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Inside Out 2 ★★★1/2

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; not streaming at this time. Speculation is that it will be available digitally as early as late July and on Disney+ in late September. See JustWatch here for future streaming availability.


Age of Anxiety


The red alarm button “Puberty!” is pushed within the first few minutes of Disney Pixar’s sequel to its enormously successful “Inside Out,” signaling a leap from that first dive into a child’s brain. The beloved emotions from the 2015 animated film are back: Joy, Anger (you gotta relish the voice of Lewis Black), Fear, Sadness (the riveting voice of Phyllis Smith), and Disgust. The Puberty button brings on a cast of new emotions familiar to any 13-year-old girl, those mostly associated with social situations: Envy (Ayo Edebiri from TV’s “The Bear”), Embarrassment, Ennui, and the leader of the new crew—and according to the film, the most problematic of teen emotions—Anxiety.

 

The Puberty button brings on a cast of new emotions familiar to any 13-year-old girl.


Above, the 4 new emotions (and their voices), from left: Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Anxiety (Amy Poehler), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos (the Cannes award-winner from 2013’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color"), with Anxiety at the controls.


Just as in the first go-round, humanoid-like, big-eyed, positive Joy (an excellent Amy Poehler) is mostly in charge of “our girl, Riley,” but cartoon-like, wide-mouthed, negative Anxiety (captivatingly voiced by Maya Hawke) takes over and leads Riley into territory where she “isn’t really herself.” Confronted with a choice between a new group of older hockey players and loyalty to her former, often silly schoolmates and pals, Anxiety forces Riley to choose the more skilled, mature players at hockey camp, denying her own taste in music, candy, and where she comes from. “Michigan, right?” says one of the cool girls. “Um, yeah,” responds Riley, even though she’s from Minnesota. (Not surprisingly, the hockey scenes also validate team play rather than individual virtuosity.)


Above, Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Poehler) inside Riley's brain,

with its gorgeous, glowing neurons.


If the younger kids in the audience don’t “get” the new emotions, they have the  fantasy-like aspects of the inner workings of the brain to entertain them. Our seven-year-old companion declared her highlight was the videogame hero, Lance Slashblade, with his ineffectual and bumbling, even slapstick, save-the-day antics. The workings of Riley’s brain are beautiful, fun, and mostly inexplicable: zooming and zagging around a colorful, vaguely understandable universe of fiber-like neurons, repression, and memory.

 

"Inside Out 2" is a trip into the reality of research on emotions.

 

The teenage girl audience (and every woman who has been that teenage girl) will be mesmerized—even (sometimes in retrospect) embarrassed and anxious—about the mistakes Riley makes in her entrance into puberty: ditching her old friends, stealing from the coach’s office, aping the cool girls, awkwardly trying out a variety of ways of talking and walking. The adults in the theater will take pleasure in the depth of the emotions and their push and pull on Riley’s “essence,” a trip into the reality of research on emotions. Something for everyone (except maybe those 20-something white males stuck in the Mad Max franchise).

 

No acne, no breasts, no periods. Just braces.

 


Riley (voice of  Kensington Tallman),

smiling with her braces.




With all the terror that the raging emotions of a 13-year-old bring to the screen (the seven-year-old declared herself “scared” only twice), the film keeps it light. It avoids exploring conflicts with the parents, whom Riley treats mostly with crude disdain (sorry, parents of teenagers, you’ll have to go through that and hope you come out the other side), and the trauma of bodily changes. The girls’ hockey team allows for a de-sexualized environment. The only change in Riley’s body is that she gets braces, which don’t seem to bother her at all, or anyone else. No acne, no breasts, no periods.


Val (voice of Lilimar Hernandez), above, is the new, cool, more mature girl,

drawing Riley away from her long-time pals.


“Inside Out 2” was a smash hit in its opening weekend, reviving theaters, cinema-goers, and Disney’s Pixar, all of which had been in the doldrums. Our weekend afternoon showing was sold out at the small London multiplex offering the movie six times a day.


First-time director and co-writer (and experienced children’s film writer) Kelsey Mann presents a purposefully didactic story. One lesson, as Joy finally acknowledges, is that the “other” emotions, those led and orchestrated by Anxiety, need to have a role as well; anxiety helps Riley show up early at the rink to practice. Maybe. But it’s worth noting that the film’s first weekend coincided with the US Open golf tournament, featuring Rory McIlroy’s final-round choke, a classic case of a man haunted—as Riley is—by the anxiety of past failure.



Left, in this sequel, Joy (Poehler) and Anxiety (Hawke) vie for control of Riley's brain, eventually learning to work together.







The other lesson that IS the plot of the film, a lesson not consistently adhered to, but clear nonetheless, is summarized in Joy’s advice to Riley: “be you.” But what does it mean for Riley to be herself, especially when she’s entering a new phase of her life, physically and socially? And, given the common understanding that personality is at least in part situational and flexible, is Joy’s injunction to “be yourself”—to locate and present to others some inner, fixed essence—what Riley needs to hear?


Those glowing golden balls of good memory that Joy holds up must inevitably be infused with hints of blue, the color of sadness. Just as “Inside Out 2” is mostly golden—but not entirely.


 

Date: 2024

Director: Kelsey Mann

Starring: The voices of Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Kensington Tallman, Tony Hale (Fear), Liza Lapira (Disgust), Paul Walter Hauser, Adèle Exarchopoulos, and Lilimar Hernandez.

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Other Awards: None to date

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