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
“Palmer” may be predictable, but it’s a heartwarming relatable story about acceptance and second chances.

After 12 years in prison, former high school football star Eddie Palmer (Justin Timberlake) returns home to put his life back together, Living with his grandma (June Squibb), he forms an unlikely bond with neighbor Sam (Ryder Allen), an outcast boy from a troubled home.

This modest film uses the trope of small minds in a small town as its setting in Louisiana, which works for the character of a young nonconformist who doesn’t care about fitting into a gender lane. And leads to the bond he forms with an ex-con starting over.

Cheryl Guerriero’s screenplay has created roles that the cast plays convincingly. Newcomer Ryder Allen delivers a poignant performance as Sam, who is bullied for his feminine-leaning proclivities, like wearing a princess costume for Halloween and playing with dolls.

Justin Timberlake, the Tennessee-born music superstar, is strong as straightened out Eddie Palmer trying to fly right. He’s always been a likeable personality, from his days on “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” to his boy band popularity to his five times hosting “Saturday Night Live” and his Grammy-winning solo career (10 wins, 39 nominations).

In his few movie appearances, he’s been a natural. Here, he must carry the movie, and he’s believable at every step. He becomes the father figure to Sam, and there isn’t a false move from either of them.

Their bond is genuine. Over time, they become to rely on each other as Sam stays at Palmer’s house – his drug-addict mom Shelly (Juno Temple) has taken off with her boyfriend Jerry (Dean Winters) – and Eddie has been hired as a janitor at Sam’s elementary school. Eddie becomes his watchdog and caretaker.

The supporting cast is strong, too, with Alisha Wainwright as helpful third grade teacher Miss Maggie, who begins dating Eddie, and Juno Temple as Sam’s irresponsible mother.

Ninety-year-old June Squibb, from Vandalia, Ill., is Eddie’s crotchety but loving grandmother Vivian, a devout churchgoer and benevolent neighbor to Sam and his mother.

Actor-director Fisher Stevens directed fluidly, simply letting the story be told.

Once in a while, you discover a sweet story about people struggling to make things right in their world. “Palmer” succeeds in bringing together people who need each other, whose lives are changed because of their association. 

“Palmer” is a drama directed by Fisher Stevens and starring Justin Timberlake, Ryder Allen, June Squibb, Juno Temple, Alisha Wainwright and Dean Winters. Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity, and brief violence, it runs 1 hour, 50 minutes. Available Jan. 29 on Apple TV+. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus
One of the best surprises of the current year in film, “Palm Springs” is an inventive, genial romantic comedy with an edge. (Warning frank sexual dialogue and content).

Nyles (Andy Samberg) is with his girlfriend at a wedding in Palm Springs when he meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the reluctant maid of honor forced to be at her sister’s wedding. She’s the family black sheep and a skeptic when it comes to true romance but is drawn to Nyles’ wacky sense of humor and darkly comic nihilism.

Like “Groundhog Day,” Nyles is sucked into a surreal time-space continuum, repeating this same date. He warned her not to follow him into a cave…

Written and directed by first-timers – a remarkable combination of director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara, it builds on the time-travel concept in a manner like “Groundhog Day” but does not follow the same trajectory.

The wedding setting is inspired and fertile ground for comedy – what with family dynamics, quirky relatives, young adults with a lot of baggage already and always people with secrets, combined with the time-honored rituals of American nuptials and receptions. I mean, it is comedy gold, and you have someone who is a zen master at it, Andy Samberg.

Christin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs”

I always enjoyed the goofy Samberg as an off-kilter presence on “Saturday Night Live” from 2005 to 2012, his digital shorts and his clever work with Lonely Island. Although the 2016 comedy “Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping” is highly underrated, I never considered his acting on the same level as breakouts Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon, but he is terrific here. He is just the right blend of world-weary and devil-may-care. He also proves to be a suitable romantic lead – who knew? – and his offbeat pairing with Cristin Milioti, also not your typical romantic interest — even though she was the “Mother” in “How I Met Your Mother” (Spoiler alert for a TV show that ended in 2014), energizes the movie.

Samberg’s wacky charm is his strength, so you go with the premise, even when all time-travel segments have plot holes – but don’t dwell on that. Just enjoy. 

Milioti, a Tony nominee as the immigrant who falls for the broke Irish musician in “Once” the Broadway musical, is such a good actress, capable of expressing the gamut of emotions her character goes through. You root for this couple, who have such a blast together dealing with the gimmick.

Look for the movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, to be considered for this season’s awards — it’s that sharp and witty.

It also benefits from such pros as Peter Gallagher as father of the bride, J.K. Simmons as a wedding guest, Tyler Hoechlin as the compromised groom and a brief appearance by June Squibb as Nana, always delightful.

Fresh and fun, “Palm Springs” is a tidy 90-minute ride full of humor, unexpected turns and sweetness.

“Palm Springs” is a romantic comedy not rated that is 90 minutes long. It is directed by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara, and stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin and June Squibb. It is streaming on Hulu, beginning July 10.