“Inside Out 2” Review: Puberty Hits Hard

Riley’s emotions break into a calamity when a big red alarm labeled “PUBERTY” starts blaring in the middle of the night. // Photo courtesy of Pixar

Like many sequels, “Inside Out 2” coasted on the emotional waves of its predecessor. The return of beloved characters like Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) brings an intense feeling of nostalgia to the feature for many viewers who saw the premiere of “Inside Out” just under nine years ago. Ironically, Nostalgia is a new emotion who only makes a couple of cameos in Riley’s consciousness despite the movie being chock full of it. 

“Inside Out 2” finds Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), now a teenager, facing puberty’s emotional rollercoaster. New emotions like Anxiety (Maya Hawke) take charge, pushing aside her core personality in a bid for success. Joy and the original crew must delve into the recesses of Riley’s mind to retrieve her sense of self, navigating the complexities of adolescence and rediscovering the importance of all emotions in this journey of self-discovery.

The director Kelsey Mann and his team produced a strikingly accurate depiction of puberty in all of its complexity. With the arrival of new emotions and a developing belief system, every decision that Riley faces, like making friends at a new school or earning a spot on the hockey team, becomes infinitely more complex. Anxiety and Envy’s (Ayo Edibiri) actions perfectly emulate what it felt like to become a teenager and suddenly have the urge to fit in with the “cool kids,” coming at the price of one’s vulnerably new sense of self. 

Similar to “Soul,” the feature’s use of more complex emotions and themes make it better suited for a more mature audience. Though it does have its goofy moments, young kids likely cannot relate to Anxiety, or even understand what it is. Parents should beware that unless they have sat down with their child for that dreaded puberty talk, they might have a few questions in the theater.

Joy and the crew’s journey to retrieve Riley’s sense of self was a hilariously random foil to the somewhat tragic plot of Anxiety’s takeover. Reminiscent of Pixar classics like “Monsters Inc.” and “Toy Story,” this part of the film delivered one hilarious gag after another that had audience members of all ages roaring with laughter. 

Overall, the plot was somewhat forgettable, and the emotional moments leveraged the audience’s emotional attachment to the characters that the filmmakers garnered during the first movie. However, along with a predictably wholesome and happy ending, the whole film effectively drives home one central message: at the end of the day, Riley is still a nice, ordinary kid. 

In terms of individual performances, Poehler’s stellar delivery of Joy’s emotional moments really tugged at the audience’s heart strings. On the other hand, Hawke’s performance was unimpressive. She was handed a perfectly-written character, but her delivery failed to add any unique aspects. Also, Ennui’s character was unnecessary and somewhat cringey. Maybe children and parents found the character’s indulgence of the teenage angst cliché funny, but it is unappealing to many teens and young adults.

While “Inside Out 2” might not be a groundbreaking sequel, it offers a charming and relatable return to the world of Riley’s emotions. The animation remains stunning, the new characters are interesting additions and the core message about embracing all of one’s emotions and memories resonates well with the audience. If you grew up on the first movie, definitely return to the theater for this one.