By Lynn Venhaus
Nearly 10 years after Pixar Animation Studios raised the bar again with a mind-bending and rib-tickling “Inside Out,” which became an instant classic, a clever sequel thrusts our now 13-year-old heroine Riley into red-alert puberty.

While not as innovative as the original, “Inside Out 2” offers a relatable take on very raw and very real adolescent emotions. An all-star cast, including some returning voices, delivers the same tempo and tone that made the first so endearing.

Both films emphasize that life’s ups and downs are teachable moments, and that’s an admirable focus as the filmmakers try to be faithful to the projects’ goals.

Perhaps no year in our lives is as anxious and awkward as being 13 is. Oh, those raging hormones and their unpredictable effect. I mean, who would ever want to repeat it? We remember, and this universal theme is a rich one.

The sequel connects as an amusing look back for parents and perhaps either as a cautionary tale for what’s ahead with their pre-teen offspring or a reminder of what their grown children were like back then.

Because Riley is dealing with those quicksilver ever-changing emotions, Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy and Ennui are an imaginative addition. The boredom expressed by Ennui is the funniest running gag.

That fuels a turbo-charged narrative mixing with the already prominent voices in her head — the color-coded network of Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust. That results in a hyper-kinetic energy that feels very busy.

Although the animated comedy-drama-fantasy’s zippy excursion into a teen trying to navigate fitting in while also wanting to stand out does humorously hit all the identifiable pitfalls.

An avid hockey player, Riley (Kensington Tallman) hopes to make the team in high school and enthusiastically attends an exclusive-invite summer camp under the discerning eye of Coach Roberts (Yvette Nicole Brown).

Her dedication and work ethic are admirable, but she struggles to keep her old classmates Grace and Bree (Grace Lu and Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) close while trying to be pals with the star player Val Ortiz (Lillimar), part of the cool kids’ squad.

It appears that she has a lot to learn, as do the emotions guiding her thoughts and movements. With the original five trying to hold on to control in a command center undergoing changes, the mind games escalate.

Amy Poehler’s perky Joy is in a mad rush to obtain order while Maya Hawke’s jittery fast-talking Anxiety fights to take over. She has brought along three inspired characters — Envy (Ayo Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos) to ramp up the pressure. And they are hilarious.

This fab five includes memorable turns from two regulars — Lewis Black as tightly wound Anger and Phyllis Smith as mopey Sadness. Also returning are Riley’s well-meaning parents, voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane.

Without skipping a beat, Tony Hale replaced Bill Hader as the fidgety Fear and Liza Lapira took over from Mindy Kaling as sassy Disgust. Another notable addition is June Squibb as Nostalgia.

The first one benefitted from co-writer and co-director Pete Docter using his personal experience of moving his family from Minnesota to San Francisco. The issues that came with a new home and new school resonated.

A master visual storyteller, Docter is only executive producer on this. However, co-screenwriter Meg LeFauve, who was part of the 2016 Oscar-nominated writing team, has returned. Dave Holstein is a new writer, and Kelsey Mann is the first-time director.

Mann’s previous three Disney films – “The Good Dinosaur,” “Lightyear” and “Onward” were among my most disappointing efforts of the past 10 years. I didn’t think the concepts worked. However, the points about children inevitably growing up comes together here with its can’t-miss interesting characters..

This sequel concentrates on an uncharted period of development in Riley’s maturation, while maintaining a clear focus on her life’s bigger picture – her belief system and that she is a good person. Her strongest attributes are kindness, compassion and level-headedness..

Midway, this journey gets bogged down with an overly complex hunt — yet the introduction of sarcasm is ingenious. as are characters in a vault. Stealing the show is Ron Funches as “Bloofy,” a popular children’s TV cartoon character, and his accessory, Pouchy, voiced by James Austin Johnson of “Saturday Night Live” fame.

NEW EMOTIONS — Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” returns to the mind of newly minted teenager Riley just as new Emotions show up. Envy (voice of Ayo Edebiri) and Ennui (voice of Adèle Exarchopoulos) are ready to take a turn at the console. © 2024 Disney/Pixar.

Besides an impressive use of state-of-the-art technology for a visually stunning bright palette, the best feature is the cast’s sharp comedic skills, which are showcased as they nimbly deliver quick-witted dialogue.

Although heartfelt, the sequel isn’t the misty-eyed tug on emotions that the original was. Still, its sincerity goes a long way in making this film work.

“Inside Out 2” is a 2024 animated family comedy-drama-fantasy directed by Kelsey Mann and stars Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Phyllis Smith, Ayo Edebiri, Grace Lu, June Squibb, Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green, Yvette Nicole Brown, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Lane and Kensington Tallman. It is rated PG for thematic elements and run time is 1 hour, 36 minutes. It opened in theaters June 14. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus
The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements gain allies at an Oregon high school, where the girl students discover their voices and power in unity in the sharply observed “Moxie.”

What is Moxie? It means “force of character, determination or nature,” according to the Oxford dictionary. This coming-of-age cause, based on a 2017 young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu, grows in influence and energy.

An introverted 16-year-old girl discovers how the female student body is objectified and dismissed, and how pervasive the toxic masculinity is at her school. Fortified by her mother’s rebellious spirit during her youthful Riot Grrrl days, she anonymously publishes a zine, “Moxie!” that inspires the girls to band together and work towards changing the status quo.

Directed by Amy Poehler with a keen sense of Generation Z and its conflicts, this movie gets a lot right, particularly its target message.

The screenplay by Dylan Meyer and Tamara Chestna astutely points out that people aren’t perfect, it’s OK to mess up, be unsure and confused, but at least come away with purpose. The examples of casual sexism and double standards are spot-on as the sisterhood discovers the importance of feminism.

This engaging ensemble – subtly inclusive — portray refreshingly authentic characters.  The mother-and-daughter dynamic between Amy Poehler and Hadley Robinson is the key relationship.  As Vivian’s working single mom, Lisa guides her daughter in raging against the patriarchy but also as a steady strong parental presence.

Among the appealing cast of rising stars, Robinson shines as the shy Vivian, who summons a righteous anger to lead a revolution. Her dorky character’s growth is fun to watch as she develops new friendships and falls in love with once-geeky classmate Seth, who is kind and considerate. She will stumble and figure out how to be a force for good.

Newcomer Robinson, a Juilliard grad, was both the Laurey dancer in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” as well as one of the Tulsey Town girls, and Sallie Gardiner Moffat, one of Meg March’s friends, in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”

The dream boyfriend is in the mold of Edward Cullen and other post-Twilight gallant guys, who are attentive to the girl’s needs and feelings. Nico Hiraga is a winning presence as the skateboarding dude who gained confidence after a summer growth spurt.

Each teen character has interesting layers, except for the clear villain, Mitchell Wilson, the popular but insufferable sexist quarterback who has gotten away with bullying because of his Big Man on Campus status. He is played with cocky assurance by Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold and Maria Shriver. It is a one-note character that’s too obvious.

But the rest of the fired-up girl squad engages with charm and personality. As transfer student Lucy, who stands up for herself and reports harassment, Alycia Pascual-Pena excels, as does Lauren Tsai as mild-mannered Claudia, who carves her own path.

Sydney Park and Anjelica Washington are noteworthy as female athletes whose winning soccer team is largely ignored and in the shadow of the losing football team.

There are a few wobbly parts, and a climactic revelation adds darker drama in a too-neatly wrapped up final act.

And while it is more amiable than laugh-out-loud funny, “Moxie” distinguishes itself as cut-above the usual teen comedy. It is not your mom’s call to action, nor is it a fist-pump for only one generation — — and it brings up worthy elements to add to the current conversation.

“Moxie” is a teen comedy and romance directed by Amy Poehler, who also stars, along with Hadley Robinson, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Marcia Gay Harden, Nico Hiraga, Ike Barinholtz and Lauren Tsai. The movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, strong language and sexual material, and some teen drinking and run time is 1 hour, 51 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Available to stream on Netflix.