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'Inside Out 2' review: Incredible, stunning, and clever

Movie Reviews

‘Inside Out 2’ review: Incredible, stunning, and clever

Nine years have passed since the original Inside Out, so is the sequel another Pixar masterpiece?

In 2015, Pixar released two feature films. While The Good Dinosaur was the animation studio’s first box office failure and its storytelling was not up to Pixar’s standards, Inside Out was not only one of their biggest commercially successful movies, but arguably their most profound work. Directed and co-written by Pete Docter, it showed the inner workings of the mind of the eleven-year-old Riley, and how the personified emotions administer her thoughts and actions are just as important, including joy and sadness; this interest in metaphysical fiction is what led Docter to make 2020’s Soul

At the end of Inside Out, Riley has adapted to her new home, made new friends, returned to playing hockey and has acquired new hobbies, whilst the emotions are given a newly expanded console that has enough room for all of them to work together, including an alarm labelled “Puberty”. Although we had to wait nine years for the arrival of Inside Out 2, the narrative presents Riley who has just turned thirteen and is about to enter high school. On the night before Riley attends a weekend hockey camp, the “Puberty Alarm” sounds off and a group of mind workers barge into headquarters to upgrade the emotion console, leading to the arrival of new emotions. 

Whereas the first film was about two emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) learning to work together in the workplace that is Riley’s mind, Inside Out 2 shows Joy and her crew – including Disgust (Liza Lapira), Fear (Tony Hale) and Anger (Lewis Black) – find themselves joined by new emotions led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke) that want to take over Riley’s head. With the original five being cast out of Headquarters and becoming suppressed emotions, the group led by the upbeat Joy is determined to get back and save Riley, who is becoming a different person during her adolescence.

With the exception of Toy Story, Pixar has never been great at making sequels that can match up or even surpass the originality of its predecessor, and no doubt there was some trepidation over the prospect of an Inside Out sequel that wasn’t directed by Pete Docter. With Joy and her crew off on another adventure through Riley’s mind, there is a sense of over-familiarity in that we have seen the mind workers and locations like Imagination Land. However, what director Kelsey Mann (in his feature directorial debut) and screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein do is expanding Docter’s original premise in order to create the landscape of a teenage mind. 

Obviously, the biggest addition is the four new emotions with Maya Hawke voicing the hell out of Anxiety, who is the latest in Pixar’s best-written antagonist as her ideology in how to ensure Riley’s mental state in the future serves as a foil to Joy’s perspective of keeping Riley as a good person. While Paul Walter Hauser doesn’t have a lot to say as Embarrassment, Ayo Edebiri and Adèle Exarchopoulos have a lot of fun as Envy and Ennui. 

Expanding upon the world-building from the first film, Inside Out 2 maintains its cleverness by showing the presence of these new emotions change the landscape of Riley’s mind, creating new obstacles for Joy and Co. It is also in these obstacles where the funniness kicks in, such as escaping out of a memory vault where we are introduced to new characters where the staff of Pixar gets to experiment with their animation. While there is nothing here that beats the first film’s most surreal sequence featuring abstract thoughts, there is still an inventiveness that delivers the laughs, as well as serving the emotional core that is Riley herself. 

inside out 2

As much as the younglings will enjoy the adventures and mishaps that are happening internally, there will be a section of the audience that will get a different experience, based on what is externally happening to Riley. Not since Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade has there been a recent film that has showcased the honesty and difficulty of being a teenage girl, which is not always an easy watch, thanks to a brilliant vocal performance by Kensington Tallman. You could argue that the sequel somewhat repeats the same message as before on how all emotions are dependent with one another. But Inside Out 2 is also about the importance of every single memory, no matter how bad it feels, and helps inform Riley’s sense of self that is always changing, something that the personalized emotions discover themselves.

'Inside Out 2' review: Incredible, stunning, and clever
‘Inside Out 2’ review: Incredible, stunning, and clever
Inside Out 2
Not as groundbreaking as Pete Docter’s masterful original, but Inside Out 2 is the rare sequel that captures the old magic of what we loved about Pixar, in how the storytelling can be fun for all ages, whilst not afraid to dig deep into sophisticated ideas.
Reader Rating0 Votes
An incredible voice cast that truly delivers all the emotions.
Stunning animation as one would expect from Pixar, who continue to experiment with the art form.
Finds that clever balance of comedic adventuring through the mind, whilst being a tough exploration of adolescence...
...although it nicely expands upon its predecessor's world-building, there is still an over-familiarity of ideas so it doesn't feel as refreshing.

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