Inside Out 2

Amy Poehler still brings joy in this nine-years-later sequel to one of Pixar's best films, which proves as emotionally intelligent as its predecessor.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 13, 2024


They're basic: joy, sadness, fear, disgust and anger, that is, the five emotions that swirled inside human heads in Pixar's 2015 hit Inside Out. In nine-years-later follow-up Inside Out 2, that quintet of feelings isn't enough to cope with being a teenager, which is where anxiety, envy, ennui and embarrassment come in. The newcomers arrive with the onset of puberty, literally overnight. They have no time for simple happiness; they've levelled up some of the emotions adjacent to sorrow, fright, dismay and fury, too. Although its now 13-year-old protagonist Riley Andersen (Kensington Tallman, Summer Camp) isn't actively choosing how to manage her feelings because her feelings themselves are doing that for her, Inside Out was always an all-ages ode to mindfulness, as is its sequel — and discovering how to accept and acknowledge apprehension, unease and nerves is here, like in life, a complicated balancing act.

In the Inside Out world, feelings are characters, led in Riley's noggin by the radiant Joy — who, with Amy Poehler (Moxie) shining with Leslie Knope-esque positivity in the voice-acting part, is one of Pixar's best-ever cast figures. In an ideal inner world, they all get along. But workplace comedy-style, getting viewers thinking about Parks and Recreation again, that's never the case. Joy, Sadness (Phyllis Smith, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar), Fear (Tony Hale, Quiz Lady), Disgust (Liza Lapira, The Equalizer) and Anger (Lewis Black, The Last Laugh) have their routine down pat when Inside Out 2 kicks off. They can handle everything from high-stakes hockey games, complete with a stint in the sin bin, through to learning that Riley's best friends Grace (Grace Lu, Fight Krewe) and Bree (debutant Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) will be going to a different high school. Then their status quo is upended by the Inside Out equivalent of new colleagues storming in.

It's true IRL and in this family-friendly animated follow-up to 2016's Best Animated Feature Oscar-winner: when anxiety bubbles up, it pushes to the fore. This Anxiety (Maya Hawke, Stranger Things) has a firm plan for Riley 2.0 — and also Envy (Ayo Edebiri, Bottoms), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos, The Animal Kingdom) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser, The Afterparty) by her side. Where Joy and the crew had to help their human navigate moving from Minnesota to San Francisco in the first film, Anxiety takes the reins at hockey camp, where impressing the coach (Yvette Nicole Brown, Act Your Age) that she's hoping to play for is just one concern. Facing being a new kid at a new school all alone again, Riley is also eager to befriend team captain Valentina (Lilimar, Batwheels). With Anxiety calling the shots, nothing else, not even old besties, matters.

From the moment that the workplace setup clicks in your head — not Riley's, nor her mother (Diane Lane, A Man in Full) and father's (Kyle MacLachlan, Fallout), which the film also briefly dives into — it's impossible not to see how it shapes the franchise's character dynamics. As it told its coming-of-age story, the initial Inside Out used the scenario to provide an effective metaphor for how our emotions can jostle, which Inside Out 2 builds upon with its fresh faces. Pixar pictures have been for adults as much as kids since the debut Toy Story almost three decades ago. Aptly and knowingly, the June Squibb (Thelma)-voiced Nostalgia quickly makes an appearance here. Experienced Pixar storyboard artist and now first-time feature director Kelsey Mann knows the audience, clearly, as do returning screenwriter Meg LeFauve (My Father's Dragon) and new Inside Out scribe Dave Holstein (the creator of TV series Kidding). In telling a tale that acknowledges how calmly recognising one's feelings and thoughts, aka the mindfulness holy grail, is so deeply difficult, they put that dilemma in easy-to-relate terms that everyone that's ever had a job has encountered.

At the company's finest, a Pixar flick works on all levels, speaking to reality's version of Riley as a kid, teen and — not that the Inside Out realm has gotten there yet in its narratives, but it no doubt will if more sequels happen — as a grown-up. Accordingly, as much as the job comparison, anxiety's influence and the mindfulness angle age Inside Out 2 up, and smartly and thoughtfully, it's never at the expense of the movie's playfulness or sense of adventure for its youngest viewers. The brain contains multitudes in Pixar's rendering, sending Joy and the OG gang out of headquarters again to trek through personality islands, discarded negative recollections, the parade of future careers, the memory vault and more, all of which break down the complex emotionally intelligent and psychological concepts that underpin the story into fun setpieces. One such inspired move, which is also a perfect encapsulation of how the mind and personalities change in adolescence: the sar-chasm, a ravine that changes the tone of innocuous comments to mockery and widens with each phrase uttered.

Several times now including in 2020's Soul, which trades emotions for souls (as well as Poehler for her Saturday Night Live, Baby Mama, Sisters and Wine Country co-star Tina Fey), Pixar has achieved the careful, expertly fine-tuned balance that is grappling with weighty ideas in an accessible way. There's an unsurprising been-there sensation to Inside Out 2, though, as it hits similar beats to Inside Out, just scaled up for a slightly older character. That's art reflecting life, however; the years pass and more emotions spring up, but the chaos continues. And while this new stint with Joy and co immediately follows the also-comparable Elemental in the studio's filmography, the sense that Pixar is repeating itself is no stronger than has long lingered in the company's pictures as its whole "what if X thing had feelings?" scenarios — which everyone well and truly knows has underpinned its narratives since the beginning —  have kept receiving a workout.

When a movie is this heartfelt and astute in tandem, and when it's made by an outfit known for that winning combination again and again, it plays less like an echo of past glories and more like Pixar embracing what it does best. Inside Out 2's rainbow-hued animation is flawless, and also enchantingly engaging. Although not all of Inside Out's ace cast returned — Bill Hader (Barry) and Mindy Kaling (The Morning Show) are missed as Fear and Disgust — the still Poehler-led ensemble remains stellar guide to the intricacy of dealing with one's emotions. Hawke is especially excellent at conveying the always-on pressure of anxiety. Edebiri and Exarchopoulos nail how it feels to be driven by twinges of longing and listlessness, respectively. There's no need to learn to accept this sequel: its delights are instant.


Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x