Film reviews and more since 2009

Inside Out 2 (2024) review

Dir. Kelsey Mann

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

It sure took a hot minute for Pixar to return to normalcy following the pandemic. What do I mean by that? Consider that three of the company’s original movies — Luca, Soul, and Turning Red — were released on Disney+, effectively training families to expect the latest from the animation powerhouse to arrive in their homes without any additional charge. Pixar’s return to the cinema was marked by the woeful miscalculation that was Lightyear. Elemental was a low-key treat last year, but still lacked the kind of visceral magic that has become synonymous with the Pixar name.

Inside Out 2 just feels like an event unto itself. It’s an utter delight to see a high-concept animated fantasy beam with life, color, and imagination on the big screen. That kind of feeling doesn’t get old. It’s also refreshing when a sequel, especially one helmed by a different director, builds on the existing groundwork, and delivers a very realistic story of a young girl’s awkward and emotionally taxing shift into adulthood. It’s a story I surmise will play perfectly for children and pleasantly delight their parent and/or adult guardian.

Inside Out 2 finds Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman), the plucky 11-year-old from the original film, at age 13 (as well as inexplicably blonde as opposed to a fair brunette). She’s a sweet little girl with a good pair of friends, high marks in school, and a true gift for hockey. As Riley has grown, so have her emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira), and Fear (Tony Hale) — who have been busy cultivating her core beliefs and growing her sense of self. Riley’s core beliefs are about being a good friend and doing the right thing, and anything Joy views as an unpleasant memory gets flung into the back of Riley’s mind.

One night, Riley’s emotions are wake up to an alarm going off on Riley’s control panel. The “Puberty” alarm is ringing, and when it’s pressed, Riley’s mind is destroyed by a wrecking crew making way for a new gang of emotions wanting control of her personality: Envy (Ayo Adebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and their new leader, Anxiety (Maya Hawke).

This couldn’t have come at a worse time is Riley is about to take part in a weekend hockey camp. After her friends drop the emotional bombshell that the two of them will be going to a different high school, Riley really shuts down. Anxiety overtakes the controls in her mind, determined to make her fit in with the older, more experienced high schoolers, namely Val Ortiz (Lilimar), the star hockey player, by getting them to like her, even if it means shedding her entire personality. Anxiety pitches the old emotions, and her and the other emotions begin preparing for the worst-case scenario in every facet of Riley’s life, leading the poor teen on the verge of a panic attack.

Without the guiding hand of Pete Docter, the writer and director behind Inside Out, who has proven to be one of the biggest creative geniuses behind the entire operation, Inside Out 2 doesn’t buck formula as much as give us a remixed version of the original film’s structure. That said, screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein hold their own in thoughtfully illustrating the complex and often debilitating emotion that is anxiety for an audience likely on the precipice of experiencing it first-hand. Anxiety effectively reshapes Riley into a person striving so hard for the approval of one of her hockey idols that she forgets what put her in this position (besides her talent) was her sunny and likable demeanor.

This all might sound like heavy material for an animated summer blockbuster, but LeFauve and Holstein know how and when to deliver a hilarious set-piece. My personal favorite is the appearance of two Blue’s Clues-esque characters nestled deep in the recesses of Riley’s mind. The writing pair also effectively articulate each of Riley’s new, complicated emotions. Envy is an appropriate complement to Anxiety; the mostly silent Embarrassment finds a dynamic rapport with Sadness, and Ennui, portrayed as a disaffected French beatnik, earns pretty much an equal ratio of smiles in humor and relatability.

But it’s Maya Hawke who steals the show as Anxiety. Not only is the personification of the emotion itself well-done — she’s a tiny, orange cretin with a stalk of frizzy hair, uneasy eyes, and a toothy smile — Hawke’s vocal cadence is appropriately speedy and frantic. She’s cute even as she’s being a full-time menace, and if the original taught kids (ok, and adults) that our emotions of joy and sadness can work cooperatively with one another, Inside Out 2 succeeds in showing how Anxiety, if kept measured, can often lead to us being our best selves. As a chronically anxious person, I began to accept my own nervousness when I realized it was often tethered to me wanting to do a good job, be it in school, at work, or in my personal life.

That’s a message that’s difficult to communicate to a child, and Inside Out 2 finds yet another way to illustrate mental health in a loving and nonjudgmental manner. The best animated films can also be teaching tools for children regarding important themes; something that’s too easy to forget with how much garbage comes onto the scene, directed towards kids, every single year. You would do well showing your children Inside Out 2, and you might even welcome the idea of being forced to put it on a half-dozen or more times once it inevitably hits streaming.

NOTE: This is the first Disney/Pixar movie released theatrically that I can remember not having a short attached to it. Did Disney layoff so many animators over the last couple years that these are now obsolete? Is this the new normal? Tis pity if so.

NOTE II: Inside Out 2 is now playing exclusively in theaters.

My review of Inside Out

Voiced by: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Paul Walter Hauser, Kensington Tallman, Lilimar, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan. Directed by: Kelsey Mann.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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