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Inside Out 2: Pixar Hits Puberty!

If, like me, you name Inside Out as your preferred Pixar, I have a prediction:

From now on, when asked for a favorite from that studio, you will likely reply, “The Inside Out movies!”

I’ll be danged if the sequel isn’t just as good as its predecessor — and that’s saying something.

Nearly 10 years ago, the original Inside Out capped off a stunning series of Pixar winners going all the way back to Toy Story in 1995. Like so many others from the studio, that 2015 gem was a perfect blend of breathless excitement, hilarious slapstick, gorgeous visuals, tender heartbreak and a vital, counterintuitive message.

And now comes the sequel, which does exactly the same things — only with a twist:

Whereas the original film dealt with an 11-year-old girl moving to a different town, Inside Out 2 puts her through puberty!

In No. 1, we were inside young Riley’s head — along with five squabbling emotions (Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness) as they wrestled for control in a high-tech cerebral command center.

In the new film, just as Riley has learned to fit in and heads off to hockey camp with her besties, the “Puberty Alarm” suddenly sounds — ushering in four classic teen emotions: Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment and Ennui. (The latter, constantly bored by everything, has a world-weary French accent and is quickly nicknamed “Oui Oui” by Joy.)

Like Inside Out 1, the new film has a deliciously organic way of turning big concepts into visual conceits that embody familiar and undeniable truths. Here, it’s the frightening way Anxiety destroys Riley’s “Sense of Self” — and starts building a whole new persona. (For viewers in middle age, it’s distressing to realize how often this continues to happens in our lives!)

Then there’s Embarrassment — which, for all its awfulness, can actually engender useful thoughts and actions. And for those who loved the necessity of Sadness in the original story: You can quickly see what a bad idea it is to try disposing of all bad memories — so that in the long run, a so-called “avalanche of bad memories” becomes key to saving Riley from self-destruction.

Also effective:

The adolescent girl’s “Mt. Crushmore” — along with a “Rumor Mill” and “The Parade of Future Careers”; a deeply hidden “Dark Secret” that is not revealed till after the credits; a comical early appearance from Nostalgia (let’s face it, this does happen in adolescence); and the “Sarchasm,” which sucks worthy things into its bottomless depths — or changes every statement into a cynical put-down.

The film is simply bursting with inventive and relatable ideas like this. And they look fantastic, realized with explosive color and imagination — or, in the case of an old Dora-like TV show, with simpler line drawings.

The voice cast is stellar, with Pixar working its usual magic by hiring newbies or lesser-knowns. First-timer Kensington Tallman is wonderful in the lead, as is Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) playing Embarrassment. Maya Hawke does terrific work as Anxiety, with Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane returning to play Riley’s parents — plus cameos for Paula Poundstone, Pixar veteran Pete Docter and the studio’s good-luck charm, John Ratzenberger, who has voiced roles in 23 of their movies.

Now in its third boffo week, this sequel is well on its way to becoming Pixar’s top-grossing movie ever. While it might single-handedly rescue an otherwise lackluster box-office summer, there’s no official word on a possible Inside Out 3. And maybe that’s a good thing. These two are so terrific, I honestly don’t know how they could be matched.

But that’s what I thought about the first one…