Inside Out 2 (United States, 2024)

June 14, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Inside Out 2 Poster

Inside Out 2 is about the best one could hope from for a sequel to a movie whose main selling point was its unconventional perspective. The original Inside Out worked brilliantly because of its freshness but that quality is diminished in the follow-up. When it was released, Inside Out seemed like a one-and-done deal and, arguably, that should have been the case. But with Disney desperately strip-mining familiar titles in its own (and Pixar’s) catalogue, Inside Out had the dual benefit of recognizability and profitability.

For a film that exists primarily to bolster Disney’s flagging box office performance, Inside Out 2 does a lot of things right. The story time-jumps ahead by two years to when the main character, Riley (with Kensington Tallman replacing original voice actress Kaitlyn Dias), has graduated into her teens and is now dealing with the emotional and hormonal ups-and-downs of puberty. The movie leans into two defining aspects of these years: the anxiety of navigating an ever-shifting social dynamic and the desperate need for acceptance. It’s all about belonging. For Riley, that means making decisions about turning her back on her long-time best friends, Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green), in order to hang with a group of cool, older kids, led by high school hockey star Valentina (Lilimar). The coming-of-age story is familiar in general sort of way but, as with its predecessor, Inside Out 2 advances the narrative both in a conventional fashion and by delving into Riley’s brain and following the antics and actions of her anthropomorphized emotions.

In the original film, there were five of these: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader), Disgust (Liza Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). But, with the onset of puberty, four newcomers enter the control booth: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). Anxiety has a Type-A personality and immediately clashes with Joy. Acting from a belief that to have a happy, productive future, Riley must jettison most of the past, she exiles Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness to the far side of Riley’s brain while remaking the girl as she sees fit. Much of the movie follows the attempts of the original group to return to the control booth and prevent Anxiety from wrecking Riley’s life.

While Inside Out 2 explores a number of salient aspects about how a person’s emotional well-being changes with the onset of adolescence, the road trip undertaken by the emotions is not only a retread of parts of the first film’s story but also feels like a way to pad out the running length. While we’re interested in Riley’s story, as familiar as it may be to fans of the teenage/high school dramedy genre, the antics of the emotions prove to be less engaging than in the first film, although creating Anxiety as a foil for Joy makes for an edgy dynamic.

There are some fun moments as the original five explore parts of Riley’s brain, including an encounter with a cartoon show star and his magic pouch and a joke involving the heroic star of Riley’s favorite video game. But the movie assiduously avoids any subject that could lead to even the most oblique reference to sex. (As we all know, sex does not exist in Disney movies.) It’s said that teenage girls think about sex almost as often as teenage boys so it feels disingenuous to block out this aspect of human development. Apparently in an original story treatment, one of the new emotions was supposed to be “Passion” and another “Love,” but those were at some point changed to “Envy” and “Ennui.” There are ways to handle this aspect of puberty without becoming graphic or exploitative. Inside Out 2 doesn’t even try to do so.

This is a rare instance when the visuals of a Pixar film fail to “wow!” There’s nothing wrong with the animation in Inside Out 2. It’s workmanlike but not special. The innovative approach of using different looks for the inside and outside environments was pioneered in the first film and little (if anything) has been done to change or improve it. The music is mostly forgettable, except on those occasions when the score hearkens back to Michael Giacchino’s themes from Inside Out.

When Inside Out 2 went into pre-production in 2021, it was under consideration as a direct-to-Disney+ release. Cost-containing measures are evident in both the cast and crew. A first-time director, Kelsey Mann (whose has previously worked a variety of jobs on other Disney productions) has replaced veteran Pete Docter (who retains a producer credit). High profile composer Michael Giacchino has been bypassed in favor of the less well-known Andrea Datzman, who is making her feature debut. Actors Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling dropped out when Disney wouldn’t meet their salary demands. Nevertheless, after seeing the final product and crunching the numbers, Disney decided that a theatrical release would be beneficial to the bottom line. Although Inside Out 2 is good enough to warrant a trip to the theater, especially for parents desperate for family-friendly entertainment, this isn’t one of 2024’s big-screen-must-sees. It will work as well on a smaller screen. It’s solid, middle-of-the-road Pixar, not quite as good as some of their better sequels but superior to the Cars follow-ups.

Inside Out 2 (United States, 2024)

Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2024-06-14
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Animation
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1