‘Inside Out 2’ review: Riley grows up in this sweet, stressful sequel

It’s understandably easy to get cynical about Pixar sequels. Why do we need more Cars or Toy Story movies (or spin-offs) from an animation studio that prides itself on unique storytelling? Why, after a run of solid original films like Soul, Luca, Turning Red, and Elemental, do we need to revisit 2015’s Inside Out?

Yet out of all of Pixar’s movies, Inside Out most invites an organic sequel. Its exploration of the tangle of emotions inside our heads is perfectly suited for continuation, because we as people are evolving and changing all the time! And when is that change more dramatic than the beast that is puberty?

Like 2022’s Turning Red, which in itself proved a groundbreaking representation of puberty, Inside Out 2 embraces the complexities of this daunting life stage, especially when it comes to feelings of self-worth and anxiety. The result is a frank take on mental health that proves more mature than its predecessor, while also maintaining a well-needed touch of irreverence and Pixar comfort.

Inside Out 2 tackles the emotional challenges of puberty head-on.

The emotions of "Inside Out 2" scream as they look at a flashing red button on a control panel.

Credit: Pixar

Directed by Kelsey Mann, Inside Out 2 reintroduces us to Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman), now 13 years old and still as obsessed with hockey as ever. Helping her navigate the world are her five emotions: Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Disgust (voiced by Liza Lapira), Fear (voiced by Tony Hale), and Anger (voiced by Lewis Black). After the events of Inside Out, the group is now a well-oiled machine, each helping Riley in their own way.

But wait, what’s this giant, blaring alarm on the emotions’ control console? Why is a wrecking ball smashing headquarters to bits for a surprise renovation? The chaos can only mean one thing: Puberty has arrived, bringing with it new emotions.

Leading the charge is Anxiety (voiced by Stranger Things Maya Hawke), a toothy orange puffball who hopes to protect Riley from everything scary she “can’t see.” This mostly means drawing up horrifying scenarios of everything that could go wrong for Riley — a tactic that immediately rubs Joy the wrong way.

Embarrassment, Anxiety, Envy, and Ennui from "Inside Out 2" gather around a control panel.

Credit: Pixar

Joining Anxiety are Envy (voiced by The Bear‘s Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (voiced by Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (voiced by Paul Walter Hauser). New, more exaggerated character designs differentiate this group of emotions from the original crew. Envy is teeny tiny, with huge eyes that covet everything they see. Ennui, a portrait of disaffected French cool, lounges like a limp noodle on a couch. And while Embarrassment is by far the largest of the emotions, he prefers to hide himself away in the depths of his sweatshirt.

Mashable Top Stories

Tensions between new emotions and old flare as Riley learns that her best friends Bree (voiced by Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (voiced by Grace Lu) have been assigned to a different high school. A summer hockey skills camp they’re attending could be the last chance they have to play together on the same team — but it could also be Riley’s chance to impress the coach at her new high school, as well as the the team’s formidable captain Valentina (voiced by Lilimar). Will Joy’s insistence that Riley stick with Bree and Grace win out? Or will Anxiety bulldoze years of friendship in her efforts to secure a “cool” future for Riley?

Inside Out 2 presents both as having merits. Of course you want Riley to remain close to her pals, and of course you want to see her succeed at doing what she loves. Surely there’s a way to bring the two together. Instead, Anxiety places the options on a binary, kicks the old emotions out of HQ, and sets in motion a plan to build Riley a new sense of self.

Inside Out 2 gets real about mental health.

Joy from "Inside Out 2" throws her hands up and smiles next to a worried-looking Anxiety.

Credit: Pixar

Watching Anxiety’s plan play out will make you anxious yourself. Seriously, Inside Out 2 was one of the most stressful viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Yet it’s also one of the films where I’ve felt most seen in terms of its portrayal of mental health.

At every turn, Riley’s efforts to impress the high school team go awry. She lets one mistake about where she’s from snowball into a nickname, she hides her real interests in order to fit in, and she pushes herself to extremes to try to prove she’s great at hockey. Every painful social interaction will make you shrink to a tiny ball in your seat — not just out of embarrassment for Riley, but out of awareness that we’ve all been through similar phases of awkwardness. Like Turning Red or 2023’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Inside Out 2 knows that empathy is any great coming-of-age movie’s secret weapon. So even if you’ve never picked up a hockey stick, you’ll feel for Riley, Bree, and Grace as these friends navigate an emotionally fraught situation.

Riley’s experiences play out like a grounded coming-of-age drama, making for a nice contrast from the fantasy adventure movie playing out inside her mind. Inside Out already explored the plot of “core emotions need to get back to HQ,” so its successor mixes up the groupings of the emotions, even separating Joy and Sadness for a change. Sometimes, the scenes in which the emotions lament being lost can feel too similar to the first movie, so it helps when Inside Out 2 throws new brainy obstacles in our emotions’ way, like a “sar-chasm” or a literal brainstorm. One particularly hilarious sequence involves an encounter with Riley’s secrets, like the fact she still enjoys a Dora the Explorer-esque cartoon character named Bloofy (voiced by Ron Funches), or that she harbors a crush on oh-so-dramatic video game dreamboat Lance Slashblade (voiced by Yong Yea). The promise of these colorful excursions deeper into Riley’s mind might be the hook for younger viewers, yet it’s the way in which they inform Riley’s real-world story that resonates the most.

Inside Out 2 builds Riley’s troubles up to a visceral climax that pulls no punches, proving just how debilitating anxiety can be. But just like in the original Inside Out, the film teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of letting yourself experience emotions, instead of compartmentalizing them or locking them away entirely. (You will need tissues.) Even Anxiety doesn’t come across as an outright villain, just someone who overthinks things to the point of crisis. Who among us hasn’t?

So while Joy and co.’s quest can sometimes feel redundant, there’s no denying that Inside Out 2 has something new — and important — to say. It’s the rare Pixar sequel that truly earns its existence and deepens the message of its first film. And even though it may make you deeply, deeply, deeply anxious, it’s also, quite simply, a joy to watch.

Inside Out 2 opens in theaters June 14.

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