“Inside Out 2” is a safe but pleasant surprise from Pixar.

by Gavin Meichelbock

Director Kelsey Mann takes the audience back to Riley’s mind in “Inside Out 2.” After Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Liza Lapira), Fear (Tony Hale) and Anger (Lewis Black) learned to work together to form more complicated memories at the end of the first movie, they must now take on every teenage girls’ worst nightmare: puberty. As Riley’s mind is taken over by the new emotions of Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Joy and the gang must help Riley regain her sense of self before it’s too late. While the film isn’t a whirlwind of emotion like the first “Inside Out,” it still brings new ideas and a heartfelt message that proves there is more to explore with this franchise.

A major aspect as to why the first film is so beloved is because of how brilliantly and accessibly it depicted the inner workings of the mind. With Riley growing older, the team at Pixar expands on this in the new movie by showcasing more complex systems that come with maturity. The idea of “beliefs” and how it shapes the way people view themselves is beautifully depicted. Where the emotions’ headquarters is rigid and practical, the belief system is an ethereal well of emotions and core memories that come together to form who Riley is. Another great addition is how the movie depicts suppressing embarrassing memories, with the core five having a machine that literally shoots them to the back of Riley’s mind. Creative inclusions like these, and a few smaller ones, make “Inside Out 2” feel like a needed continuation to an evolving story and not another Disney cash grab.

Another way this film shines is how it fleshes out Disgust, Fear and Anger. Since these three emotions were sidelined in “Inside Out,” it was a pleasant surprise to see them take part in the adventure this time around. While the dynamic is nowhere near as powerful as the polar opposites of Joy and Sadness learning they need each other, it does lead to a lot of enjoyable scenes. Seeing Disgust crush on an attractive video game character is a fun moment only this specific emotion can have. Fear having an emergency parachute feels like a logical choice for the guy who is scared of everything. Anger hating on the “fake” profession of ethnomusicology is the best joke in the entire film. Even though these moments do not create a heart-wrenching journey like the one Joy and Sadness went on, these are fun, character-driven moments that make “Inside Out 2” a worthwhile film.

With the movie centering around puberty, it would be impossible not to mention the slew of new emotions that come with it. Envy, Ennui and Embarrassment are all brought to life extremely well. Envy is obviously envious of the other emotions, so having her be small and always looking up to them is genius. Ennui, the depiction of boredom, is not only a sad French person, but uses a phone to control Riley’s emotions so they don’t have to get up from the couch: needless to say, this is a witty and apt portrayal. While Embarrassment doesn’t have a lot to say, he is given a lot to do with his own character arc which provides another solid layer of depth to the film.

The last of the new emotions is Anxiety and she is one of the best Pixar characters in years. Firstly, the choice to make her the misunderstood villain of the film is inspired. Believing she is doing the right thing, Anxiety continuously makes all the wrong choices that only make everything worse for Riley. While the audience should despise the character for this, they cannot help but resonate with her through experience with their own anxiety. “Inside Out 2” perfectly displays the devastating effects that come when one lets their life be ruled by anxiety in its emotional third act. Even though the misunderstood villain trope has been done to death recently, especially by Disney, having the villain be an emotion everyone can relate to is profound.

There is one aspect of the film that some viewers will not enjoy. With this being a story about a teenager going through puberty, trying to be cool, making new friends and dealing with complicated emotions they do not understand, it does lead to some embarrassing moments that will have audience members cringing in the theater. However, these moments are supposed to be hard to watch and not just a poor attempt at comedy since they come naturally from the story and characters.

In the end, “Inside Out 2” is a worthy successor to the first film that explores new ideas and heartfelt themes in this emotional franchise. I’ll give it a 4 out of 5.

Featured Image Courtesy of Pixar

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