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Amy Poehler and Company Bring the Waterworks in Emotionally Resonant 'Inside Out 2'

2015's "Inside Out" was a triumph for Pixar upon its release, giving worldbuilding a unique framing in the form of 11-year-old Riley's brain. The movie follows Riley's emotional journey as she copes with a major life change-moving from Minnesota to the San Francisco Bay Area. Basic emotions influence Riley's actions and feelings, told through various characters of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). The Pete Doctor-directed film went on to gross over $800 million at the box office and gave Pixar continued domination over animated movies pre-pandemic.

Almost ten years later, audiences have begun moving away from Pixar as their animated film behemoth of choice. Last year's "Elemental" made less than $500 million, an incredible amount for any movie released theatrically these days, but a paltry sum compared to its inflated $200 million budget and Pixar's history of blowing up the box office. Yet, things might change with "Inside Out 2," the long-awaited sequel that not only continues Riley's emotional journey but also introduces new emotions and challenges as she enters a new phase of life.

Two years have passed since Riley and her parents moved from Minnesota to the San Francisco Bay Area. The move has been a big adjustment for Riley, who is now turning 13 and entering her teenage years. She's looking toward the future; high school is just around the corner, with her two best friends, Bree and Grace, along for the ride. Hockey is her main focus, and getting onto the high school team is Riley's ultimate dream scenario.

The fates align when Riley and her friends are invited to an elite hockey summer camp attended by her heroes from the high school team. Further compounding the excitement and stress of the summer, Riley discovers that Bree and Grace will be attending a different school in the Fall, turning the young teenager's world upside down. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust all come together to help the growing child handle the situation, not understanding what's about to occur that summer: PUBERTY!

Often the leader of the bunch, Joy can't comprehend when new emotions enter the picture, fronted by Anxiety (Maya Hawke). These new emotions, including Embarrassment (an almost mute Paul Walter Hauser), Boredom (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Envy (Ayo Edebiri), bring a fresh dynamic to Riley's mind and how she reacts to events at summer camp. Nothing makes sense as Riley attempts to gain control over her new emotions while Joy and the old gang are literally banished to the back of Riley's mind.

"Inside Out 2" is a feast of color and imagination, filled with humorous commentary on the hormonal shifts we all experience during the peaks and valleys of life. But it's not just about the laughs-the movie delves deep into Riley's emotional struggles, particularly her battle with anxiety as she navigates the challenges of puberty.

What's truly poignant is Joy's realization that Riley's pursuit of happiness might diminish as she grows older. However, to triumph and ensure that Riley's mind isn't clouded by the anxiety she's become accustomed to, Joy focuses on doing what's best for Riley in moments of pure adversity. The profound lesson here is that no matter how much we try to suppress negative memories or intrusive thoughts, our past shapes us and guides our future.

It's a powerful message that resonates on all levels because of this film's outstanding visualization and sharp writing.

Many voices that appeared in "Inside Out" are replaced in this sequel, with Tony Hale taking over the role of Fear and Liza Lapira voicing Disgust. These new voice actors bring a fresh perspective to the characters, adding depth and complexity to their performances. Nevertheless, the movie never misses a beat and highlights Riley's move into puberty, a stroke of genius for creating new emotions battling the old ones from her childhood. Poehler is the star of what's become an ensemble film, voicing a character with depth and ingenuity that stretches what's possible for an animated feature about the complexities of what's happening inside a young girl's mind.

"Inside Out 2" dives deep into what makes us human, the journey we go through in dealing with our emotions, and the often hilarious intersections of thought we face when confronted with daily activities. The movie's humor is a perfect blend of wit and slapstick, appealing to both children and adults. This is easily one of Pixar's best movies in a decade, signaling a bright spot in its growing catalog of films that have focused on childhood experiences without hitting its audience over the head with nostalgia. Nostalgia is a punching bag of laughter in this sequel, making fun of adults and how we cope with change.

I, for one, can't wait to see where Riley's mind goes next.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟


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