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Screenshot via Pixar

Review: ‘Inside Out 2’ is, like a teenager, noticeably awkward and very deserving of love

There's no need to be anxious about the trajectory of this Pixar franchise.

In 1986, Halley’s Comet — the only known short-period comet that the naked eye can detect from Earth — made its most recent appearance in our inner Solar System, and will not be seen again until 2061. Bad Pixar movies are of a similar frequency.

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The studio that brought us four consecutive Woody and Buzz homeruns knows a thing or two about putting together a smart, colorful, sweet little movie that appeals as much to older viewers as it does its younger target audience; that’s proven by Inside Out 2.

Its largest infraction is that the much more tightly-wound original version came out in 2015. But still, unique messaging and tried-and-true Pixar polish ensures that this is one sequel with a very solid case for being here.

The film follows the daunting plight of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger from the first film, who receive a rude awakening one evening when their human, Riley, begins puberty, which inadvertently awakens a quartet of new emotions in the control room. These are Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke, the standout of a voice cast without a miss amongst them), Ennui (aka boredom, just to save you a Google), Envy, and Embarrassment. As Riley heads off to a pre-high school hockey camp (a weekend event that, for all she knows, will define the rest of her life), Anxiety takes the lead after showing the five OG emotions the door; cue the sweet, bitter, salty, sour taste of becoming a teenager.

Those who fell in love with the magical inner workings of Riley’s mind in the first film are likely to find something similar here, but Inside Out 2 in no way, shape, form, or fashion surpasses its predecessor. Both have charmingly cartoonish stand-ins for the human psyche throughout, but they feel far less lived-in here in the sequel. There’s a sense, digestible but disappointing, that in its determination to advance from set-piece to set-piece — so as to display as much imagination as possible — Inside Out 2 diminishes the value in each one; shortly after Joy and company are bottled up, for example, they’re freed by an enormous, growling, shadowy figure that represents Riley’s deepest, darkest secret. Its presence makes you ask what that secret could be, but we never find this out.

Maybe Riley’s deepest secret isn’t an important plot point, but by introducing and dismissing this detail, Inside Out 2 feels less cohesive than it could have; attention to detail may be key to Pixar films, but it becomes counterproductive when the ideas don’t cleanly fit into the whole. Take Ennui and Envy, who don’t meaningfully contribute to the emotions’ dynamic; Ennui is nothing more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plot point, while Envy effectively exists as a sounding board for Anxiety. Envy’s weakness is twofold; she deprives Inside Out 2 of the opportunity to characterize Anxiety better (seriously, how do you create a character like Anxiety, but then give her someone tangible to interact with?), while forestalling any opportunity for Inside Out 3 to put Envy front and center — because whatever Envy’s problems as a character in this movie might be, they could be fantastic strengths in a whole other movie. For instance, Envy’s lack of personality in Inside Out 2 is almost certainly by design — this needed to be the central idea of the film if it was ever going to have any value, but it isn’t, so it doesn’t.

This brings us to Inside Out 2‘s most rousing success; its emotionally intelligent messaging about anxiety, nailed as perfectly as joy and sadness were in the first film. Hopefully, Pixar gives other emotions the same treatment in future stories.

Anxiety is introduced as a faux villain, the driving force behind the predicament of Joy and company. But the film expertly paces its revelations, and it soon becomes clear that Anxiety is just trying to protect Riley. Read that again; this delightful children’s film is making clear, in the most in-your-face-way possible, that anxiety — that nasty emotion that gets such a bad rap — is just trying to protect you. It’s only when it’s not heeded in moderation with your other emotions does it cause as many problems for you as it does. The gang’s collective solution to Riley’s racing mind is about as subtle — and is itself a mighty fine solution to dry eyes.

For all that Inside Out 2 doesn’t get right, know this; the conversations it’s capable of starting — in children, adults, and those in that pesky age range in-between — are unbelievably important. This was true of Inside Out, it’s true again here, and it’s very easy to imagine how it could keep being true, were Pixar to play its cards right; if any studio could make an entertaining movie about boredom, it’s Pixar, and it would no doubt teach just as valuable a lesson about ennui as it does with anxiety here in this film.

Everyone jokes that Pixar begins every premise with “What if X had feelings,” with Inside Out being “What if feelings had feelings?” It is funny, to be sure, if only because Pixar productions quite consistently stick their landing, but it is seriously worth thinking about just what the studio has tapped into with the Inside Out films here. Stories are rooted in human emotion, the lifeblood of what makes us all so fascinating and beautiful as individuals. To become intimate with those literal, personified emotions, in their own story, will do wonders for our personal health. And with Pixar presenting emotions in a way that even young children can grasp them, that value is quite literally evergreen.

Like every human being, Inside Out 2 is many things; anxious about getting through its plot, fearful about toying with its formula, and perhaps envious of its 9-year-old sibling for making far fewer mistakes. All this, and it’s still so beautiful; you might even say it’s capable of great joy.

Inside Out 2
Its borderline-necessary messaging doesn't render it completely invulnerable, but should Pixar be up to it, they've earned an 'Inside Out 3'.

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Charlotte Simmons
Charlotte is a freelance writer for We Got This Covered, a graduate of St. Thomas University's English program, a fountain of film opinions, and probably the single biggest fan of Peter Jackson's 'King Kong.' She has written professionally since 2018, and will tackle an idiosyncratic TikTok story with just as much gumption as she does a film review.