Promotional Photo courtesy Pixar Animation/Walt Disney Studios
In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Fear (voice of Tony Hale) and Disgust (voice of Liza Lapira) aren’t sure how to feel when Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke) shows up unexpectedly. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024.

Promotional Photo courtesy Pixar Animation/Walt Disney Studios In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Fear (voice of Tony Hale) and Disgust (voice of Liza Lapira) aren’t sure how to feel when Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke) shows up unexpectedly. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024.

On the Screen: ‘Inside Out 2’ a bold evolution of Pixar’s emotional storytelling

Set only a year after the events of the first film, “Inside Out 2” returns viewers to the inner workings of pre-teen Riley

“Inside Out 2” isn’t quite so emotional or groundbreaking as the 2015 original film, but through thoughtful evolutions of its universe and a characteristically insightful depiction of growing up, it remains a standout example of the imaginative storytelling Pixar Animation is capable of.

Set only a year after the events of the first film, “Inside Out 2” returns viewers to the inner workings of pre-teen Riley. Her anthropomorphized emotions seem to pilot her through life by working together at a massive console, pushing buttons and pulling levers to dictate her emotional responses throughout every day. Joy, played by Amy Poehler, leads the crew, rounded out with Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Lewis Black as Anger, Tony Hale as Fear and Liza Lapira as Disgust.

In their sophomore outing, each of the returning emotions are made far more interesting — in this film, Joy confronts her own despair and anger; Anger shows his sensitive side; and Disgust shows an unparalleled understanding of the nuances of human communication.

Another big evolution in this film is the introduction of Riley’s belief system, where key memories become the roots of a tree that grows into her holistic sense of self. Through this concept, Riley is given a lot more opportunity and space to be her own character — the emotions in one early moment step back from the console and release Riley to handle one of life’s moments on her own.

“She’s got this,” Joy says.

Where “Inside Out” centered on Riley’s relationships and conflicts with her parents, its sequel focuses on friendship. We see Riley and her emotions grapple with a desire to be a good friend while also navigating the transition to high school. Also, she’s going through puberty.

To handle these complex situations, Joy and company are joined in the control room by new, complex emotions. Anxiety, played by Maya Hawke, as well as Envy, Ennui and Embarrassment manifest and become the film’s villains. They seize control of Riley’s declining emotional state and lead her to a series of mistakes, hurting herself and her friends.

The film is effective in its earnestness. Anxiety’s oversized feelings of anxiety ring wholly true for an early teenager struggling to find herself and her place in the important societal hierarchies of high school. At a summer hockey camp, she’s given the opportunity to play with her friends for the last time, but she also has to impress the cool upperclassmen and high school hockey coach.

Inside, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust travel Riley’s mind to reclaim the control room and help Riley restore her declining sense of self.

Depictions of Riley’s struggles — internally and externally — come to ends that are equally logical and horrific. The film’s climax is an impressively realized and unsettling depiction of a mental health incident that it explores genuinely and thoughtfully.

The film comes to compelling conclusions about identity and connection, recognizing humanity as inherently multifaceted and imperfect. Riley’s emotions can’t be characterized as good or bad, she’s a little of everything.

“We don’t get to choose who Riley is,” Joy says.

“Inside Out 2” is every bit the interesting exploration of the mind that the first film was, even if its emotional core doesn’t hit the same highs. It’s a visual spectacle, with fun and contrasting art styles, like a character who looks ripped from an early-2000s era video game. It tells its story with a sense of courage in the way Pixar has always excelled.

“Inside Out 2” will be playing this weekend at the Kenai Cinema and Orca Theater. Check showtimes and purchase tickets at catheaters.com or orcatheater.com.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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