Review: ‘Inside Out 2’

Pixar Finds Humor And Heart In A Teen Girl's Anxiety

Let’s face it, Pixar sequels are a mixed bag. At one time the studio honored for its incredible creativity and imagination, Disney’s corporate demands took over and led to less inventive continuations of brands best left alone. Does anyone even remember Finding Dory? 2015’s Inside Out is probably the film that Pixar receives the most credit for, and for good reason. Taking an ingenious look inside the brain of a young pre-adolescent girl and the five emotions that stand watch in the mission H.Q. of her mind, it offered a complex and hilarious coming-of-age experience. Could the sequel Inside Out 2 ever hope to live up?

We should have more faith in Pixar. Or maybe I should, because I certainly entered with low expectations. To be fair, Inside Out 2 takes a more simplified approach, but it’s also sensitive to the emotional needs of a 13-year-old girl just beginning to figure out who she wants to be. Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman)  has gone from 11 to 13 years old in the 9 years since Inside Out. If only we all could age at such a rate. Anyway, with the onset of puberty comes all of the typical problems, and a gaggle of new emotions to deal with.

That means the old gang: cheerleader Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale), Disgust (Liza Lapira) and Anger (Lewis Black), aren’t going to be enough to take care of Riley this time. All of the memory orbs in her head can’t cope with being the new girl in high school, sudden body changes, and a prestigious hockey camp that’ll be the last time she gets to hang with her best friends. Riley, sporting a blemish that would drive any normal teen insane, is feeling the pressure. The pressure to have friends in high school, the pressure to be a good person, the pressure to be the best.

As Riley’s childhood innocence fades, enter a new batch of emotions who arrive with the signal roar of a three-alarm-fire. Anxiety ( Maya Hawke ), Envy ( Ayo Edebiri ), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) have a wider range than Joy and the others, but are they as sophisticated as they claim to be? Anxiety, who resembles a Fraggle that got knocked on the head one too many times, quickly takes over much to Joy’s chagrin. Before too long, Joy and the gang find them bottled up: suppressed emotions.

Inside Out was a long time ago, and Pixar smartly considers that its audience has matured, too. Riley’s internal landscape is vastly different than it was before. The array of memory orbs is still there, but there’s also now a Mount Crushmore in place of the vanished Boy Band Island. Don’t even bother shouting across the Sar-Chasm, or attempting to get a peep out of the Deep Dark Secret buried in the vault of Riley’s mind. Clever turns of phrase leading to funny visual puns continue to be a franchise highlight, because they make so much sense. I mean, a brain storm is exactly what you would expect it to be and yet we’re surprised when we see it.

At first, I worried that Inside Out 2 wasn’t making me laugh the way the first one did. But that makes sense because Riley is getting older and dealing with more serious issues. As a teen, figuring out your identity is about as serious as it gets. A belief system begins to take root within Riley, but it can easily become corrupted. Riley believes herself to be a good person, but is that enough to be all of the other things she needs just to thrive as a teen?

Kelsey Mann takes over as director from Pete Docter, who has moved up to become Pixar’s chief. The quality of animation hasn’t changed at all. I still love the singe of heat that rises from Anger’s skin, even when he’s not angry. If anything, the 96-minute film feels like it went through some last-minute editing because some scenes don’t quite gel. But it’s a minor complaint; you’ll love these characters as much as before. The only exception is Riley, who you will come to love a lot more as she’s much more of a central figure this time. Of the new emotions, Anxiety and Envy get a lot of time, but Embarrassment and Ennui hardly fit into the story at all except as punchlines.

Inside Out 2 deserves praise for tackling the issue of anxiety for young woman, and finding a way to do it with humor and respect. This also serves as a reminder that can still deliver when called upon to do so. And when Inside Out 3 arrives as Riley is going away to college, we won’t have to have any anxiety about it being great.

Inside Out 2 opens in theaters on June 14th.

Inside Out 2
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
inside-out-2-53893Let's face it, Pixar sequels are a mixed bag. At one time the studio honored for its incredible creativity and imagination, Disney's corporate demands took over and led to less inventive continuations of brands best left alone. Does anyone even remember Finding Dory? 2015's...