Inside Out 2 (3 ½ stars out of 4)

I noticed something while watching “Inside Out 2” that I hadn’t quite picked up on before. We all know Pixar puts out films that are enjoyable for parents as well as their presumed adolescent target audience, and the new sequel to Pete Docter’s 2015 original maintains that standard. But like that film, “Inside Out 2” also captures something very real that even the best Pixar films can’t always manage.

The stakes are small, but they feel enormous.

We should all know the basic concept by now. The “Inside Out” films take place inside the mind of a young girl named Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman). The main characters are her dominant emotions, personified: joy, sadness, anger, etc. These characters go on dramatic adventures, but on the outside, Riley is encountering very relatable, down-to-earth experiences. In the first movie, she was moving cross-country and starting in a brand-new school. In “Inside Out 2,” she’s attending a hockey camp. The fate of the world is not at stake, and Riley is no “chosen one” prophesied to bring balance to the Force or to fight off the Dark Lord Voldemort.

And yet, in her mind, the fate of ‘her’ world is at stake.

Aside from the cleverness of the basic concept, this is one of the things I like best about the “Inside Out” films. It’s one of the reasons they hit so hard, no matter how old you are. Because sadly, the things Riley is wrestling with are the same things a lot of people continue to wrestle with their entire adult lives: change, disappointment, fear, even just dealing with other people.

Moving from Minnesota to San Francisco was a pretty big challenge in the first movie, but the new film has an even bigger challenge in store for Riley: puberty. Our hero is now thirteen years old, and all the abject horrors of the teen years—especially the middle school years—come crashing down when Riley heads off to a summer hockey camp with two of her closest teammates. On the way, she finds out her friends will be heading off to a different school in the fall, and once at the camp, Riley is presented with the temptation to team up with some of the popular kids on the high school team, which threatens to change her entire personality.

This brings us to the action inside Riley’s mind. In recent years, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and the team have gotten into the bad habit of shuffling off Riley’s undesirable memories to a storage dump at the back of her mind. But that foreboding practice gets set aside when puberty brings a new group of emotions to Riley’s “control room.” Now the veterans have to fight for control with new competitors like Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos), and worst of all, Anxiety (Maya Hawke). In no time, years of hard work get tossed aside as Riley’s personality seemingly gets rebuilt from scratch, this time with horrible sentiments like “I’m not good enough” providing the foundational blocks.

The movie plays this out with the old emotions getting banished to the back of Riley’s mind with the undesirable memories, then having to fight their way back to the control room, where Anxiety and co. have been running amok. In the “real world,” Riley is making drastic changes to her appearance and personality to find a new place in her environment, and threatening to derail all her best qualities in pursuit of a promising new future.

The new film keeps up the clever approach of the original, though it doesn’t offer a lot in terms of new twists and turns. But the basic idea is still meaningful enough that simply adding the specter of puberty and a handful of new emotions is enough to keep things engaging.

Funny enough, the animation and performances don’t especially stand out, but in a film like this, where the concept and the story are really what’s critical, it almost doesn’t matter. Altogether, “Inside Out 2” probably isn’t as good as the first film, but it’s not just a rehash, either. It’s a logical next step in a relatable journey that could keep generating new movies well into Riley’s adulthood. In fact, given the comic cutaways to the control rooms in Riley’s parents’ minds, an adult version of “Inside Out” could be a lot of fun.

“Inside Out 2” is rated PG, basically because it explores all those aforementioned emotions and themes.

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