Director: Kelsey Mann Screenwriter: Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Paul Walter Hauser, Kensington Tallman, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Running Time: 96 min. MPAA: PG

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The internal struggle of Inside Out was a premise ripe for exploration. The idea of a cerebral world for a tween dealing with emotional management made for one of Pixar’s better films. But much like Pixar’s many sequels, Inside Out 2 only scuffs its full potential and falls back on a similar formula, albeit for a decent reprisal of a developing teenage mind.

A massive can of worms is opened up for the central vessel of Riley (Kensington Tallman), now a teenager in the early stages of puberty. These internal changes arrive at the worst time as Riley finds herself at a crossroads for her friendships and identity. As she tries to define herself at hockey camp, the familiar emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), and Disgust (Liza Lapira) may not be enough. They’ll have to learn to work with the newcomers of Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). The new recruits step in for typical teenage reactions, ranging from Anxiety rapidly gunning for the cool crowd to Ennui triggering the language of sarcasm and apathy.

The puberty pals also arrive in the middle of Riley’s newest mind addition of core beliefs. Those memory balls she forms start creating threads that combine to form what Riley ultimately thinks of herself. Joy’s protective instincts kick in once more and she needs to learn the hard way that she can’t force these beliefs. Her bad habits are adopted by Anxiety and everybody needs to learn a valuable lesson about oneness and being genuine. Deja vu will probably set in for those familiar with the first film, especially for a similar premise of Joy being tossed out into the wild west of Riley’s consciousness once more, albeit with swapped companions.

The issue with this sequel is not so much that it follows the same old path as that it doesn’t go far enough into its new avenues. This is not to say that some of the jokes and style of teenage Riley’s mental scape are not fun to explore. There’s some fun to be had with Riley’s repressed memories of old media, but don’t expect a misfit tale akin to the tragic imaginary character Bing Bong. There’s a clever renovation of Riley’s imagination, but the idea seems to fall back on some visual parodies of an animation studio and that 1984 Apple ad (remember that thing?). Rarely do these elements culminate in the climax, where a casm of sarcasm and a Mount Rushmore of childhood crushes are brief pitstops along the way.

And, yet, through all the usual beats and an expected ending of acceptance in yourself, it kinda worked. Even when I could sense that emotional realization arriving at the chaotic finale, this reiteration of a script still packs a decent punch in its heartfelt denouement. For what is likely to be familiar and maybe even cliche for adults, the kids watching this film will get a solid lesson about how anxiety doesn’t have to be defeated but can be managed and balanced when considering what you can control. It’s an aspect that some adults still grapple with, rough as it may be for a younger audience to hear, and it feels essential to core beliefs, thickly-strung as it may be within this narrative.

Inside Out 2 finds just enough worth exploring in its animated mental landscape to be a satisfying sequel. While not the powerhouse idea of the first film, the reiterance of finding that earned road to joy through personal growth remains firm. It’s so easy for animated films manic with imagination and slapstick to lose the plot and often stumble with finding a firm footing of a worthy thematic core. This film keeps firmly on track and still manages to feel like a trip worth taking, even if it comes across more like an addendum for kids and review for adults.

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