Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: INSIDE OUT 2

 by Rob DiCristino

“Maybe this is how it is. Maybe as you get older, you feel less joy.”

2015’s Inside Out is a rare marvel of a movie, a deft blend of science fiction, developmental psychology, and glittering Pixar fantasy that gives children and parents a sorely-needed vocabulary for navigating the complex web of chemical reactions that define — and occasionally impede — our growth as human beings. Pete Docter’s Oscar-winning original centers on eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlin Dias) or, rather, on the five foundational emotions behind the controls inside of her young mind: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) manage Riley’s day-to-day life, each contributing to her development by transmuting her experiences into memories, the most important of which — called “Core Memories” — converge into massive “Personality Islands” that grow along with her. When a power struggle between Joy and Sadness throws those islands into disarray, the emotions must strike a working balance that will allow Riley to express herself with honesty, passion, and equanimity.
Inside Out 2 — helmed by longtime Pixar artist Kelsey Mann in his directorial debut — finds a hockey-loving Riley (now Kensington Tallman) at a crucial milestone in her development: Puberty. It comes all at once, a literal wrecking ball crashing into the emotions’ command center and birthing four new members of the team: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchpolous), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). Anxiety is quick to take control — as she often is in life — displacing Joy and dismantling Riley’s Sense of Self, a glowing bouquet of carefully-nurtured memories that have grown into beliefs. Anxiety just wants to protect Riley, she claims, pushing her to abandon her middle school friends at hockey camp in order to impress high school team captain Val Ortiz (Lilimar Hernandez). Determined to regain control and get Riley back on the right track, Joy and the others (Liza Lapria and Tony Hale take over as Disgust and Fear, respectively) journey to the back of her mind to recover her lost Sense of Self.

And while this may sound like a busy, overcrowded expansion on an already-busy, overcrowded premise — we didn’t even touch on Bing Bong and all the Memory Dump business from the original film — screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein wisely resist the urge to go Elemental on us, rarely adding a new feature to the universe unless it’s crucial to the story and supported by some kind of internal logic. Our heroes do take a brief detour to The Vault — a storehouse for Riley’s darkest secrets and the only sequence in the film that really misses the mark — and almost get devoured by a perilous Sarcasm — pronounced sar-chasm, as in geological fissure — but Inside Out 2 is mostly a taught and streamlined race against the clock for the fate of a teenager’s soul: Will our heroes prevail, or will newer and more cantankerous emotions like Ennui — who spends most of her screentime lazed on a couch poking at a cell phone, occasionally deigning to get up and contribute with considerable indifference — change Riley for the worse?
And that’s the struggle of getting older, isn’t it? Can we maintain our core relationships (Grace Lu and Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green as Riley’s best friends) as we grow, or will Envy and Ennui have us chasing the shiny and new? Will we succumb to Anxiety and Embarrassment in times of challenge (Yvette Nicole Brown plays Riley’s unforgiving new hockey coach), or will we be brave enough to remember our values? Will the people we love (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan return as Riley’s parents) forgive our transgressions and allow us to evolve with dignity? Most importantly: Will we remember the delicate balance between these emotions, never letting ourselves be consumed by the one that offers the quickest way out of a difficult situation? Though it revels in its cacophony, Inside Out 2’s real strength is its unwillingness to dismiss Riley’s change as a bug in our humanity, grossly oversimplifying it to satisfy eye-rolling parents in the audience. Instead, it shows us why these unruly new emotions are so crucial to her encroaching adulthood.
On the craft front, Inside Out 2 is predictably immaculate, especially when it combines its familiar 3D animation with older-school 2D characters like Blue’s Clues castoff Bloofy (Ron Funches) or Final Fantasy hero Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea), artifacts of Riley’s childhood who help our more dimensional heroes out of a sticky spot. Sheer screen time alone makes Maya Hawke the standout of the new voice cast — though American hero Ayo Edebiri makes the most of her handful of lines as Envy — but Amy Poehler should not go overlooked; her introspective soliloquy on the frustrating nature of Joy is delivered with heartbreaking authenticity, inspiring a moment of growth that reminds us that she isn’t the leader just because she’s the biggest name on the call sheet. Rather, it’s because every emotion stems from Joy: Maybe we’re not getting enough of her. Maybe we’re getting too much. Maybe she’s clouding our judgment or overwhelming our impulses. Either way, Inside Out 2 celebrates Joy and her messy compatriots and challenges us to do the same.

Inside Out 2 hits theaters on Friday, June 14th.

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