Thursday, June 13, 2024

Anxiety Steals The Show From The Emotional Ensemble In INSIDE OUT 2

Now playing at a multiplex near us all:

INSIDE OUT 2 (Dir. Kelsey Mann, 2024)


While it’s easy to be cynical about Pixar churning out yet another sequel of one of their biggest hits, it’s actually been five years since they’ve put out one, which was TOY STORY 4, (that franchise’s LIGHTYEAR was an odd spin-off not a sequel). 


With the last several offerings by the Disney-owned animation studio being far from the insta-classics of old, I’m glad to report that this second INSIDE OUT is a worthy, and very funny follow-up that is a very welcome offering for this cinematic summer season.


The 2015 original INSIDE OUT, which matched its huge critical acclaim with big box office (and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature), is one of Pixar’s finest, so it’s great to see Amy Poehler back heading the emotional ensemble as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Lewis Black as Anger while Tony Hale, and Liza Lapira fill in for Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling as Fear and Disgust respectively.


Then there’s the addition of four new characters that invade their turf in the headquarters of the conscious mind of the 13-year old Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman, replacing Kaitlyn Dias from the first film), after the puberty alarm sounds. This new crew is led by Maya Hawke as Anxiety, Ayo Edebiri as Envy, Adèle Exarchopoulos as Ennui (“boredom” in French), and Paul Walter Hauser as Embarrassment, who wears a big hoodie in order to hide his big pink noggin in.


Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan also reprise their parts as Riley’s parents, but they have very little screentime as the story revolves around the budding young girl going to hockey camp, and her relationships with her team mates. Hawke’s Anxiety pushes the old emotions aside (literally bottling them into a big glass jar), and casts them into a dark vault in the outer realm of Riley’s psyche so that she can take over the console and influence the girl’s thoughts with negativity. 


This is so that Riley will leave her friends behind so that she can join the popular girls (led by former Nickelodeon star Lilimar as Riley’s idol, Valentina “Val” Ortiz) in her desired hockey team, the Fire Hawks (a name that Black’s Anger says he can really get behind). So like the first film, the premise concerns a journey through the terrain of Riley’s mind to try and put things back in order, and, sure, it treads some of the same narrative ground, but the laughs, and heartfelt moments along the way help make it far better than a stale retread.


Among the amusing highlights is the appearances of a 2D retro cartoon character from Riley’s childhood named Bloofy (Ron Funches), a pixelated video game avatar called Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea) whose ineffectual method of rolling himself as a ball towards the advancing police-like mind workers sure made for a few crowd-pleasing visual gags, and Riley’s first experience with sarcasm, hilariously aided, of course, by Ennui. 


Of course, there’s no way a sequel to INSIDE OUT could have the same fresh feel of the first one, but screenwriters Meg LeFauve (co-writer of the original), and Dave Holstein bring enough punch to this project to make it a winning combination of humor and pathos bathed in bright primary colors, and it also helps that the animation is even sharper and more eye engaging in this entry, while still retaining the look and feel of the innerspace of the first installment. 


While Poehler still enthusiastically rules as Joy, and Black’s Anger and Smith’s Sadness prove there’s a lot more mileage to get out of their clever comic personas (Hale and Lipira put in good turns as well, but they’re more sideline to the three leads), it’s Hawke’s frantic, dizzying performance as Anxiety that really steals the show. Hawke’s high energy take on the fuzzy fretful foe for Joy makes for a sympathetic antagonist, and adds another layer to the zippy proceedings.


Maybe like Richard Linklater’s BEFORE trilogy, they should do an INSIDE OUT sequel in another nine years (and unlike that series, the characters don’t have to age), as the near decade gap here appears to work in this films favor.

INSIDE OUT 2, the solid directorial debut of long-time Pixar creative, Kelsey Mann, made me laugh, and tear up a bit, as while it played a lot of the same beats as its predecessor, it successfully pulled the same right heartstrings too. So those dismissive of sequels should take note that Pixar’s track record for well worthwhile franchise efforts has again proven to be pretty damn strong.

More later...

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