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Inside Out 2

As we drove to the theater to see Pixar’s INSIDE OUT 2, my family and I discussed the release of the original. I was shocked to realize that it debuted in 2015. It seemed impossible that the film we watched and loved as a family was released nearly a decade ago, and the repeated viewings of the modern classic have spanned most of my kids’ childhood.  

Though the character of Riley (Kensington Tallman) hasn’t aged quite as significantly in this delightful and emotionally resonant sequel, its target audience has. Many of those, like the kids in my very own car, have now experienced and battled many of the complex and intense emotions that are introduced this time around. Similar to many of the great Pixar films that came before it, it obliterates the antiquated notion that “cartoons are for kids,” delivering a story that will impact virtually every viewer, regardless of age. 

After winning the championship hockey game, Riley and her best friends Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grace Lu) are invited to a summer hockey camp that will be run by the high school coach. This is an opportunity for them to not only make an impression but possibly make the team as freshman. Riley’s emotions Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), Disgust (Liza Lapira), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) are elated by the opportunity and know that Riley is going to prove to everyone just how great she can be.  

On the eve of camp, however, everything changes. The “puberty” button suddenly starts to flash, and life will never be the same. Suddenly, new emotions Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Envy (Ayo Adebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Anxiety (Maya Hawke) are in the mix. There is also a new emotion board, and every single action is amplified. The timing certainly isn’t great, as Riley wants nothing more than to make the varsity hockey squad. To make matters worse, on the way to camp, she discovers that Bree and Grace are going to be attending a different high school than her, so this will likely be the last weekend they will ever play on the same team again. Pair all of this with the fact that Riley wants to impress her idol and super-cool team captain Val Ortiz (Lilimar), and things are bound to get very, very complicated.

INSIDE OUT 2 tackles the complexity of pubescent adolescence with humor and intelligence, finding ways to strike a chord with every member of its audience. For younger kids it’s funny because they think they know what’s going to happen as they age, for teenagers, it’s funny because they are going through variations of the issues presented, and for parents, it’s funny because not only did they go through it all, but now they are watching their kids do the same. It’s a movie that means something different to everyone, yet somehow has common ground for all.  

As always, the animation is dazzling, and sequences that we couldn’t imagine existing when TOY STORY was released in 1995 are now so commonplace that they can be taken for granted. Yet with the constant use of bold, beautiful, vibrant colors set amidst a world of pure imagination, each scene is an artistic wonder.

Tackling such complex emotions is certainly a risky venture. The painful reality is that many families struggle to deal with many of the emotions presented in INSIDE OUT 2. Sure, we are getting the Pixar/Disney version of these emotions, and there will undoubtedly be those who believe that they shouldn’t be explored at all within an animated family film. Utilizing humor, heart, tenderness, and thoughtfulness, INSIDE OUT 2 shows that it’s okay to have these feelings and it is natural to struggle to understand and deal with them. Anxiety takes center stage, as expected, and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t belittle the very real complexities of this particular emotion that impacts so many in today’s society. There are humorous moments to be certain, but Riley’s well-being and the actions fueled by Anxiety are incredibly relatable.  It will no doubt speak to kids in a way that other mediums cannot, and yet another reason why Pixar remains one of the most revolutionary and impactful studios in filmmaking today.

INSIDE OUT 2: A

Now playing in theaters. 

Brian Miller