Inside Out 2

Inside Out 2

I was first exposed to Pixar when I was working towards my BA in Film Studies at the University of Utah back in the early and mid 90’s. They were known for commercials and short films and Ed Catmull was a graduate from the U, but I was so excited for the very first full length commercial computer generated film called Toy Story. I loved shorts like The Adventures of Andre and Wally B, Tin Toy, and Knick Knack, and I was overjoyed when I first saw Woody, Buzz, and all their friends. I’ve been an unapologetic fan boy ever since, and though they sometimes they miss with films like Cars 2, Onward, and Lightyear, they are still one of the best and brightest studios working in Hollywood.

Pixar, much like A24, is a studio that dares to greenlight stories that no other studio would touch with a ten foot pole. A movie about a rat in a Parisian kitchen? Pass. A movie about a grumpy old man, a boy scout, and a talking dog flying in a house to South America? Hard pass. A movie about a garbage robot with no dialogue for the first 20 minutes? Not a chance. This a studio created by storytellers who find the humanity, the heart, and the soul of their stories and usually not only entertain, but create emotion and make you think about them long after the final image has flickered across the screen.

Covid forced several of their recent movies to stream directly on Disney+ and while Soul, Luca, Turning Red, and Elemental were good, they didn’t find the audience they likely would have if they had a big marketing push and a theatrical release. See the box office success of Elemental as a perfect example. So, with Covid mostly an afterthought in the general consciousness, it was time for Inside Out 2 to get the red carpet treatment.

I was worried when the film was first announced, since I consider Inside Out as upper echelon Pixar along with Wall-e, the Toy Story films, Up, etc. It’s rarified air and I didn’t want a sequel to take the luster off the original that was released about 9 years ago. Luckily, Inside Out 2 is really good. It’s got the humor, the heart, the creative animation and laughter you want, and while it doesn’t climb to the top of the Pixar filmography, it’s quite high on the list. 

Riley has recently turned 13 and her core emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), and Disgust (Liza Lapira) – are working in harmony to keep Riley level-headed as she navigates middle school and playing hockey. That equilibrium is threatened when the red puberty button begins to buzz on the console in Headquarters and suddenly new emotions Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) join the team. Anxiety becomes the driving emotion and the original team is bottled up and vaulted, and must escape and return to Headquarters, or losing Riley to the darker recesses of her brain.

Directed by Kelsey Mann and written by Dave Hostein and Meg LeFauve, the film explores themes that are mature and relatable. Anxiety losing control towards the end of the film brilliantly illustrates a panic attack, and brought tears to loved ones who now have a visual representation of their struggles to share with those who don’t experience it. There are heavy themes explored and the second Pixar film to deal with puberty, but the do so with humor and deft hand. 

One of the best new parts of Riley’s growing and changing mind, is the building of a core belief system, and that all emotions must be present and help Riley. No one emotion should be in charge, and that all memories, even the painful, the embarrassing, the sad, the happy, all need to be present to create who we are. We can’t bury the bad memories in the back of our head and ignore them, and we can’t bottle up the emotions we don’t like. The strength of the film lies in the ability to show not only the battle of emotions taking place in Riley’s mind, but cutting to the external world and how the struggle affects her with friends and family. The results are poignant, intent, and often hilarious. 

Pixar was the first to bring computer animated films to the screen and for a while, from 2007’s Ratatouille, to 2008’s Wall-e, 2009’s Up, and 2010’s Toy Story 3, they created classics that no other studio could touch. In recent years, Sony’s Into the Spiderverse films, and Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon and the upcoming Wild Robot are creating unique, beautiful, and heartfelt art and challenging Pixar to up their game. While Inside Out 2 isn’t one of Pixar’s most innovative or emotional, it’s a very nice return to form and makes me excited what they’ll bring us next. 

With the box office haul it made it’s opening week, I hope the team at Pixar don’t forget that this box office haul doesn’t happen unless they dared to tell the story of inside the mind of an 11 year old girl. I don’t want them to mine their IP (Intellectual Property) to tell only sequels and repeat safe stories. I want them to continue to be brave and give us unusual stories with teachable moments, breathtaking visuals, belly laughs, and lots of heart. Audiences are more complex now and require more sophisticated stories. With Inside Out 2, Pixar is taking a promising step to rediscover its own sense of self and I couldn’t be happier.

Grade: A-

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