Puberty brings unpredictable new emotions in this captivating animated sequel from Pixar

Inside Out 2

Source: Disney Pixar

‘Inside Out 2’

Dir: Kelsey Mann. US. 2024. 96mins

The pain of puberty is at the core of Inside Out 2, a deft follow-up to the 2015 Pixar smash which examined the emotions literally living inside the head of a sweet, sensitive tween. In the sequel, new emotions (and, hence, new characters) make their presence felt, with Amy Poehler giving another affecting voice performance as the permanently sunny, consistently embattled Joy. But special kudos go to Maya Hawke playing the frantic Anxiety, who creates myriad problems — not to mention new opportunities for this playfully profound franchise to ponder what it means to be in touch with our feelings.

Strongest when harnessing the essence of how our emotions define us and, occasionally, lead us astray

Pixar’s latest opens in UK and US theatres on June 14 as part of its global rollout, hoping to jolt a sleepy summer box office. (The 2015 film made $858 million worldwide.) Much of the original voice cast has returned, joined by Hawke, Ayo Edebiri and Adele Exarchopoulos as new additions, so expect this family-friendly animated sequel to do sturdy business.

Set a year after the first film, Inside Out 2 takes us back inside emotional Headquarters, where Joy (Poehler) still leads mission control for teenager Riley (Kensington Tallman). Flanked by Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader) and Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling), Joy is proud of what a confident, happy person Riley, now 13, is becoming. But Headquarters is overtaken by a demolition crew, which installs a new command centre in preparation for Riley’s puberty. Also arriving are Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Ennui (Exarchopoulos), Envy (Edebiri) and, most assertive of all, Anxiety (Hawke), who is determined to take charge of Riley during this crucial developmental period.

Similarly to Inside Out, the sequel sends Joy on a harrowing adventure through Riley’s mind. Here, Anxiety stages a coup, exiling Joy and the original emotions, whose only hope to get back to Headquarters is finding a portal deep within the teen’s memories. In both films, that quest narrative — no matter how creatively rendered — is the series’ least engaging element. What remains far more compelling are the jokes and the heart that the filmmakers bring to this clever inner world. 

To be sure, the one-liners and sight gags fail to match Inside Out’s high success rate, and Mann struggles to give the returning support emotions enough to do. Still, the follow-up features plentiful laughs, often from the most unlikely of sources. (For instance, Joy and her friends are in for a surprise once they enter the vault of Riley’s most shameful secrets.) 

It is a testament to Pixar’s emphasis on graceful storytelling that, although Anxiety imprisons the core emotions, she is not treated as the sequel’s villain. Riley must contend with the news that her two best friends — Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) — will be going to a different school, just as all three are attending a prestigious hockey academy where Riley wants to seem cool to her older teammates. Inside Out 2 lays out a plausible case for why a suddenly insecure teen would be guided by her anxiety, and Hawke’s angsty performance is both comic and vulnerable, conveying Anxiety’s protective side. (In a familiar move, Anxiety believes she’s safeguarding Riley by catastrophising and overthinking.) Anxiety causes endless problems in Inside Out 2, especially for Riley, but Mann conveys clear compassion for the character — which becomes key to the film’s moving final stretches, in which Joy (who has constantly battled Anxiety) engages in one last standoff, leading to a thought-provoking twist.

Exarchopoulos has a few choice moments as the snooty Ennui, although the character is ultimately funnier in concept than in execution. Smith, so important to Inside Out as Joy’s presumed foil Sadness, gets saddled with an unsatisfying subplot. But Poehler continues to shine. Although Joy will ultimately discover something about Riley that recalls the moral of the first film, the Parks And Recreation star keeps finding new ways to both articulate her character’s indomitable optimism and suggest the limits of radical positivity. 

Inside Out 2 is strongest when harnessing the essence of how our emotions define us and, occasionally, lead us astray. But Mann never condemns any of Riley’s feelings, recognising that each has its place. As expected, the picture is a visual delight, as bright and shiny as Joy’s demeanour, but what’s most stirring is its willingness to tell children (and their parents) that they should not repress parts of themselves out of fear that they’ll be judged. The world is an anxious place — particularly inside our heads — and Inside Out 2 makes room for all that messy emotional complexity.

Production company: Pixar

Worldwide distribution: Disney

Producer: Mark Nielsen

Screenplay: Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein, story by Kelsey Mann, Meg LeFauve 

Cinematography: Adam Habib, Jonathan Pytko 

Production design: Jason Deamer

Editing: Maurissa Horwitz

Music: Andrea Datzman

Main voice cast: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Kensington Tallman, Liza Lapira, Tony Hale, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Ayo Edebiri, Lilimar, Grace Lu, Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green, Adele Exarchopoulos, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paul Walter Hauser, Yvette Nicole Brown