INSIDE OUT 2 Review: Another Win for Pixar and for Everyone Else

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
INSIDE OUT 2 Review: Another Win for Pixar and for Everyone Else

Anyone who suffers from — or suffered from — generalized anxiety and/or panic attacks should probably take a deep breath or two and take a mental walk around the block before sitting down to see Pixar’s latest, greatest entry to their catalog, Inside Out 2.

Like its real-world equivalent, the anxiety in Inside Out 2, personified as a perpetually wide-out, stressed-out, Muppets-inspired fuzzball ably voiced by Maya Hawke, insidiously winds and wends into the mind-space of its now 13-year-old, hockey-obsessed protagonist, Riley Andersen (Kensington Tallman), ultimately leading to one of the most uncomfortable, discomfiting moments in a Pixar film, a badly timed, full-blown panic attack.

Before we get to said plot-turning, heartbeat-elevating panic attack, Inside Out 2 returns the audience to a not unfamiliar place geographically, emotionally, and mentally: Riley’s headspace where the previous film’s personified emotions, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kailing), hold unchallenged sway, monitoring Riley’s day-to-day, moment-by-moment progress from a control room/HQ. While Joy remains firmly in control, she’s learned to share the big board with the other emotions and more importantly, their individual and collective value to Riley’s overall personality.

All seems to be going swimmingly for Riley and her emotions when the unexpected happens, a large button flashes red, and Riley enters puberty. Before Joy and the others can uncover what’s happening and why, a construction crew appears, dismantling the now old HQ for a newer, fresher one, including a much larger control board. New personified emotions, including the aforementioned Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos, underused), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), appear seemingly out of nowhere, eager to share Riley’s inner life with the core emotions.

Reverting to the familiar plot beats that helped to make Inside Out a commercially resonant hit, Joy, previously at odds with Sadness, now finds herself in direct conflict with Anxiety. The latter can’t help but overthink every situation, project every worst-case scenario, and otherwise raise the temperature in HQ as old and new emotions jostle for control over Riley’s well-being and — in a new, definitely welcome addition to Inside Out’s already impressive lore — a “sense of self” partly constructed out of Riley’s treasured memories, the personality islands that float offshore inside Riley’s mind, and a belief system founded on compassion, altruism, and empathy.

Anxiety gets the upper hand both inside Riley’s mind, exiling Joy and the other primary emotions to a faraway location where Riley’s deepest secrets are kept, and in Riley’s exterior life as a triumphant junior high-school hockey game leads to an invite for a weekend hockey camp at a nearby high school. It’s the same high school where Riley’s longtime idol, Valentina 'Val' Ortiz (Lilimar), has made her mark as an ice hockey star. Playing with and learning from Val seems like a dream come true for Riley, right up until she learns that her best friends, Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grace Lu), have been assigned to a different high school by the powers-that-be.

Between the prospect of losing her friends and desperately wanting to impress Val, Riley begins to let anxiety, a relatively new experience for her but not to everyone on the other side of the screen, gradually take hold and then complete control over her behavior, practically dictating every choice she makes. Less of an out-and-out villain and more of a traditional antagonist, Anxiety just wants what’s best for Riley, but by letting Anxiety have free rein (and reign) over Riley’s personality, almost nothing good or positive can follow.

As with Inside Out, both Riley and Joy have to overcome seemingly negative, unwanted emotions (Sadness the last time, Anxiety this time) not by suppressing or repressing them outright, burying them in a vault or a back-of-the-mind dumping area, but by acknowledging them first and then integrating them into her personality, finding the right balance between competing, sometimes conflicting emotions and the obvious outcomes if one or other(s) take complete control.

Life lesson-wise, Inside Out 2 doesn’t necessarily have anything particularly new or original to impart to young, old, or middle-aged audiences, but that doesn’t make it any less thoughtful, welcome, or moving, especially when it’s delivered through Kelsey Mann's deftly efficient direction, Meg LeFauve (Inside OutThe Good Dinosaur) and Dave Holstein’s elegantly structured screenplay, Joy and Riley’s interwoven journeys toward self-discovery, reconciliation, and integration, and the most creatively adventurous, visually imaginatively, idea-driven animation only Pixar and its team of animators can provide.

Inside Out 2 opens Friday, June 14, only in movie theaters, via Disney Studios.

Inside Out 2

  • Kelsey Mann
  • Dave Holstein
  • Meg LeFauve
  • Amy Poehler
  • Phyllis Smith
  • Lewis Black
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Adèle ExarchopoulosAmy PoehlerAyo EdebiriInside Out 2Kelsey MannLewis BlackLiza LapiraMaya HawkePaul Walter HauserPhyllis SmithTony HaleDave HolsteinMeg LeFauveAnimationAdventureComedy

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