‘Inside Out 2’ is a worthwhile sequel

Pixar’s latest production introduces new emotions that might get stuck in your head.


New emotions acted as the main hook for the “Inside Out” (2015) sequel, bringing new flavors to Riley’s mind. According to staff writer Sammy Bovitz, it’s an impressive follow-up to the original film. (Disney)

“Inside Out 2” is the first in a new era of sequels and prequels for Disney’s animated properties. While the jury is still out for forthcoming productions like “Moana 2” and “Mufasa: The Lion King,” director Kelsey Mann’s team stuck the landing on a solid sequel that still falls short of the original at certain points. 

After increasingly mature and nuanced themes popped up in Pixar movies like “Coco” (2017) and “Soul” (2020), the studio returned to explore ideas often missing in animated movies for kids. In particular, the characterization of Anxiety (Maya Hawke) makes for a far more complex foil for Amy Poehler’s Joy than Sadness (Phyllis Smith) was in the original. Still, “Inside Out 2” is about a kid growing up, meaning heavier scenes aren’t portrayed with the same depth as “Soul” or even “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (2023). 

Making up for this disappointment is the humor of “Inside Out 2,” which expands on the original’s jokes in exciting and creative ways. Gags about sarcasm, nostalgia and brainstorming are clever and consistently well-timed. Surprisingly nuanced ideas also find their way to humor —  Fear’s horrified declaration that “we are … suppressed emotions!”

Lots of credit for the humor’s high success rate should go to the voice cast, which is nearly as stellar as the original. Lewis Black remains excellent as Anger, and Tony Hale is a steady replacement for Bill Hader as Fear. New emotions portrayed by Ayo Edebiri and Adèle Exarchopoulos hold their own next to stalwarts like Poehler, who turns in another impressive performance. 

Cameos from the likes of James Austin Johnson and Frank Oz use their limited screen time to create hilarious moments. It’s not all roses, though: Liza Lapira falls flat at times in her attempt to replace Mindy Kaling as Disgust.  

But the biggest standout has to be Maya Hawke’s Anxiety, turning in one of the best supporting performances in Pixar history. Portraying the typical anxiety of a teenager is an ambitious role that risks making the emotion into something stereotypical and disingenuous. Hawke takes cues from her jittery performance in “Stranger Things” to create a frenetic and appropriately nerve-racking character that she disappears into. 

This is still an “Inside Out” movie, though, so the real key lies in the concepts the screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein used to visualize the human mind. It’s delightful to report that this movie’s cleverness matches the original, with ideas such as belief systems and secrets explored in endearing ways. The new emotions are particularly impressive, with the four major new ones and their voice actors getting plenty of time to shine.

It doesn’t seem like any one concept will stick in the public’s mind in the same way that the original’s “core memories” have, but it’s a valiant attempt with some intriguing ideas. In a rush to jam these inner-mind concepts in, though, there’s a disappointing lack of real-world interactions toward the end. This movie could have used a few more minutes in the physical world, especially to tie up a couple of loose ends that didn’t quite pay off. 

There are moments where this sequel surprises with unique shot choices and mature in-jokes (there’s a running gag that Fear really, really likes Anxiety), but this is still an “Inside Out” movie through and through. It’s a testament to the original that the characters and world remain memorable and exciting nine years later, even within a new context. 

The same applies to the original’s score, whose central piano theme is just as powerful as it was nine years ago, and is thus used sparingly. When that motif is absent, though, new composer Andrea Datzman’s score doesn’t quite reach the heights of Michael Giacchino’s work from the original. 

The legacy of “Inside Out 2” is still pending, especially given its nature as a mature sequel that takes thematically challenging directions. It makes sense to create a movie about a teen’s anxiety opposing simpler emotions like joy, but it probably won’t match the near-universal relatability that the first movie’s message achieved. 

Still, it’s impressive that a sequel as good as this one was made at all — and it serves as a promising blueprint for Disney’s huge slate of prequels and sequels.

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