Inside Out 2 : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on June 13, 2024 in / No Comments

 

Rated PG by the MPA for some thematic elements. Contains a post-credits scene – don’t miss it, it’s a good laugh. Running time: 96 minutes. Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

There hasn’t been a series quite like the Inside Out films, where outrageous, heartfelt, silly, and utterly humanistic explanations are given for our often-erratic human behavior. Personifying our base emotions – joy, fear, disgust, sadness, and anger – as anthropomorphic characters who have a weird life of being these emotions while having them as well elevated a fairly good coming-of-age story into a modern-day classic. Imparting humorous insight into how these emotions affect our actions and words, 2015’s Inside Out was a needed balm for me at the time, being the father of two daughters, then aged 5 and 3, and wondering how the universe expected me to take care of two precious kids.

Well, 9 years have passed since then, and the kids have grown to be wonderful 14- and (nearly) 12-year-olds, and Inside Out 2 has grown with us. As the original took us along with hockey-playing preteen Riley (Kensington Tallman, replacing Kaitlyn Dias from the first film) as she navigates her tumultuous jump out of adolescence, this takes us through the sudden growing pains of a full-blown teenager who’s faced with the confusion, excitement, worry, and other explosive feelings that come with maturation. Still manning the the space between Riley’s ears are Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader), Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and Anger (Lewis Black), all of whom have watched over Riley since birth, literally pushing her buttons and guiding her through her emotional growth. Most everything she’s gone through can be whittled down to those five basic concepts, but when a big, red button appears on the control console marked “PUBERTY,” we know we’re in for a wild ride.

And a wild ride it is, as construction workers fairly demolish the console and replace it with an upgrade, which comes along with Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edibiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) moving into the original gang’s small space. Anxiety, a frizzed-out orange being, has a certain way of considering Riley’s actions and then taking them about twenty steps too far into the future, where all paths end with dire consequences. Of course, we know Anxiety’s making mountains out of molehills, but such is life at that age, where the unknown gets scary and we don’t know how to handle it. Further yet, Anxiety has a deft way of rationalizing even the faintest of possible calamities, owing largely to Maya Hawke’s assured intonations; Hawke maintains a calm yet edgy tone which gives Anxiety a more serious edge.

It’s an edge that puts her in charge of the room, especially as rising high school freshmen Riley and her best friends Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grace Lu) have been handpicked by Coach Roberts (Yvette Nicole Brown) to attend the high school hockey camp, which – according to star player Val (Lilimar) – is basically a tryout for the team. Exacerbating this tension is the fact that Bree and Grace aren’t going to the same high school as Riley, a secret they seem to have kept from her until now. Combined with Riley still being a relative newcomer to San Francisco (this film takes place a year after the original), it doesn’t take much for the emotions’ small control room to suddenly get too small, and our original five get thrown out while Anxiety and Envy largely rule the roost.

A remarkable visual concept is fascinatingly introduced in this installment: the Sense of Self. Created in the deep recesses of Riley’s mind, strands of light representing Riley’s belief systems – colored in whichever emotion has been chosen (largely by Joy) – stream rootlike up toward the control room, the very top of which is her Sense of Self, protruding into the room like a small bonsai tree. Until now, Riley’s tree was glowing white-blue with her mostly innocuous knowledge base, but it doesn’t take long for it to be ripped out and corrupted by Anxiety and the new companions. With all of these emotions crowding her consciousness and fighting for control, it’s no wonder that Riley loses her sense of self, awkwardly adapting rapidly on the fly to look like she’s more than she is. Like most preteens that want to fit in and look cool in front of strangers, she goes along with the high school camp attendees while ditching her friends, acts like the boy band she loves is soooooo last year, and compounds bad decision after bad decision while Joy and the original five struggle to get back to the control room to get things on an even keel again.

The visual wonders of the previous film are matched in this sequel, with the aforementioned Sense of Self being only the tip of the iceberg. We journey into lands we haven’t seen, such as the prison where Riley keeps her Deep Dark Secret (Steve Purcell) and other things she doesn’t want to admit to – like her crush on an anime character whose main attack move is… Yeah, that one’s best left seen than told. Screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein take every opportunity to inject metric tons of whimsy and a wealth of “oh, God, THAT’S why my kid did that!” moments that parents – and kids themselves – will recognize and blush at with recognition. For me, Inside Out 2 felt like a documentary, not a kid’s movie; real life was never more accurately reproduced for film, whether animated or live-action. The impulsive choices, the consequences that come with said choices, thinking you’re better than you are when you’re really messing up, and – most importantly – the need for grace, both from others and ourselves – it’s all here.

Kelsey Mann – who takes over directing duties from Pete Docter – uses every asset in his grasp to tell this beautiful tale of getting to know yourself and what you’re capable of doing. With sound design by Ren Klyce which provides both overt and near-subliminal characteristics to our aural experience (take note of the climactic panic attack), the vast color fields of Riley’s memory collection, starring and supporting cast voicings, and Andrea Datzman’s thrilling score all backing up Pixar’s legendary animation, we’re at once bombarded and soothed by the organized chaos on screen. One feels at home with this movie in ways that reach beyond mere recognition and sympathy; it means to show us our lives and how we came to be how we are while never pointing a finger or being judgmental. Yes, it’s a fantasy film about strange beings that live in our heads and direct our every move with a large control panel, but the film’s messages of being gentle with yourself, taking care of your friendships, and the universality of teenagerdom being a big messy pile of conflict and turmoil is what brings it all together and warmly joins us to it.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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