Film review: Inside Out 2

With fast pacing, great visuals and enough emotional depth, 'Inside Out 2' delivers on more than one front.
Inside Out 2. Image: Disney. Anxiety greets core emotions, Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness in headquarters.

A tween coming-of-age movie sounds anything but enticing for someone in their late-20s – who would want to live through the rough years of puberty again? But when Disney and Pixar are both on board, and you have vague positive memories from the 2015 predecessor, it’s worth a shot.

Surprisingly, Inside Out 2 delivers on more than one front.

Thirteen-year-old Riley (Kensington Tallman) has grown up to be a good kid and audiences are invited to celebrate her journey from the very start of the movie as the core emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira), Fear (Tony Hale) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) go about their daily routine. Yet, even a kid like Riley can succumb to mood swings and peer pressure as puberty hits. Through her, we adults relive the little big things that mattered – friends, hobbies, interests and belonging.

The core emotions experience a rude awakening when new roommates enter the picture – Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui/Boredom (Adèle Exarchopoulos). They seek to take control over Riley’s sense of self as she steps into hockey camp with the excitement of new friendships and some tension in her old ones.

Clocking at 96 minutes, Inside Out 2 is reasonably fast-paced without detracting from the core of the storytelling, though one critique may be that more depth could’ve been offered to the other characters. It’s clear that Anxiety is the star of the show, and she’s been treated with so much care and nuance that it’s hard to complain.

While the temptation in many kids’ movies is to rule a definitive line between the “good guy” and the “bad guy”, Inside Out 2 pushes that hard distinction out the door. Anxiety is the reason why this movie will strike a chord with adults, while allowing younger viewers to develop their own emotive responses to what’s “right” and “wrong”.

As Joy’s quest ensues to take back control, we see her forever optimistic façade crack, but this too makes her more relatable and layered as a character and an emotion – something that aligns with the emotional complexities of 13-year-old Riley.

Through Inside Out 2, we also get a peek at Disney’s animation direction, which has adopted the popular device of blending different art styles and (made-up) franchises, such as in the likes of Wreck-It Ralph. While the first movie was directed by veteran Pete Docter (Up), this sequel is the confident feature directorial debut of animator and writer Kelsey Mann.

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Characters and plot aside, Inside Out 2 is beautifully crafted, from the glass-like qualities of the memory baubles, to instrumental sound effects that channel Riley’s mindscape.

While there is genuine concern around Disney popping out unimaginative sequels to existing franchises, the nearly decade-long buffer has worked this time in Inside Out 2‘s favour.

It’s an easy school holiday watch that won’t miss the mark for a wide age range, especially when you have to please everyone on a single outing.

Inside Out 2 is in cinemas from 13 June 2024.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne and was most recently engaged in consultation for the Emerging Writers’ Festival and ArtsGen. Instagram @lleizy_