'Inside Out 2' Gets to the Root of Who We Are

Directed by Kelsey Mann

Starring Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Kensington Tallman, Liza Lapira, Tony Hale, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Diane Lane, Kyle Maclachlan, Paul Walter Hauser

Photo courtesy of Pixar

BY Josh KorngutPublished Jun 14, 2024


The first Inside Out film contains a reliably imaginative foundation to work from. It also offers a more abstract concept than Pixar's usual output, which had managed a variety of themes, from the nuances of childhood and the emotions of discarded toys to, well, simply put, "cars." But with Inside Out, the Little Lamp took distinctly higher ground when it tackled the complexities of emotional regulation and the evolution of personal identity.

Now, the Mouse House and its Lamp return to collaborate on a sequel to one of the most conceptually complicated stories in the vault. This time, the adventures delve even deeper into its thesis of emotional maturing by navigating the vulnerability and volatility of the first moments of puberty. The first film was responsible for world-building and character introduction, and Inside Out 2 benefits from its prefabricated playground. Along with a handful of new antagonistic characters and emotions to withstand, familiar feelings and faces are back in better detail and depth while facing the challenging terrain of emerging teenagehood.

In the film, our human protagonist, Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman), is now a full year older and preparing to face high school with her two best friends. Also older and wiser, our original ensemble of personified emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader from the original film) and Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling) — have developed a newfangled feature for Riley: the "Sense of Self," a hard drive in the back of her mind where core memories parse together the pieces of her budding personality.

Just as everything seems in working order and under control, the emotions are shocked when Riley's emergency "Puberty" alarm rings and nothing is ever the same again. Relatable.

With the oncoming of young adulthood comes a slew of more complex emotions — Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) — who strive to keep her happy, safe and included at all costs. A high-stakes trip to hockey camp puts these new emotions to the test, and one particular standout seems to give Riley a newfound edge as a cool kid and athlete.

Anxiety, in particular, is a painfully honest personification of a tool all too familiar to the adults in the audience. Anxiety wants so badly to protect Riley from future hardships and ramifications that they end up putting her through hell. Of course, Anxiety takes matters too far and too seriously, exiling her core emotions and overwhelming Riley to the point of dictatorship. What's so interesting about how the creators handle this new leading antagonist is how compassionate Anxiety is. This emotion wants to help so badly and is so desperate to protect Riley that they end up hurting her.

Emotional regulation is a complex topic to play with, yet Inside Out 2 gives its audience a road map through through these challenges with ingenuity and outstanding creativity. The film deals with big ideas and manages to distill them thoughtfully for the whole family without ever talking down to anyone. While the first film successfully sets up the rules and characters before taking them on a preliminary journey, Inside Out 2 fulfills the promise of getting to the root of who we are. Warts and all.


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