‘Inside Out 2’ is a splendid return to form for Disney/Pixar; Russell Crowe continues his run of B-grade schlock with ‘The Exorcism’

Mind trip: Joy and Anxiety in ‘Inside Out 2’.

INSIDE OUT 2 **** (96 minutes) PG
We’ve all been hoping for a sign pointing to a reversal of fortune for Disney’s ailing animation output, and Pixar’s Inside Out 2 might just be it. We pray.

A thoroughly-thought-through sequel to the hit 2015 film, IO2 is a splendid return to form featuring the core qualities that define the best of Disney/Pixar, which have been missing from their recent misfires – namely, a strong, emotionally driven story with lots of visual gags, loveable characters and, of course, top-shelf animation.

Here we see the anthropomorphised emotions inside the mind of Riley – Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and their leader Joy – confronted by the onset of puberty and the chaos that entails.

Self-doubt consumes Riley as she attends a hockey training weekend worried on two fronts: is she good enough to qualify for the team and will she be able to maintain friendships with Grace and Bree after being told they’ll be going to a different school.

Riley’s predicament is complicated no end by her quickly evolving attachment to popular girl Val, a champion player, and her circle of super-cool friends.

Inside Riley’s sleekly designed mind, Joy & crew find their job of guiding Riley through life disrupted by the arrival of additional emotions – Embarrassment, Ennui, Envy and, most prominently, Anxiety.

A battle over the all-important control panel breaks out, with Anxiety insisting that Riley should compromise to fit in with those who will be of most value in the future. Joy wants her to resist adjusting her values and continue being a “good person”.

Wisely, nobody is really cast as a villain in this fight for dominance over Riley and how she deals with her changing circumstances.

There’s no sense of anyone having the moral upper hand; Joy and Anxiety both want the best for Riley, only their strategies conflict.

Consequently, the film generates a lot of food for thought about the value of conformity, the delusion of being defined by a single personality trait and the acceptance of unavoidable change.

Yet while all these ideas, and many others, drive the story, they percolate in concert and unobtrusively alongside a surreal adventure narrative as Joy & Co travel through the recesses of Riley’s mind where thousands of memories are stored, either neatly in shelving towers or in large piles.

The film is graced by a lot of masterful, often beautiful design work that combines giving solid form to abstract ideas with visual wit.

In one scene the team face Riley’s stream of consciousness; in another they enter The Vault and discover her favourite cartoon characters, including video game manga warrior Lance Slashblade and Bloofy, a beloved, cheaply animated Saturday morning TV handyman pooch.

We even see how Riley’s experiences are selected and consolidated into her character. Wow.

Inevitably, there is a face-off between Joy and Anxiety over how Riley should face the emotional tripwires of her teenage years. It’s a moving moment, neither pat nor contrived, reflecting the nuanced nature of the overall story.

There’s certainly a lot more going on than with Inside Out, which was basically about Riley being homesick. All up, a rare example of the sequel being better.

If one wanted to be picky, it could be argued that the film leaves a few story strands unresolved – though they might well be addressed in the opening reel of Inside Out 3.

Speaking of which, here’s hoping Disney has the nous to continue with Riley’s arc through life: her college years; entering the workforce; marriage; kids etc. How would Joy and the team guide her through divorce, infidelity, betrayal?

And what happens when a beautiful new member of the crew walks up to the control panel and, after Joy indignantly asks who she is, simply says “I am Love”?

Talk about chaos.

Given the film’s deceptively effortless four-quadrant appeal – old, young, male, female – hopefully IO2 will be a huge hit and ignite the road to recovery for Disney animation.

Free of the agendas and WokeThink that tainted films such as Strange World, Lightyear and Elemental – not to mention all the other films that struggled at the box office – IO2 is aimed squarely at the family demographic it has largely disenfranchised – so there would also be a fair measure of redemption with any sizeable success.

That said, and to be brutally honest, IO2 will need to be a massive hit to turn things around; the film’s production budget is reported to have been around $US200m, onto which you need to add the usual above-the-line cost of about $US150m for billboards and bus ads. It’ll need at least two weekends of packed houses to steer the ship in the right direction.

Still, the signs are good. Coming soon are Moana 2 and Mufasa: The Lion King and (in 2026) Toy Story 5, with Monsters at Work already streaming on Disney+.

All relatively safe bets, sure, but Disney now knows how straying beyond the wheelhouse and disrespecting the audience you’ve spent a century building can exact a heavy price.

Footnote: As widely noted when the first Inside Out was released, the idea of seeing inside a person’s mind was behind the early-1990s TV sitcom Herman’s Head.

Going way back to 1973, Woody Allen also used the idea in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask).

Rusty in ‘The Exorcism’.

THE EXORCISM * (95 minutes) MA
The big question thrown up by this throwaway supernatural horror junk isn’t about how and why Satan possesses souls, it’s why Russell Crowe continues appearing in such low-flying B-grade mulch.

We’ve seen him have fun in Unhinged and The Pope’s Exorcist and even the low-budget Poker Face (which he wrote and directed), but there’s no sense of playfulness here.

Ever so loosely based on the making of The Exorcist, this crud has Crowe as a post-rehab actor trying to regain his reputation and self-respect by starring as a priest in a remake of The Exorcist.

What starts off as a mildly engaging character study of a man clawing his way out of crisis quickly descends into disposable horror schlock that only the most forgiving will endure.

During the film’s final stretch you’ll have to remind yourself that this is the guy from Gladiator and The Insider, The Water Diviner and Cinderella Man, American Gangster and A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander and Romper Stomper.

He’s won an Oscar for Best Actor from three back-to-back nominations. He’s proved his brilliance time and time again.

So, what the heck is Hando doing in this garbage?