Could this be the summer’s best Hollywood film?

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Disney (Credit: Disney)Disney

Inside Out 2 “glimmers with diamond-hard truths about the complex business of being a human” – and has one of the year’s best punchlines.

Two years ago, Pixar released Turning Red, a coming-of-age cartoon about a 13-year-old girl dealing with puberty, and now the studio is releasing Inside Out 2, a coming-of-age cartoon about a 13-year-old girl dealing with puberty. It’s a strange state of affairs, as well as an unfair one: Turning Red was one of Pixar’s finest ever films, but it was shoved on to Disney+, whereas Inside Out 2 has the feel of a straight-to-streaming sequel, but it’s getting a proper cinema release. Still, taken on its own merits, Inside Out 2 is a pleasure. And in this underwhelming summer, it could well be the best mainstream entertainment that Hollywood has to offer.

Like the first Inside Out, which came out in 2015, the sequel is set inside the mind of Riley Anderson (voiced this time by Kensington Tallman), where five anthropomorphised Emotions stand at a console guiding her actions. The leader of the gang is the perky Joy (Amy Poehler); the others are Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. They’re finding it tough to control the hormonal Riley, and things get tougher when she is on her way to an ice hockey training camp, and her two best friends tell her that they won’t be attending the same high school as she is.

This sequence is a witty parody of a high-tech espionage movie, with the Emotions searching for clues hidden in Riley’s friends’ faces. But it’s also heart-wrenching. Riley’s world is being upended again, just as it was when her family moved from Minnesota to San Francisco in Inside Out. Now the Emotions have to decide whether she should hang out with her old friends at hockey camp, or set about making new ones.

Then Riley’s adolescent hormones have another effect: the Emotions’ headquarters are invaded by four newcomers, led by the manic, Muppet-like, orange-coloured Anxiety (Maya Hawke). Her sidekicks are the permanently bored Ennui, who naturally has a French accent (Adèle Exarchopoulos’s French accent, to be precise); Embarrassment, a clumsy lunk who keeps his face hidden inside his hoodie; and the wide-eyed Envy, who is a surprisingly small and mild-mannered character, considering how important envy is in the lives of teenagers – and indeed in the lives of the rest of us. It’s also a slight flaw that one of the original Emotions, Disgust, is green, so Envy is landed with the far less suitable colour of light blue.

Inside Out 2

Director: Kelsey Mann

Cast: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ayo Edebiri, Tony Hale

Run time: 1hr 36m

Inside Out 2 has several of the compromises and contrivances that are inevitable in a sequel. Some people will remember that in the first film, everyone in the world had just five Emotions in total, so the screenwriters, Meg Le Fauve and Dave Holstein, have cheated somewhat by rewriting the rules. Other people may ask why Le Fauve and Holstein put in so many negative feelings and so few positive ones. Why doesn’t Riley have Gratitude or Pride or Love? Actually, given that Inside Out 2 is about her adolescence, why doesn’t she have Lust?

The film is a fast-paced and playful comedy adventure with even more jokes and more puns than Inside Out

Quibbles aside, the arrival of the new Emotions is just what the story needs, because the ensuing power struggle provides the conflict that the previous Inside Out was lacking. Like so many Pixar cartoons, this one still leaves you with the suspicion that the creative team got carried away and squeezed in every idea they had, thereby losing the brilliant simplicity of the studio’s early classics: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc, and The Incredibles. But the plot in Inside Out 2 is more dynamic and less confusing than the one in Inside Out.

The screenwriters have dropped the first film’s duff “Islands of Personality” concept, and replaced it with the more poignant notion that Riley’s memories intertwine into a sparkly bauble that is her “Sense of Self”. When the new Emotions throw their predecessors out of headquarters and into the surreal wilderness of Riley’s imagination, her precious Sense of Self is discarded in the process, so Joy and her pals have a clear and urgent mission: it’s up to them to remind Riley of the girl she used to be before Anxiety began living rent-free in her head. On the other hand, it’s not as if the new Emotions are outright villains. Anxiety sees all the potential dangers that Joy can’t, so who’s to say that she isn’t right in pushing Riley to be more ruthlessly ambitious?

Directed by Kelsey Mann, Inside Out 2 glimmers with diamond-hard truths about the complex business of being a human being – especially a teenage human being – but it’s still a fast-paced and playful comedy adventure with even more jokes and more puns than Inside Out. Riley’s Stream of Consciousness is an actual stream, of course, and while I won’t give away the “sarcasm” gag, it has one of the year’s best punchlines. Watching the film can be stressful, though. Poor Riley appeared to suffer a catastrophic nervous breakdown in Inside Out, and she is rocked by an identity crisis in Inside Out 2. It would be nice if Contentment joined the Emotions at the console in Inside Out 3.

★★★★☆

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