Review: 'Inside Out 2' delivers charm in sweet abundance

The impact of puberty is the driving force behind "Inside Out 2."

June 14, 2024, 4:18 AM

The impact of puberty on the body and mind of a 13-year-old girl is the driving force behind Pixar's playful, PG-rated "Inside Out 2," available only in theaters, where viewers are likely to fall once again under the spell cast by the Oscar-winning 2015 animated classic.

Why is the sequel never the equal? Mostly because the surprise goes poof, along with the kick of originality. "Inside Out 2" can't do much about that, except put a fresh spin on what came before, a job it nails more often than not, even with some of first team sitting this one out.

Working from a sassy script by Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, debuting feature director Kelsey Mann can't match the innovations Pete Docter lavished on the origin story, but Mann's affection for the material feels welcome and unforced.

A scene from "Inside Out 2."

The focus is still on Riley Anderson, except her voice now belongs to Kensington Tallman instead of Kaitlyn Dias. Luckily the character holds strong. Having survived a move from Minnesota to San Francisco last time out, Riley is about to face a trial by fire for every teen: high school.

The sublime Amy Poehler is back in the mix voicing Joy, as are Lewis Black as Anger and Phyllis Smith as Sorrow. Tony Hale replaces Bill Hader as Fear with Liza Lapira pitching in for Mindy Kaling as Disgust. Miss you guys.

But the big news here involves the new emotions, now performing a demolition derby inside Riley's head. After all, adolescence is impossible without Envy (Ayo Edebiri of "The Bear"), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), basically a fancy word for boredom. Best of all is Maya Hawke as Anxiety, an orange ball of fire that many of us are still trying to get under control. Good luck with that.

Hawke is aces as the raspy vocal equivalent of a whirling dervish. Her performance combines with the eloquent camera language of Adam Habib to create hints (just hints) of the dark daydreams that populate Riley's conscious and unconscious life as Anxiety starts introducing worst-case scenarios for her to deal with.

Inside Out 2, releases only in theaters Summer 2024.

Joy has a real struggle with Anxiety when Riley's hockeymates and besties, Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green), divulge that they'll be going to different high schools, leaving their girl to cope without her most reliable support system.

And what if the new students don't like Riley? She's wearing braces, can't hide a pimple on her chin, and a lot of her jokes -- courtesy of Ennui's delicious deadpan -- don't land. Cue Envy and Embarrassment. There's a real struggle going on here, putting a strain on Riley's mental stability, especially when Riley literally tries to bottle up her emotions.

"Inside Out 2" never grapples with the messier aspects of puberty, including sexual stirrings and physical changes that Pixar handled with greater care and cunning in 2022's marvelous "Turning Red." Charm is the main attraction this movie delivers in sweet abundance. In a summer of hard-sell promises -- that's you "The Garfield Movie" -- "Inside Out 2" goes down easy. Sweet.