3.5 out of 5 stars

In 2015, Pixar released its 15th film, marking a welcome return to original ideas after sequels and prequels dominated three of their preceding four releases. Having imbued toys and cars with emotions, they tackled their most quintessentially Pixar concept yet: what if emotions themselves had emotions? This film, Inside Out, proved a resounding success, grossing $858M worldwide and scooping the ‘Best Animated Feature Film’ award at the 2016 Academy Awards, alongside a nomination for ‘Best Original Screenplay’. This charming tale follows an 11-year-old girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), whose life is uprooted when her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco. Forced to leave behind everything familiar, Riley grapples with her emotions as they work overtime to navigate this challenging transition.

Following modest critical and financial success in recent releases (largely due to Pixar films being released directly to Disney+), Pixar is aiming to regain its footing by focusing on established franchises, according to Bloomberg. The film they hope will bring them back to their former glory is a return to Riley’s head, where we find her two years older and grappling with what it means to be human.

Inside Out 2, the directorial debut of Kelsey Mann, reunites us with Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman, taking over from Kaitlyn Dias) and her core emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling). Now officially a teenager, Riley is navigating the awkward years of puberty, complete with acne, braces, and DIY haircuts with safety scissors. However, she’s also much more confident in herself compared to when we last saw her, boasting two best friends, a strong set of beliefs, and hockey skills that rival a young Wayne Gretzky. If we ever get an Inside Out 3, I’m sure Riley will be a star Olympian wrestling with the weight of a nation’s expectations.

In Inside Out 2, Riley gets the chance to try out at a three-day hockey camp for the high school team, while the emotions inside her head are thrown into disarray by four newcomers: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser).

The new design for these emerging emotions is excellent. Anxiety, which takes the largest role of the emotions in the film, is played brilliantly by Hawke. Her voice exudes an anxiety-ridden pleasantness that fills Riley’s head with the need to belong and succeed. Edebiri is hilarious as Envy, a tiny, wide-eyed emotion who, despite her size, lights up the screen. Embarrassment is hilariously large, the perfect personification of how all-consuming embarrassment becomes. Despite his shyness, his empathetic nature is so rewarding. And Ennui is the embodiment of teenage apathy, draping herself over a sofa and her “phone” until desperately needed.

Because these new emotions make things even more crowded in Riley’s head, the existing emotions can sometimes feel relegated to the background. While it’s nice to see more of Disgust, Anger, and Fear in this film, just like the first, Inside Out 2 only has room for the character development of two emotions: Joy and Anxiety. Poehler is again brilliant, exhibiting the strained positivity that can feel so hard to maintain, especially in the face of anxiety. The central dilemma inside Riley’s head is the clash between these two and the question of how they can co-exist, if at all.

Yet, on the exterior, we still have Riley, a complex and bright young girl who is grappling with what it means to grow up. Just like Pixar did so well with Turning Red (2021), Inside Out 2 paints a vivid picture of being a 13-year-old girl on the cusp of entering high school, with some moments that make every muscle in your body cringe—not just in observing the textbook awkwardness of trying to fit in, but also in the remembrance of doing it ourselves at that age.

This cringe-worthy awkwardness isn’t just to make our bodies convulse in cinema seats, but it plays well towards the thematic elements of the film, which aren’t limited to the experience of a teenage girl. Inside Out 2 maintains what Inside Out did so well: finding universality in emotion. Riley’s three-day journey of trying to fit in is a portrait of that ongoing struggle for all of us: a portrait of firmly held beliefs and looser morals that can fit in with our selfish motives. Riley isn’t immune to the struggles of being human, and it’s powerful to see it conclude, as it did in its predecessor.

Unfortunately, Inside Out 2 relies a little too heavily on the formula of the first film to get us to that climactic catharsis. While Riley’s journey feels fresh, on the inside, emotions are banished from headquarters, leaving Riley without a full complement of feelings. They encounter some of the same locations and characters while grappling with their own existential crises. Even one of the first film’s greatest strengths, an emotionally charged soundtrack from Michael Giacchino, is absent except for callbacks to the first film’s themes. Overall, Inside Out 2′s structure is too familiar, and it distracts from the elements that make it its own unique film.

There’s a refreshing animated sequence where the emotions meet Riley’s darkest secrets, and a hilarious anthropomorphic fanny pack. The animation is lively; a standout moment is when Anxiety downs five energy drinks in a single gulp. And of course, there’s the luxury of brain puns that didn’t fit into the original, including “sarcasm” and a “brainstorm” with hailing light bulbs.

For fans of the original film who just want to spend more time with these fun characters, explore the endless possibilities of personifying our own heads, and even experience some existential examinations, Inside Out 2 has plenty to offer. The script is smart and the voice acting is incredible. And for children, there’s enough stunning animation and funny moments to keep them engaged for 96 minutes. Inside Out 2 is a great family film. It’s just a shame it can’t break out of the shadow of the 2015 film and find enough new ground to be a truly great animated summer blockbuster.

Next up for Pixar is an original film titled Elio (2025) about a young boy beamed into an interplanetary adventure, followed by new sequels to Toy StoryThe Incredibles, and Cars. Perhaps this sequel will help the company find financial success so they can continue to invest in original ideas.

While Hollywood continues to push for the safe financial success of established franchises, we are losing the pure imagination and creative spark of what these well-known films were before they were franchises: original ideas told with a wonderful understanding of emotion.

USA • JAPAN | 2024 | 96 MINUTES | 1.90:1 • 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Kelsey Mann.
writers: Meg LeFauve & Dave Holstein (story by Kelsey Mann & Meg LeFauve).
voices: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Paul Walter Hauser, Kensington Tallman, Diane Lane & Kyle MacLachlan.