‘Inside Out 2’ is a Funny, Heartwarming Look at the Journey into Adolescence

Reviewed by Chris Corey
June 20, 2024

Inside Out 2

★ ★ ★ ½

This is a charming film that gives us another allegorical peek inside the mind of a young girl named Riley (Kensington Tallman) as she begins her journey into adolescence. In the previous film, Riley was 11 and just heading into middle school, having just moved halfway across the country from Minnesota to San Fransico. Here, Riley is finishing middle school and preparing for high school.

Both films give us a fun look at Riley’s navigation through tough life changes with animated characterized versions of her emotions that help her along the way.

Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear meet Anxiety

Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear meet Anxiety.
© 2024 Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation.

Inside Out 2 treads familiar territory, following a very similar formula as the first film. At first, Riley is doing just fine, and everything is right in her world. Then a life change thrusts her into chaos.

Riley’s emotions in the Inside Out films live inside a control center – similar to “the bridge” in Star Trek – in her head where they observe what Riley sees and experiences on a daily basis. They each have personalities to match the emotion they are named after and each play their own unique influential role in how Riley acts, behaves and the decisions she makes using an elaborate emotional control console.

When the film starts, Riley is at a hockey match. Assisting Riley are her original “emotions” from the first film, Joy (Amy Pohler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira) and Fear (Tony Hale).

During the match, Riley trips an opponent and winds up in the penalty box. While she reflects on her infraction, Joy voices over a recap of what’s been happening with Riley since we last saw her in the first film. Riley has been trying new hobbies and has made two best friends in Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green). All three of them play on the middle school hockey team, and they’ve become an inseparable trio. Riley is in a good emotional place, and with the help of her friends, has survived the perils of middle school.

Joy and Sadness walk through Riley's

Joy and Sadness walk through Riley’s “belief system.”
© 2024 Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation.

When Riley’s penalty is over, she scores the winning goal, and because of their high level of play, the trio of middle-school friends catch the attention of the coach of the high school hockey team, Coach Roberts (Yvette Nicole Brown). Roberts invites all three of them to attend a weekend hockey camp where she assesses talent and helps build skills for her reigning championship team, the Fire Hawks.

Everything is going great for Riley and she settles in for the night. Back in the emotion control room, Joy is separating the memories of the day, which are depicted by large round translucent balls that can play the memories back when needed. Joy sends some to the “long term memory area” and some are sent to a new area Joy has created in the back of Riley’s mind. This is where Joy sends the memory of the game’s tripping penalty.

While Riley is sleeping, there’s a large red alert light that, up until now, has been dormant. It’s labeled “puberty,” and of course, when everything seems to be going smoothly for Riley and her emotions, this is when the light flashes and the emotions control room is filled with loud alarms and bells. This sends Riley’s emotions into mass panic and chaos. Parents who are raising, or have raised, teens should have no problem relating to the analogy.

Riley heads off to camp with Grace and Bree, who drop the news to Riley that they’re both going to different high schools next year. This presents Riley with a dilemma. Should she make this a weekend to enjoy one last hockey experience with her friends, or should she set herself up with a group of new friends to ease her entry to high school?

anxiety joins the team of emotions

Anxiety joins the team of emotions.
© 2024 Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation.

During this dilemma, new emotions show up in the control room. The leader of this new group is Anxiety (Maya Hawke). Her team of emotions are Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and gothic Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). These new emotions quickly find themselves in direct conflict with Joy and her original team.

Anxiety needs Riley to be prepared for every possible unfavorable outcome, which Joy finds excessive and unhealthy for Riley. Eventually, this leads to Anxiety banishing Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear out of the control room and into the memory bank area of Riley’s mind where they no longer have influence over how Riley feels and reacts. Joy and her team now need to journey back to the control room to restore balance to the chaos Anxiety brings to Riley.

Embarrassment, Anxiety, Envy and Ennui take over Riley's emotional control panel

Embarrassment, Anxiety, Envy and Ennui take over Riley’s emotional control panel.
© 2024 Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation.

Inside Out 2 is more than just a sequel to the original, even though it follows a very similar story structure as the original film. It’s an intriguing look into the harmony when emotions work together and the chaos created when they’re in conflict.

The film is well written. It’s often funny, sometimes hilarious, and just when it needs to be, thought provoking. Don’t be surprised if you find it tugging a heartstring or two.

Sequels usually work best when they effectively expand on a story or explore additional growth of character. Inside Out 2 meets the above criteria in spades because Riley’s journey into adolescence is a delicate new phase of life for her while both she and her emotions need to adapt for her to survive it.

Watching Riley’s new emotions learn to work with the existing ones, and help her navigate through this delicate phase of life, is a heart-warming, funny and nostalgic look into the life of a teen.

Parents, teens and younger siblings should easily find some common ground while enjoying this film.

Rated: PG (Some Thematic Elements)
Running Time: 1h 36m
Directed by: Kelsey Mann
Written by: Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein
Starring: Amy Poehler, Kensington Tallman, Maya Hawke, Phyllis Smith

Kids & Family, Comedy, Adventure, Animation

Sponsored by:

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