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Inside Out 2 Review: Refreshing, Emotional Sequel

The four emotions of Inside Out 2 are scared looking at a button

Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out 2 is an awesome sequel with heart that adds to a fantastic world and features a standout performance from Maya Hawke.

Director: Kelsey Mann
Genre: Animated
Run Time: 0′
Global Release: June14 , 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

The mere idea of Inside Out 2 should not work at all. Its predecessor was like lightning in a bottle for Disney and Pixar, serving as a reminder that they could still create quality, transportive, original stories. Though Elemental proved to have strong theatrical legs in 2023, the film was arguably not the smash success that the studios wanted it to be.

As a result, Disney and Pixar went back to the well, which has produced mixed results in the past. For every Toy Story sequel, you could end up producing something like Cars 2 (2011) with none of the uniqueness and heart audiences have come to expect. There was also the fact that Inside Out (2015) did not exactly leave you screaming for more. It was a straightforward narrative that was wondrous, but self-contained. Could you do more? Absolutely! But there is the question of if you should, when you got it right the first time.

By some miracle, Disney and Pixar caught lightning in a bottle again. Inside Out 2 is refreshing much like the first film was, rather than being something that feels like a rehash of old ideas. The animation is still incredible, and the animators take us to fascinating new corners of young Riley Andersen’s (voiced by Kensington Tallman) mind. Most importantly, we have a narrative that should be able to touch the hearts and minds of every generation.

Inside Out 2 takes audiences back inside the head of a young girl named Riley, where things seem to be running smoothly under the direction of the emotions we know: Joy (Amy Poehler, of Parks and Recreation), Sadness (Phyllis Smith, of The OA), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear  (Tony Hale, of Toy Story 4) and Disgust (Liza Lapira). Everything comes to a screeching halt when a new group of emotions, led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke, of Do Revenge), show up and have their own ideas about how to run Riley’s mind.

Sadness and Joy walk in a place with shiny vertical strings everywhere in a still from the 2024 Disney and Pixar movie Inside Out 2
BELIEF SYSTEM – In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Riley’s Sense of Self is made up of all of her beliefs, each of which can be heard with the pluck of a string. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) and Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) deliver key memories to this formative land. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

While this film has many strengths, the performances from its voice cast are what truly make it special. Amy Poehler returns as Joy and picks up right where she left off almost ten years ago. Her voice acting work is so superb and makes it easy to root for this little blue haired yellow emotion. So much of this story relies on Joy that if Poehler is not completely invested, the biggest emotional moments would lack any sort of punch. This performance brings humanity to this character, because of it, we will care about Riley the way Joy does, and will even find ourselves tearing up alongside her.

This narrative centers around three characters: Joy, Riley, and Anxiety, each of whom adds a specific piece to the larger messages of the film. However, only one of these characters stopped me dead in my tracks whenever she was on screen. Maya Hawke’s performance as Anxiety was genuinely that impressive. Her voice work maintains the charisma she is known for, but truly nails what Anxiety is like in real life. From the unease to the overthinking to the sheer chaos either of those things can bring, Hawke portrays it all tremendously. She creates a character whose logic you can understand, even if it is not the soundest. Watching Anxiety develop as Inside Out 2 moves along winds up being so cool because Hawke is dedicated to ensuring this is not a one note character.

Kensington Tallman’s performance as Riley Andersen also deserves praise. It would be so easy to just highlight the actors behind the emotions, but Riley is central to this story as well. Tallman gives audiences a glimpse into being an awkward teenager without it ever feeling inauthentic. Younger audience members will see a lot of themselves in Riley and the feelings she experiences.

This story should connect with viewers of all ages but is more mature compared to the first film. Inside Out 2 touches on multiple subjects, particularly puberty and anxiety. It continues the coming-of-age journey of Riley Andersen in a natural way rather than feeling contrived just because the studios wanted to make a sequel. Not only that, but it expands on the world building done by the original film in ways that are quite fun. We get to see Riley go through new experiences on the outside while her emotions deal with the impact of these changes to her body on the inside.

We also see the consequences of letting your anxiety take control and the damage that it can do to your sense of self. This aspect of the screenplay is where older viewers should feel like they have been hit by a truck. I know I certainly was because I am constantly struggling with anxiety and the feeling of not being good enough. What this story shows us in the end is just how important our other emotions and the people we have around us can be when it comes to quieting down that negativity and feeling like yourself again.

Anxiety waves at the other emotions in a still from the 2024 Disney and Pixar movie Inside Out 2
MEET ANXIETY — Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” returns to the mind of newly minted teenager Riley just as a new Emotion shows up unexpectedly. And Anxiety, voiced by Maya Hawke, isn’t the type of Emotion who will take a back seat either. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

From an animation standpoint, Inside Out 2 is certainly up there with the best that Disney and Pixar have ever offered. One of my biggest worries was that they would somehow find a way to skimp on the visuals and I am thrilled to be wrong. These character designs are unique, expressive, and their colors really pop on the big screen.  Anxiety should not look anywhere near as cool as she does, for example, but they take advantage of Maya Hawke’s energy and animate her in a way that matches it. Audiences will also enjoy the new aspects of Riley’s mind, which come with their own sort of visual flair and can even blend assorted styles of animation.

My only real drawback is that I could have used a bit more of Phyllis Smith as Sadness. While she was a major focus of 2015’s Inside Out, Sadness is very much a supporting player this time around. I get wanting to focus on the newer emotions, but that kind of irked me. Smith is great when Sadness is given opportunities to shine though, so it is not all bad.

Inside Out 2 is great, and while that came as a surprise to me, it shows that Disney and Pixar can make a standalone sequel to one of their popular IPs that is not Toy Story without forgetting what made the original so special. This story has all the heart, laughs, and memorable moments that you would expect while also being gorgeously animated. The cast, particularly Amy Poehler and Maya Hawke, give performances that will move you. When you put all of that together, it is easy to see why this second installment is just as remarkable as Inside Out was in 2015, and in some ways, it just might be better.

Inside Out 2 will be released globally in theaters on June 14, 2024.

Inside Out 2: Trailer (Pixar)
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