Inside Out 2

Watching Inside Out as a parent is an interesting experience. The Pixar classic, which I picked as the best film of 2015, delves into the subject of childhood emotions. It reminded me of my own early years, while simultaneously making me aware of what my then six-year-old son was starting to feel. Now my son is 15, in high school, and looking forward to driving. His emotions have become more complex, as my own did at his age. I identified with and laughed at the jokes in Inside Out 2 that touch on adolescent moodiness around parents. But more than that, the movie took me back to those teenage years when the sensation of anxiety noticeably entered my life. I’m sure my kid identified with this sequel for his own reasons. Personally, I think it hit me even harder than its predecessor did.

Riley (Kensington Tallman) is now a junior high school student. Her mood continues to be regulated by interior emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Disgust (Liza Lapira), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale), and Anger (Lewis Black). Something changes when she has a chance to attend a hockey camp that could potentially land her on the high school team. Suddenly, a bunch of new emotions arrive to literally bottle up the old feelings. They’re Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos), and Anxiety (Maya Hawke). As Anxiety takes over and fills Riley with nervousness, Joy and crew decide the only way to stop her is to make a journey to the back of the girl’s mind, where they hope to free her repressed true spirit.

Inside Out 2 is a sequel that makes sense. Puberty brings with it a whole new set of emotions, so this follow-up is able to stay true to the spirit of the original while also moving naturally in a fresh direction. As before, the depiction of the human mind is ingenious. Anxiety literally comes with a lot of baggage. Later, there’s a scene set at the “sar-chasm” where whatever is said on one side ends up sounding sarcastic on the other. Similarly great is the movie’s battle between Joy and Anxiety. The former wants Riley to feel nothing too unpleasant; the latter sincerely believes that she needs to have nervousness as a driving force to help her reach goals.

That idea is the heart of the story. The ironic thing about emotions is that the unpleasant ones are occasionally productive in a weird way. The mixture must be correct. Too much of them leads to neurosis. Just the right dose provides incentive and drive. Like Joy, we hate that those negative vibes exist. Like Anxiety, we know they are useful. Inside Out 2 is smart in how it depicts adolescent insecurity, where you feel as though you have to say the right thing, do the right thing, and present the right image if you want to fit in. Anybody who was ever a teen will relate to what the movie says.

Amy Poehler is once again perfect as Joy, her voice radiating sunniness and optimism. She’s well matched by Maya Hawke, who brings an appropriately jittery quality to Anxiety. Because they’re both so well cast, the film’s themes have a powerful ring. Big laughs come from seeing them and the other emotions bump into each other and compete to control Riley. The cast members work together to create a flawless representation of that period in life when you feel everything with maximum intensity all the time.

As funny as Inside Out 2 is, the plot builds to a climax that hits you square in the heart. Who among us hasn’t felt overwhelmed with anxiety at some point? There’s a little Riley in all of us. At the same time that the film is reflecting a familiar ordeal, it offers a hopeful message pertaining to our ability to regulate ourselves. The combination of frequent hilarity and an affecting story makes Inside Out 2 the rare sequel that lives up to the film that spawned it.

out of four

Inside Out 2 is rated PG for some thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan