Home Leisure & Sports  Inside Out 2 (***)

 Inside Out 2 (***)

 Ayo Edebiri and Maya Hawke in Inside Out 2.

We try to control our emotions, and don’t always do a great job. What if they were outsourced to five dingy spirits who were afraid to give up their power? Disney/Pixar puts that notion in play.

It’s an amusing premise—one that turns into a delightful screening for 96 entertaining minutes of manic animation, adventure and comedy. It’s an experience that’s even more engaging if movie fans view the film in the world’s largest multi-dimensional 4DX theater at the Regal Times Square. Tricks and wizardry pull you into the action. The seats move up, down, and sideways. They shake, rattle and roll. Gusts of air, spurts of moisture and other gimmicks heighten and shock your senses. Kids will love the amusement park atmosphere. Just put a lid on your sodas and prepare to have fun.

Writer David Holstein (TV’s Weeds) and Meg LeFauve (the original Inside Out) get inside the head of Riley (Kensington Tallman) a 13-year-old girl on the brink of high school. She’s tight with her two buddies Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green), but is being pulled away from them, too. That schism becomes exacerbated when the girls go away for a three-day ice hockey skill camp, run by Coach Roberts (Yvette Nicole Brown, TV’s Community). Grace and Bree beckon, but Riley is being drawn into an older group, led by the hockey prodigy Valentina (Lilimar).

Navigating puberty, teen years and the fears of impending high school is a trauma universally experienced by all kids. Lucky or unlucky for Riley, her emotions run rampant, and she has little control. Hers are managed like a corporation governed by a board of directors: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Tony Hale), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Disgust (Liza Lapira). Those five wacky general managers were used to running Riley’s life from their command center. Like air traffic controllers. But, as growing will have it, regular emotions become passé and mixed emotions emerge. The kind that drives teens crazy.

Enter Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri, Emmy winner The Bear), the blasé and boredom-loving Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos) and the large Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). As a team, they trample the rights and powers the first five had. Stable feelings go out the door. Inner turmoil, doubt, jealousy, mood swings, debilitating anguish and pandemonium rule Riley. The nonsensical battles between the old emotions and new mayhem-inducing feelings (a.k.a., mind games) drive the girl nuts. They are manifested in the indecision, shame and nervousness Riley, like other young teens, must navigate. Joy warns Anxiety: “If you want Riley to be happy, stop hurting her.” Anxiety: “I don’t know if I can stop.” Kids, tweens and teens will relate. Adults who can sense memory back to their younger selves will be delighted that the filmmakers and actors are portraying the hell known as the ‘teen angst.’

Director Kelsey Mann, a former storyboard artist and story supervisor turned first-time filmmaker, has a nice feel for the genre and how to tell a simple story about a girl going through a part of the human development cycle that is a real trip—one that blindsides her with reactions she can’t corral. Aided by editor Maurissa Horwitz’s precision timing, and art directors that specialize in lighting, graphics character, sets and color and shading, the visuals are a smorgasbord for the eyes. Add in Jason Deamer’s deft touch as production designer, Adam Habib and Jonathan Pytko’s captivating cinematography and there is no reason to take your eyes of the screen, ever. 

Mann guides the actors’ voices and inflections quite well. The characters are fun to watch because the sync between direction, cast and dialogue is so seamless. It’s easy to feel sorry for Riley because Tallman’s interpretation of the central character is so sensitive to her needs, environments and interactions. The true emotions crew, led by the over-positive, endearing Poehler as Joy, makes the good guys lively. The tempest-in-teapots reign of volatile spirits, led by Hawke’s perfectly grating interpretation of Anxiety, is the total opposite—blundering idiots; frenetic, upset, ambivalent, misdirected and all the odd senses kids face that drive them berserk.

It’s amazing that young viewers will get tips on mastering inner turmoil by seeing the havoc manifested on screen, knowing the names of emotions and learn how to face that clash. Kids may not understand the magnitude of what they’re learning, but child psychologists will be happy that an animated movie is giving them a major assist as they teach children how to handle their ‘stuff.’

There’s something very ingenious about a film that explores the feelings we have in a way that is tangible, profound and educational—almost like a public service message telling us there are reasons and solutions for our emotional interactions. Or as Joy puts it: “There is a lid for every pot!”

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