Adventure Animation

Review: ‘Inside Out 2’ Deals with the Important Topic of Teen Mental Health, While Also Ranking as One of Pixar’s Best Sequels to Date

June 12, 2024Ben MK

From talking toys to friendly fish, the list of Pixar classics is a long one. Yet, despite their incredible track record, the 38-year-old animation studio still continues to be one of the most prolific producers of high-quality family films out there. Whether it's coming-of-age comedy dramas like Luca and Turning Red or more high-concept adventures like Soul and Elemental, there's little doubt that the team of animators and storytellers at Pixar are years and years from running out of crowd-pleasing tales to tell. And with their followup to 2015's Inside Out, they're proving once again that their sequels can still pack as much of an emotional punch as their originals, in this heartfelt story about everyone's favorite crew of emotions and what happens next for the young girl whose mind they happen to live inside.

Set two years after the first movie, Inside Out 2 finds Riley Andersen (Kensington Tallman) growing up, after finally settling into her new school in San Francisco, becoming best friends with classmates Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green), and joining the youth girls hockey team, the Fog Horns. Now 13-years-old, Riley is about to step into the next chapter of her life — puberty. But are her emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) — ready to do what's necessary to take that next step with her? Once the only emotions in Headquarters, this core five have seen Riley through thick and thin since she was a baby, carefully guiding her and helping her navigate the ups and downs of being a kid. However, with adolescence now at their doorstep, they'll have to face a whole new set of challenges, beginning with the expansion of Headquarters and the arrival of new emotions they've never met before.

Led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke) and rounded out by Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), this new batch of emotions have a very different style of dealing with Riley's various life challenges, such as the conflict she feels when she must choose between her best friends and her role model, Valentina Ortiz (Lilimar), the captain of the high school hockey team she hopes to play for in the coming year. But when Joy and Anxiety end up butting heads about what emotional strategy is best for Riley, things wind up not so rosy for Headquarters' original crew, as the core five find themselves exiled to the Vault. Tasked with escaping from the place where Riley's deepest darkest secrets reside, Joy and her friends must also help Riley restore her old sense of self, which Anxiety has also kicked to the curb in her attempt to create a new and improved one that will help get Riley through the next few years. What Anxiety doesn't anticipate, though, is how resourceful these original emotions can be, especially when it comes to protecting Riley and doing what's best for her.

Directed by Kelsey Mann, what follows feels like a necessary continuation of the first film, with writers Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve doing a fantastic job crafting a story that deals with the always-relevant topic of teen mental health, while avoiding having it come off as overly simplistic or overly serious. Full of complex emotional themes yet also bursting at the seams with the same charm, wit and humor as the previous installment, this is a sequel that has grown up with its target audience, addressing the issues and problems faced by teenage viewers who would have only been in grade school when the original was released. Equally important, however, Inside Out 2 perfectly captures the essence of its returning characters; and there's no question whatever new characters that have been added to the mix feel like they're part and parcel of the movie's world.

It all amounts to one of Pixar's best sequels to date. And although there are no doubt some cinema purists out there who would decry the very notion of the studio churning out sequels to some of their most popular films instead of focusing on more original stories, it's hard to imagine those same individuals coming out of Inside Out 2 and still holding on to that opinion. Both endearing and hilarious, this is a movie that ranks right up there with Toy Story 2 and Incredibles 2. And while only time will tell if Inside Out 3 comes to pass, one thing's for certain — it'll have its work cut out for it if it's to top all of the feels brought on by this second go-around.

Inside Out 2 releases June 14th, 2024 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 36 min.

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