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Review: No reason to be anxious about ‘Inside Out 2’

‘Inside Out 2’ is a rarity in animation as its child character actually ages, introducing new complicated emotions.

A scene from 'Inside Out 2'
A scene from 'Inside Out 2' courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
A scene from 'Inside Out 2' courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

‘Inside Out 2’ is a rarity in animation as its child character actually ages, introducing new complicated emotions as she enters puberty.

At some point in everyone’s life, they’ve wondered, “What is that person thinking?” Whether it’s a result of frustration, curiosity or compassion, there is never any way to truly know because even when someone expresses their thoughts or feelings, there may be more they’re choosing not share. Thus, people imagine what they may be experiencing or how they’d react in a similar situation and use that information to determine an appropriate course of action. Or, more amusingly, perhaps one pictures tiny controllers pulling the strings inside the other person’s head. That’s been the premise of a captivating animated film now releasing its sequel, Inside Out 2.

Riley (Kensington Tallman) recently turned 13. She’s getting ready for high school, has two amazing best friends and is an excellent hockey player. Joy (Amy Poehler) couldn’t be happier about the teen she, Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira), Fear (Tony Hale) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) helped sculpt. But now they need to move over and make room for the new emotions that accompany… puberty. Riley and her friends are invited to a three-day hockey camp, but the new emotions in her head — Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Envy (Ayo Edebiri) — are warring for control of the console. As they argue over Riley’s sense of self, Joy must once again lead an expedition through Riley’s mind to help her be her best.

The movie begins very sweetly before being suddenly turned upside down by the onset of puberty — an experience many can attest to as a former teenager and/or parent. Everything starts to change and finding one’s place in the world seems more difficult than before. Interestingly, Anxiety becomes Riley’s dominant emotion, saying a lot about the pressures and worries that adolescents experience at that age (and beyond). She agonizes about the future repercussions of all of Riley’s decisions, primarily focusing on the negative possible outcomes — a feeling that may be very relatable — and is intent on creating a new, cool Riley, even if that means abandoning everything else about her. The result is predictably less than ideal.

The journey through Riley’s mind isn’t as engaging as Joy and Sadness’ first venture beyond the tower. They don’t meet as many interesting characters along the way, though one does pop up throughout the remainder of the picture. Nonetheless, there are still lots of laughs and silly moments to break the tension and keep a rather serious topic from becoming too solemn. For instance, Ennui is a goth kid with a fitting French accent and there are some very literal interpretations of more abstract expressions, such as sarcasm.

Seeing Anxiety from this perspective is somewhat eye-opening for anyone who’s struggled with it and may be a good lead-in for parents to talk to their kids about the emotion, which can be confusing and potentially stifling at times. Luckily, Riley has some other dedicated feelings determined to get her back on the right path before the movie’s conclusion — which does include an end-credit scene.

Director: Kelsey Mann
Starring: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke and Kensington Tallman

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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