Movie review: ‘Inside Out 2’ delivers a heartfelt exploration of adolescence

Riley’s mind is more crowded than ever in “Inside Out 2,” as new emotions rush in and turn her adolescence into a beautifully chaotic coming-of-age story.

The original film of 2015 followed the emotions guiding a young girl named Riley: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust.

In this sequel, Riley has officially hit puberty, and it arrives swiftly with new emotions forcing their way into her mental control room: Envy, Embarrassment, Ennui (boredom), and Anxiety.

For those who remember their teenage years, the film is wonderfully, painfully relatable.

All the emotions battle for their place within Riley when, on her way to a pivotal hockey camp, she learns that her two best friends will be attending a different high school next year, leaving her alone.

Anxiety takes the wheel.

Struggling with the uncertainty of her future, Anxiety helps her decide it’s a safer bet to abandon her best friends at camp and try to get in with the older girls who are on her school’s hockey team, the Firehawks. If she makes the team, she thinks, at least she’ll have friends.

No pressure, right?

It’s all thanks to Anxiety, voiced with confliction by Maya Hawke, deeply wanting the best for Riley, but worrying too much to let Joy and the other emotions get involved.

Phyllis Smith gets some of the spotlight as Sadness, but it’s primarily a battle between Joy and Anxiety.

Isn’t it always?

Amy Poehler passionately voices Joy in her quest to survive a blitz of different emotions, ultimately reminding us that while puberty might feel like an emotional warzone, those powerful feelings are a good thing. It’s all of those emotions working together that make Riley the person she is.

And Riley’s story is sad, sweet, and sometimes fantastically silly; there are amazing puns, such as a literal brain storm of ideas and a gaping sar-chasm within Riley.

The highlight for me was when the original emotions are locked in Riley’s vault of secrets with Bloofy and Pouchy, characters from Riley’s favorite childhood TV show, who mirror those of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” Also in the vault is Lance Slashblade, a laughably underpowered video game character Riley once adored. The hilarity of the scene had me laughing from start to finish.

Interestingly, also in the vault shadows is Riley’s Deep Dark Secret, which some theorized would be that Riley is LGBTQ+ or non-binary, because her emotions are represented as male and female, while the emotions of other characters are all a single gender. Alas, the post-credit scene revealed the Deep Dark Secret to be something completely unrelated. Actually, the gender theory was debunked in 2014 by the first film’s director Pete Docter, who said the gender casting was simply who fit the emotions.

Doctor told HitFix (now Uproxx): “I would love to have some deep philosophical answer for you, but the answer is really comedy.”

I did miss a couple of the original film’s voices. Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) takes over for Bill Hader as Fear, and Liza Lapira (“The Equalizer” series) takes over for Mindy Kaling as Disgust this go around, with the original actors reportedly unhappy with their offered salary on the project. The new cast is fine, but neither’s voice or performance is as memorable as their predecessor’s.

Nevertheless, “Inside Out 2” is a beautiful movie for all ages. After a week and a half, it had become the highest-grossing film of the year, making $724.4 million globally.

It’s fitting that an animated film about so many emotions makes the audience feel so many different things. You’ll likely laugh, you may tear up, but you’re sure to feel something in the gamut of human emotion.

And that’s a good thing.


Scott McDaniel is an assistant professor of journalism at Franklin College. He lives in Bargersville with his wife and three kids.