has turned her into a 90-year-old woman.

According to a behind-the-scenes interview, the role proved to be a challenge for improv master Billy Crystal. Unlike Monsters, Inc., where the voices were recorded before the animation, allowing the actors to ad-lib and go at their own pace, dubbing Howl's Moving Castle required Crystal to be strict about timing and hitting emotional beats. "That was the challenge of doing this, to get it close to being right, and to find a voice that fit this little ball of flame," the actor said.

Though his comedic instincts certainly shine through in the demon's surly personality, the character is actually one of the most complex and morally ambiguous in the film. As a result, if you're looking for an example of Crystal's underrated skills as a dramatic actor, Howl's Moving Castle is actually one of the best options out there.