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Inside Out 2: PIXAR Picks Up the Slack

I will admit that when I first heard that Inside Out 2 was on the slate, I was underwhelmed. While I liked the first movie, I never considered it to be one of PIXAR’s best efforts. Maybe it was a top-15 or even top-12 PIXAR film, but it wasn’t in my personal top-10, and I personally didn’t feel like it warranted a sequel. I thought it was a solid B, maybe B+ movie, but not quite at the upper echelons of PIXAR’s best films. I was also nervous because the only thing consistent about PIXAR’s movies over the last decade and a half has been their inconsistency. For every Soul, there was a Good Dinosaur. For every Coco, there was a Lightyear. And considering PIXAR’s track record for sequels outside of the Toy Story franchise, I anticipated another letdown.

As is often the case, I was wrong.

Inside Out 2 is a fantastic film and one of their best sequels. While lacking the overpowering emotion of its predecessor, it nevertheless delivers a thematically compelling story about having to accept all facets of who we are, the bitter and the sweet.

Picking up after the original, we see Riley and her best friends getting a special invitation to a prestigious hockey camp that could set them up well for high school. But Riley finds out on the way that her friends will be going to a different high school. Add to that that she’s just entering puberty, and we’re introduced to a new cast of emotions, Anxiety, Boredom, Embarrassment, and Envy, to go along with our familiar friends, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.

Joy has been forcing bad memories to the back of the mind to create a sense of self for Riley that is overwhelmingly positive and altruistic. Feeling the old emotions are outdated and not up to the task of seeing Riley through this tumultuous time, Anxiety and the other new emotions banish Joy and the others so that they can create a new, more nuanced sense of self for Riley that Joy obviously feels is not who Riley really is.

To be honest, I thought the movie was fine through the middle of the second act. I wasn’t blown away, but I was enjoying it. Then the third act rolled around, and I think it needs to be said that no one, and I mean NO ONE, sticks the landing like PIXAR. When they’re on their game, the endings of their films are spot on. Many times, their outstanding endings have saved mediocre films. Nothing about Inside Out 2 is mediocre, but the ending absolutely took it to another emotional level.

What I liked about this film was that PIXAR’s filmmakers were able to keep the world we were familiar with and create new scenarios organically. Of course, a girl hitting puberty and getting ready for high school would have more complex emotions than she did before. It makes sense that these new emotions would turn the world inside Riley asunder until everyone could understand their place and their role. Inside Out 2 isn’t just a blatant money grab for new merch like Cars 2 and Cars 3. It isn’t a square peg being forced into a round hole trying to expand on stories that were totally fine as they were, like Monsters University and Finding Dory. This was an organic continuation of a story we all loved or at least really liked in which the stakes are raised, and new challenges await. You could conceivably see Inside Out 2 without having seen Inside Out and still enjoy it immensely.

It also should be pointed out that Inside 2 may very well salvage the summer movie season.

Inside Out 2 opened last weekend with a whopping $155 million, nearly twice what Dune 2 did in its opening weekend and the highest weekend debut since Barbie last July. To say that this summer has been disappointing at the box office would be a gross understatement. But has often happened, an animated feature has ridden to the rescue. With the latest installment of Despicable Me coming out in July, it’s reasonable to believe that animation could once again save the summer box office season.

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