‘Inside Out 2’ Review: Even the Animated Version of Puberty Is a Mixed Bag

There are a lot of ideas packed into this sequel to Disney Pixar’s 2015 hit—so many it sometimes turns into a Psych 101 class.

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Disgust (voiced by Liza Lapira), Envy (voiced by Ayo Edebiri) and Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke) in Inside Out 2. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Many of us are on the cusp of—or fully immersed in—anxiety at any given moment. It’s perhaps better described as a state of being than an emotion, but for the reductive purposes of children’s entertainment anxiety manifests as a frenetic orange creature with a voice very much like that of Maya Hawke. It’s the core feeling in Inside Out 2, a sequel to Disney Pixar’s 2015 hit Inside Out, which reflected on how children can benefit from experiencing a range of emotions, including sadness. Its follow-up, directed by Kelsey Mann (taking over from Pixar wizard Pete Docter), is both less nuanced and more overwrought, resulting in a whimsical animated film that doesn’t quite give you #AllTheFeels of its predecessor. 

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INSIDE OUT 2 ★★1/2 (2.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Kelsey Mann
Written by: Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein
Starring: 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
Running time: 96 mins.

Riley (Kensington Tallman), the kid driven by Inside Out’s five emotions, is now 13, a full-on teenager with braces and zits. She still plays hockey and she’s pretty good at it, thanks in part to Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira), who all work together to keep Riley successful and happy. She and her two best friends, Bree and Grace, are invited to a three-day hockey training camp, where Riley hopes to impress the high school girls and their coach enough to earn a spot on the team. Unfortunately camp coincides with the onset of Riley’s puberty, which arrives inside her head with a blaring red alarm that her emotions immediately jettison to the far back of her mind, along with all of her other unpleasant memories. 

The onset of puberty heightens the sensations of Riley’s current emotions, but it also means a few new emotions, who show up unexpectedly. These include Anxiety (Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). Desperate to fit in with the older girls, especially team captain Val (Lilimar), Riley lets Anxiety and Envy take control. Anxiety, a bundle of nervous energy who describes her job as being afraid of things Riley can’t see, sends the original five emotions packing. She also detaches Riley’s so-called belief system, which has taken root from some of her core memories, and begins replacing it with new, anxiety-ridden experiences. It’s up to Joy to lead the emotions on a journey through Riley’s mind to find the old belief system and return it before Riley goes full panic attack. 

Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke) in Inside Out 2. Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

You’ll be forgiven if you didn’t quite follow that. Because this is a sequel, the inner workings of Riley’s brain have become more complicated than in the original film. Some of these new additions, like Riley’s hidden-away secrets and a literal chasm that emerges when she voices sarcasm, are fun. Others, like the convoluted belief system, require a lot of work from the viewer in a way that doesn’t necessarily pay off. The message seems to be that we can believe all kinds of things about ourself and they can all be true, but occasionally Inside Out 2 forgets that this is a kid’s movie and not Psych 101. 

One of the big challenges of the film is the inconsistent voice cast. Due to pay disputes, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling refused to return as Fear and Disgust. The new cast is great, but viewers will undoubtably hear the changes, which are jarring if you’re familiar with the original. The newcomers are more successful. Hawke imbues Anxiety with a sense of real pathos, revealing that while the emotion can completely take over your mind it can also be useful in certain situations. Exarchopoulos is a delight as Ennui, which is simplistically described as boredom (sorry France), and June Squibb makes an adorable cameo as Nostalgia, an emotion who arrives far too soon. 

There are valuable insights in Inside Out 2, many of which will delight the adult viewers and will allow the younger audience to have a point of connection for their feelings. But there are a lot of ideas packed into the film (because puberty is chaotic?) and that can muddle the message, depending on which message you find most compelling. Still, there are moments of genuine delight and hilarity, which will certainly entertain kids. Those looking to re-experience the tear-jerking emotional heft of Inside Out won’t find that here, although the climatic scenes are sweet. It’s less joy than it is moderate satisfaction. 


‘Inside Out 2’ Review: Even the Animated Version of Puberty Is a Mixed Bag