In news, non-illustrated, Review

The Oscar-winning INSIDE OUT didn’t really need a sequel, and it’s still a bit disheartening that Pixar is making so many of them, but still, if you’re going to make a follow-up, they should all be as clever and moving as this one.

INSIDE OUT 2 continues to go inside the mind of Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman), whose story we pick up a few years after the original one. Riley is now a teenager, engaging in all the drama that comes with that age, from stressing out to breaking out. New emotions start popping up too, like anxiety and embarrassment, and soon, poor Riley is becoming overwhelmed. Riley’s basic emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) from the first film, aren’t sure what to make of the new emotions encroaching on their territory. That tension drives the narrative here and it creates a lot of funny conflicts in Riley’s brain. The core five aren’t fighting each other as much anymore; they’re now fighting for time in Riley’s thoughts instead of all the angst-ridden ones.

Those angsty emotions are led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke), and her posse includes Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Envy (Ayo Ederbiri), and Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulus). Ennui has only a few lines throughout the entire film, but the way Exarchopoulos expresses sighing dissatisfaction is funny every time. Indeed, there is a lot of humor in this premise, but where this film truly stands out is in how seriously it treats Riley’s tortured psyche. As she grows more and more desperate to fit in, be popular, and make friends with upperclassmen, the wilder emotions threaten to turn her into a basket case as she crests into high school.

It all comes to a head when Riley and her two BFF’s head to a girl’s hockey camp weekend. Riley’s besties just want to have fun, but Riley is out to prove herself a worthy athlete in front of the coach and high school players. Her manic need to succeed hands the reins of her brain over to Anxiety, and it’s a hoot watching this new emotion try to cover every possible outcome in any given scenario to ensure that Riley prevails. Ultimately though, all that worrying starts to turn Riley into a neurotic mess.

The new Riley, fretting and rude to her old friends, causes the core emotions to start on a journey to the back of Riley’s mind to restore her original lovable and fun personality. Watching them burrow deep into that vast world of Riley’s psyche, discovering long-lost bad memories and early crushes, makes for moments that are hilarious, and just as many that are heartbreaking. Some memories allow Pixar to create some of their funniest slapstick gags in years, like those involving her first crush – a video game hero who has trouble entering doorways. Other memories play as deeply serious and create some of the greatest pathos in a Pixar production, right up there with WALL-E and TOY STORY 3.

Indeed, this may be a cartoon, one aimed at all four quadrants of a film audience, but the gravitas given Riley’s genuine problems feels so weighty it’s almost miraculous. Sure, we may laugh at some of her antics, but the film never looks down at this teen’s problems. Instead, they treat all of her fears with sensitivity and respect. She may be a teen, but a young girl’s problems can be devastating at that age and poor Riley is going through the wringer trying to figure out who she is. INSIDE OUT 2 is not only a film about emotions, but it’s one that cuts emotionally deep through and through.

First-time director Kelsey Mann and fellow screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein tick all the Pixar boxes for state-of-the-art humor, character development and CGI world-building, while digging as deep into the thinking of one of their cartoon characters as they ever have. It’s ironic that the crux of these INSIDE OUT films is that they turn emotions into stand-out characters, and yet the most fascinating character this time out ends up being Riley herself.

In fact, I liked how thoroughly they examined this young woman’s life that I thought they very well could make more sequels about Riley, revisiting her mental state every few years from college to career to even marriage. Perhaps Pixar has an opportunity to do something like Richard Linklater did with BOYHOOD and tell the arc of a life over the course of decades. Wait a minute, did I just make the case for more sequels? Darn right. But for now, please check out this terrific sequel and make up your own mind about whether the franchise should go even further.

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