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'Inside Out 2' review: Pixar delivers a wondrous, ingenious (and emotional) sequel

Courtesy of Disney/Pixar


Of all the Pixar movies to receive a sequel, even “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out” is one that makes the most sense, because as we get older, our bodies and psychological mindset (as well as the formulation of our own beliefs and opinions) expand beyond the limitations of what our younger selves perceive about the world. “Inside Out” was and still is a masterpiece (I had no problem declaring it the best movie of the 2010’s) and it ingeniously anthropomorphized our feelings and emotions into an easily digestible though complex animated offering that acted as therapy for both children and adults (while also obliterating our emotional and mental wellbeing. Thanks Bing Bong). In that film, we followed Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness, and Disgust, impeccably voiced by Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, as the primary emotions inside the mind of a little girl named Riley who, throughout the movie, was trying to navigate an array of tough feelings. Like having her entire life upended when she was forced to move because of her dad’s work. 


At the start of “Inside Out 2,” the fantastic new addition to this series that might not pack the same emotional wallop as its predecessor but still manages to hold its own, Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman) has continued to cultivate her hockey skills, has just turned 13, and is on the brink of entering high school. For Joy (once again voiced by Poehler with enthusiastic, larger than life energy), Anger (Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira - replacing Kaling), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), it’s about trying to find a balance between these major life changes and helping Riley process them in a manner conducive to her surroundings. We saw much of this play out during “Inside Out” where Joy and Sadness would bicker about how to proceed with a certain situation until it ended in chaos, and the former understanding that in order for there to be happiness, you also needed a little bit of sadness. 


“Inside Out 2” follows a similar arch, but in a natural, organic progression that never undercuts the narrative. Riley is growing up, and with that comes a subset of new feelings and, of course, emotions. Pixar has a history of being the gold standard in constructing new ideas and offering unique and stunning visualizations as it pertains to what our imaginations can conjure. So, it’s not a shock “Inside Out 2,” from first time director Kelsey Mann, and writers Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve, have managed to build on the concept of its predecessor and, once again, challenge the way people think about themselves, delivering another sensational film in their already wondrous catalog of films. 


This time around, Joy and the usual crew aren’t the only game in town. The quartet being awaken with alarm bells on the control panel (the board they use to control how Riley thinks and reacts in real time) initiating “puberty” protocol which, in the wonderful minds of the folks at Pixar, sees a demolition crew tear the headquarters apart and install a new motherboard that, unlike the previous one, offers a heightened, sometimes more aggressive response when the emotions try to use it.  


But that’s not all, and this is where “Inside Out 2” really finds its mojo, we’re introduced to an entourage of fresh emotions that subverts everything Joy thought she knew about how Riley’s body is supposed to operate. There’s Anxiety (Maya Hakwe - an absolute stunner) who is always thinking ahead and looking for solutions and mapping every possible worst-case scenario; Envy (Ayo Edebiri of “The Bear” fame) a cute, infections little energizer bunny; the lazy, but chill Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos); and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) whom we rarely see without a hoodie covering his face. 


They’ve come at the worst possible time (don’t they always?): Riley is gearing up for a crucial three-day Hockey training camp where her performance could dictate whether or not she’ll make the varsity team in high school. Anxiety, of course, is perplexed by the whole situation and wants to completely change the person Riley has become, like ditching her best friends, sneaking around, and lying about who she is just to fit in with the popular kids, while Joy wants to keep the peace. But as we quickly learned during “Inside Out,” headquarters isn’t big enough for two massive emotions and it’s not long before Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, and Fear are booted so Anxiety can run the show and mold Riley in their image. 


The back half then turns into a creatively enriching journey through Riley’s mind as the legacy emotions try salvaging what’s left of the old Riley (and prevent the new emotions from derailing everything they’ve built). Even the emotions themselves are a little overwhelmed, which implies the existence of emotions within the emotions. Is this just a never-ending cycle? Detours into locations like “The Vault” (where Riley’s deepest, darkest secrets reside) or getting entangled within a “Brainstorm,” which plays like a scene from “Twister,” are just a few examples of how the filmmakers have expanded the scope of this world.


“Inside Out 2” is a sneaky little tearjerker that’ll be eerily relatable to anyone, especially children and young adults, who have experienced anxiety or panic attacks (there’s a sequence involving both of those things that drew inspiration from the Adam Sandler thriller “Uncut Gems”). It could also be somewhat triggering for millennials who will be forced to confront those awkward middle school years, and parents of young teens and tweens will undoubtedly chuckle at Riley's not so subtle passive aggressiveness.


“Inside Out 2” authentically captures those young, adolescent touchstones of dealing with braces, the emergence of body odor, and harmless crushes without losing the heart of what these films say about the uncertainties of life. It’s a wonderful visual representation for kids who are likely processing their own feelings and might not understand how to express themselves. I could see a world in which several "Inside Out" movies exist, and I hope they do. There are endless possibilities for where the saga inside Riley’s head could go (death is a subject this series has yet to tackle as is heartbreak, religion, and sexuality, though some elements of that are briefly hinted at here).  


Not that I want Pixar to keep making sequels forever (they need to remember “Inside Out 2” doesn’t happen without first conceiving “Inside Out”), but this is a can of worms that offers a wide range of discussion and analysis with a little something for everyone. After a recent string of disappointments, I’m happy to report that Pixar have found their artistic stride again.  


Grade: A- 


INSIDE OUT 2 opens in theaters Friday, June 14th   



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Jun 21

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Jun 14

I completely agree that "Inside Out" was a masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that really sticks with you. I’m thrilled to hear that the sequel continues to explore Riley’s emotions in such a creative and meaningful way. tunnel rush


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Jun 13

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