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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Inside Out 2': A Delightful, Emotionally Resonant Sequel

Over the past few years, Pixar has been experiencing a bit of a fallow period. Despite their status as one of cinema’s premier animation houses, the studio has suffered a few setbacks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning with their film Onward, which was released just before movie theaters shut down in March 2020, and carrying through to the direct-to-Disney+ releases of films like Soul, Turning Red, and Luca, it seemed like the tide was beginning to turn for Pixar. It didn’t help that their big return to theaters, Lightyear, received a lukewarm response and barely broke even, and that their most recent film, Elemental, was similarly divisive despite being a sleeper hit. Add in a botched strategy to give the pandemic era films a theatrical release, and it’s not hard to see why some might be losing faith in Pixar. So it makes sense that they would return to some of their more beloved properties and make a Hail Mary pass to get audiences back on their side. That is almost exactly what we get with Inside Out 2, a sequel to the 2015 hit film about a group of anthropomorphized emotions that live in a young girl’s head. Pixar’s sequels can be a little hit or miss, so I can’t help but feel reluctant anytime they decide to do a follow-up to one of their big hits. But while Inside Out 2 has a few minor hiccups, it mostly manages to live up to its predecessor, providing yet another wonderful illustration of emotions and concepts of self that should ring true with kids and adults alike. 

Two years after the events of Inside Out, Riley Andersen (Kensington Tallman) is now 13 years old, and has settled into her new life in San Francisco. The emotions in her head, led by the always cheerful Joy (Amy Poehler) have also adjusted nicely, and work together peacefully. They have also established a new area of their headquarters called the “Sense of Self”, where Riley’s beliefs live. Everything is going great until Riley enters puberty, and rapid changes begin to occur. The biggest of these is the arrival of four new emotions, led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke). The old emotions aren’t sure what to make of them, and soon get kicked out of their headquarters. As Anxiety tries to make Riley into a new person, Joy and the other emotions must journey back to headquarters to restore order to her mind. 

The first Inside Out did a good job of being relatable for adults, and functions as a great way for kids to be able to better understand their own emotions. Inside Out 2 builds off of this rather well, and does a good job of showing how complex the human psyche is. The film shows how humans change and evolve, and how we can have such varied ideas of who we are. It does this rather succinctly, and once again acts as a good reference point for children who are developing their own sense of self. For adults, it is just as relatable as the first film is, just on a slightly deeper level. It beautifully expands on the basic frameworks of the original, allowing both the world of the film and its basic themes to grow along with the character of Riley.

One of the things I was most curious about regarding this film is how it would portray anxiety. The topic of mental health was already beginning to be discussed more openly when the first Inside Out came out, and this openness has only increased in the years since. That said, it isn’t something that gets discussed in mainstream media for younger people. So the fact that there is a character named Anxiety in this film is a pretty big deal, and the fact that the film does a great job of what it is like to experience anxious feelings is quite heartening to see. I was quite impressed by the characterization of Anxiety in this film, as it feels more honest than I was expecting it to. Of course, there is a broadness to the character, but there is some specificity to her and her actions that really connected with me. There is also a scene late in the film in which a panic attack occurs, which feels rather visceral for a Pixar movie. I was a little worried when the scene began, but it handles everything maturely and effectively, and ended up being one of the biggest highlights of the film for me. It makes me glad that a younger generation has something like this film that can potentially help them identify feelings that are a bit more complex, as it can help foster a better understanding of them in the long run.

The voice cast assembles a mix of returning players and newcomers, all of whom do a great job in the film. Amy Poehler once again nails the bright, overly positive demeanor of Joy, and is so locked in every step of the way. I especially love her work in the third act, as she has a couple of moments that really tugged at my heartstrings. Phyllis Smith also is fantastic as Sadness, and nails the tone of the character so well. I was a little surprised that she wasn’t in as much of the film as last time, but I was glad that some of the other characters got a little more time to shine. Lewis Black has made a long career over being angry, and his performance as Anger feels so natural and efficient because of it. He gets some of the film’s biggest laughs, and I was glad that he had a little more to do this time around. Tony Hale and Liza Lapira step into the roles of Fear and Disgust, respectively, and both put in some solid work. I was a little disappointed that Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling didn’t return for this one, but Hale and Lapira are good replacements for them, and are quite funny throughout. 

As for the other new voice actors, Maya Hawke is perhaps the biggest standout. She is so great as Anxiety, and has such a strong energy that radiates through the character. You can feel the manic quality she brings to the character throughout, and she adds some interesting layers to the character that make her all the more intriguing. Ayo Edebiri is quite good in this film, even if her character is a bit underused. She nails the comedic bits, and the emotion she brings to the character is so well-used. Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a delightfully monotonous performance as Ennui, capturing the boredom and listlessness of the character so well. It is a bit of a one-note character, but Exarchopoulos makes it work nicely. I was surprised to find out that Paul Walter Hauser was the voice of Embarrassment, as the character primarily communicates through grunts and groans. That said, his work does fit the character well, and helps make him one of the more endearing characters in the film. I also must shout out Ron Funches as Bloofy, a cartoon dog from a show that Riley watched as a kid, and his sidekick, Pouchy, a fanny pack filled with various items voiced by James Austin Johnson. Both are absolutely hilarious, and are probably my favorite of the side characters that the emotions encounter on their journey.

My main issues with the film stem from script, although I generally think the film is quite well-written. At its basic structure, it does share a lot in common with the previous film, but it adds so many new details that it doesn’t feel like it is just a copy-and-paste of the first movie. I like that we see the world of the film expand and shift along with its characters, and that the film isn’t afraid to dig a little deeper in regards to human emotion. My issues lie mainly in aspects of the storytelling, which doesn’t feel as tight as the first movie. The film doesn’t have much that feels extraneous, but some moments do feel a tad stretched out. They don’t overstay their welcome or anything, but it is noticeable, especially in comparison to the original. There is also the fact that at times it feels like Joy forgot the lessons that she learned in the first film, and it is as if she is learning everything all over again. I can understand why this needs to happen, but it still sat weird with me. 

I will say that these, as well as a few other nitpicks I have, didn’t take too much away from my overall enjoyment of the film, as it does so many other things so well. It tells an engaging story, and is full of things that are easy for those both young and old to connect with. On top of this, it depicts anxiety and the complexity of how we view ourselves so well, and with more substance than I would have guessed considering that this is geared toward younger audiences. The worldbuilding and some of the creative choices do feel quite inspired, and I really appreciate that the film has so much heart throughout it. This has to be one of the better Pixar sequels, despite a few bumps along the way.

Inside Out 2 mostly lives up to the first film, and is such a great follow-up to it. It is so heartwarming, resonant, and deeply enjoyable, acting as both a feel-good movie and a succinct, easily digestible look at human emotion and psychology. It is also one of Pixar’s best sequels, and easily the best of their post-pandemic theatrical releases. This film could very restore the general public’s faith in Pixar, but whether it does or not, fans of the first Inside Out will undoubtedly be pleased. Inside Out 2 is sure to hit big with audiences, and if nothing else, I am so glad that a film like this exists for viewers young and old to connect with.

Rating: 4/5

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