‘Inside Out 2’: Once more, with more feelings

Joy and Anxiety in ‘Inside Out 2’. Amy Poehler voices Joy and Maya Hawke lends her vocals to Anxiety. Picture: PIXAR/Disney

Joy and Anxiety in ‘Inside Out 2’. Amy Poehler voices Joy and Maya Hawke lends her vocals to Anxiety. Picture: PIXAR/Disney

Published Jun 21, 2024


By Amy Nicholson

Anxiety is the dominant emotion in Pixar’s “Inside Out 2”, and one can empathise with director Kelsey Mann for having it on the brain.

Being in charge of following up the beloved 2015 Oscar winner would give anyone a panic attack.

The kids who grew up with the original cartoon about a girl named Riley (then voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), whose ponytailed body is an exoskeleton for psychological spelunking, are now getting their mental health advice from influencers on TikTok.

Anxiety is the dominant emotion there, too – a catch-all for the pressures of modern life – although the idea of personifying anxiety goes back to the ancient Greeks, who deemed her the deadly daughter of night.

In this clever if inessential sequel, Anxiety (Maya Hawke) is a frazzled thing with a mouth wide enough to chug five energy drinks in one gulp.

The pretext for her arrival is that Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman) has started puberty, triggering panic among her core emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), Disgust (Liza Lapira) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), the simplistic feelings that adults tend to suppress until they’re dredged up in therapy.

Disappointingly, the film’s PG rating keeps the two sensations we’d be most curious to see get a dusting of Disney magic – PMS and Libido – from crashing Riley’s hormonal rager. (We do get a glimpse of the girl’s Mount Crushmore, which stars a video game character with a pixelated six-pack, that is, a hunk without dangerous hormones of his own.

Instead, screenwriters Meg LeFauve (who co-wrote the original movie with Josh Cooley and Pete Docter) and Dave Holstein clutter the screen with redundant feelings – Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) – who don’t add much to the saga of Riley’s three disastrous days at an all-girls hockey camp.

As the painfully self-conscious 13-year-old claws out of her newly pimpled skin in her desperation to impress her coach (Yvette Nicole Brown) and older, cooler teammates, Anxiety exiles Joy and the gang and declares that she alone can save things with her advanced simulators that project increasingly disastrous future scenarios, one of which results in Riley dying alone, like, forever.

Embarrassment (voice of Paul Walter Hauser), Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke), Envy (voice of Ayo Edebiri) and Ennui (voice of Adèle Exarchopoulos) are ready to take a turn at the console in ‘Inside Out 2. Picture: PIXAR/Disney

Only Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), lounging about with a snooty French accent, cuts through the noise by acting uninterested in the whole thing.

Design-wise, the “Inside Out” characters are Pixar’s crudest work, with the blocky colours and stiff hair of a creature in a TV commercial for insecticide. Blown up to the big screen, they just look worse.

Narratively, however, the film’s portrait of Joy is beautifully complex.

A zealot for bliss, she’s the embodiment of self-help books that scold readers to get over their miseries and just lean in until they plop onto the CEO’s chair, and of the nine out of 10 family films that patronise children with wax maxims to simply believe in themselves.

It felt like kiddie Joan Didion when the first “Inside Out” got Joy to concede that life is allowed to feel both happy and sad. (My own therapist and I are still working on that.)

The sequel can’t offer any wisdom that profound, but it bolsters its warts-and-all humanism with Joy’s challenge to accept that Riley can be good and bad, a compassionate pal who’s also a puck-hogging, status-seeking snob.

The film is on its own quest for an identity. If it can’t be innovative, it’ll settle for being relatable.

Riley’s attempt to vault from one friend group to another is agonisingly well-sketched, particularly for audiences who remember the Romanov-level palace intrigue about where to sit at lunch.

As the story skips from one tenuous pun to another, representing the gulf between what one says and what one means as a yawning sar-chasm, it takes care to serve up a few scene-stealing merchandising opp – er, I mean, bit players – found in the recesses of Riley’s memory vault.

These include Pouchy (James Austin Johnson), a talking fanny pack, and Nostalgia (June Squibb), an elderly lady who, in a fun runner, keeps doddering into Riley’s brain ahead of schedule.

Nostalgia might not sell many of her own toys, but if our own neurons are willing to get honest, she’s the main thing this sequel flogs.

∎ “Inside Out 2” is showing at cinemas nationwide.