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‘Inside Out 2’ Is All the Feels — Now With 50-Percent More Anxiety Attacks!

Pixar’s sequel to one of its best movies ups the emotional ante by tackling teenhood, including the negative parts. Especially the negative parts

Inside Out 2


Oh, so you think being a kid is an emotional rollercoaster, huh? Try becoming a freshly minted teenager.

When Inside Out hit theaters in 2015, Pixar‘s deep dive into an 11-year-old’s brain quickly ascended to top-tier status; the combination of old-school cartoonishness, a color scheme that left no hue untouched, a celebrity voice cast with comic chops, and a perfect combo of childlike imagination and mature insight into the moment you start leaving childhood behind established it as one of the company’s best works to date. A follow-up was inevitable, though whether said sophomore feature would be even one-tenth as smart, funny, and moving was not. Pixar’s sequels have run the gamut from superior (Toy Story 2) to better-than-decent (The Incredibles 2) to diminishing-return black holes (let us never speak of the Cars franchise again). Who knew where a potential IO2 might fall on the scale?

Nine years later, we have an answer, and once again, Pixar brings us all the feels, all the time. Inside Out 2 returns us to Riley’s psyche right as she’s about to turn 13, an age that is totally kickin’ back, no big deal when it comes to emotional consistency and stability. The good news is that this sequel is wise enough to know where and how to build on the initial premise of that first movie, but doesn’t strain itself trying to top it — a curse that has toppled too many No. 2s to count. Nor does this next chapter forget that it’s not just anthropomorphized emotions but emotional investment that made writer-director Pete Docter’s original film such an unforgettable experience, and not just by animated-feature standards, either. This new fantastic voyage into the mind of an adolescent may lack the sheer inventiveness and verve of the first one. But you can tell your own inner sense of Disappointment that he can take the night off and let Relief take the wheel.

The gang is (mostly) all here: Amy Poehler is back in the role she was born to play, Joy. (No offense, Leslie Knope.) Phyllis Smith and Lewis Black reprise their versions of Sadness and Anger; Tony Hale and Lisa Lapira fill in for Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling as Fear and Disgust, respectively. They run the console for a slightly older Riley, now voiced by Kensington Tallman, who’s obsessed with hockey and hanging with her two best friends, Grace and Bree. All three have attracted the attention of Coach Roberts (Community‘s Yvette Nicole Brown), the bigwig behind the local high school’s team. She’s seen what they can do together on the ice and invites them to a weekend skills camp. If Riley impresses the coach, she may be able to nab a spot on the varsity team as a freshman.

Joy is, well, overjoyed at the prospect. Sadness is worried that some last-minute devastating news regarding Riley’s friends will ruin everything. Fear is characteristically afraid of what might go wrong. Anger wants to break things. Disgust is repulsed by the unexplained ripe smell coming out of Riley’s armpits. And then, out of nowhere, something starts flashing on the control console, a button marked with a single word: PUBERTY. It’s pushed. Chaos reigns.

Now the moods swing, the hormones rush, a construction crew turns the amygdala into a god-awful mess and overnight, and Riley’s emotional HQ becomes twice as crowded. A whole new generation of emotions enter the picture. Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) is a hulking figure in a hoodie who keeps quiet and hates eye contact. Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) lounges lazily on a coach and offers occasional commentary in a weary French accent; mostly, she can’t be bothered. Envy (Ayo Edebiri) has eyes nearly as big as her head, and frankly wishes she was as tall as some of the other feelings. Nostalgia (June Squibb) is waiting in the winds, ready to get sentimental about how lovely things used to be.

And then there’s Anxiety (Maya Hawke). Wiley, orange, and highly manic, Anxiety immediately starts rearranging the joint and jockeying for pole position, much to Joy’s dismay. They’re like gunslingers, facing off in a brain not big enough for the both of them. Then the hockey-hotshot senior at the camp takes a liking to Riley, who already worships this MVP from afar. Anxiety decides to stage a coup, “repress” all of their host’s old emotions — they literally get bottled up — and shove them deep into the recesses of Riley’s mind. Then she starts calling all the shots. You can guess how that goes.

From here, Inside Out 2 begins to replicate the first movie’s quest narrative, with Joy & Co. stranded in the wasteland of the subconscious, fighting to get back before Riley’s sense of self crumbles thanks to Anxiety’s regime change. There’s no Bing Bong, the imaginary friend that broke hearts by the hundreds in the first film. But there is a childhood leftover in the form of Bloofy, a cartoon dog with an endlessly resourceful pouch called Pouchy. (God bless Ron Funches and SNL‘s James Austin Johnson, whose voicework here lifts this vignette from Dora parody into the sublime.) On the outside, Riley tries to navigate a new world of cliques, external pressures, and the ever-growing sense that anything less than total victory is a complete annihilation of her self-esteem. On the inside, Anxiety itself is spiraling, Joy is becoming hopeless and every other emotion is left clinging on for dear life. Being a teenager — it’s such a universal experience.

And it’s an experience that Inside Out 2 understands all too well, in terms of just how complicated and overwhelmingly intense things get for young women at that age. (Were this sequel to take place inside a young man’s mind, it would essentially be a solo spin-off movie starring Anger.) Yes, compared to the company’s underrated 2022 feature Turning Red, this film’s view of puberty as a gamechanger is fairly tame. Not to mention that the “real” world that screenwriters Meg LaFauve and Dave Holstein, and director Kelsey Mann come up with is the sort of place in which cell phones and selfies are prevalent, but social media is virtually MIA — a utopian vision that nonetheless seems odd in a movie whose villain is Teen Anxiety. Yet the interior landscape is so wonderfully fleshed out, and so convincingly complex, that it both inspires euphoria and wounds you exactly where it needs to in order to work. For every in-joke and/or pop cultural gag that misses — a bit about a video-game character with a regrettably weak deathblow move fizzles in real time — you get a panic attack rendered in such authentic detail that you practically feel like you’re hyperventilating while you witness it.

Pixar has been good at tackling thorny emotional terrain in an accessible, translatable-for-all-ages way since Buzz first met Woody. When Inside Out went the extra step of giving us a literalized emotional terrain and rendering everything with such a heart-rending wallop, it lifted the bar that much higher. Inside Out 2 makes good on that film’s promise by making good on it’s next-step premise. That first one viewed sadness as necessary for a child’s well-rounded mindset. The teen years, however, require the integration of a vast variety of negative emotions working with positive ones and attempting the most precarious of balances. This sequel knows that when you leave childish things behind, you risk leaving key parts of the child’s personality and personal growth as well. It also recognizes that young adulthood is a different game altogether. Anxiety will soon be a fact of life. But, as IO2 reminds you, it can also be tamed.

From Rolling Stone US