17th Jun2024

‘Inside Out 2’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Features the voices of: Amy Poehler, Kensington Tallman, Maya Hawke, Lilimar, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Paul Walter Hauser, Diane Lane, Kyle McLachlan, Yvette Nicole Brown, Dave Goetz, Frank Oz, Bobby Moynihan, Paula Poundstone, John Ratzenberger, Paula Pell, Flea, June Squibb | Directed by Kelsey Mann

Back in 2015, Pixar delivered one of their best films to date with Inside Out, an inventive and powerfully moving animated comedy that imagined our lives literally being controlled by anthropomorphic emotions inside our heads. Nine years later, we finally have a sequel and while it never quite hits the emotional or comedic heights of the original, it’s a very worthy follow-up that’s well worth your time.

As before, the film centres on Minnesota schoolgirl Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman), who’s just turned 13, triggering the alarm marked “PUBERTY” inside her head. Accordingly, her ruling emotions, lead by Joy (Amy Poehler), all start to panic, particularly when a wrecking crew barge their way in and create a new console, to make way for some new emotions. These turn out to be Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and most importantly, Anxiety (Maya Hawke), who quickly takes charge, going as far as to lock up Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. “We’re suppressed emotions!”, they cry, spelling out the joke for those at the back, something the film does a few times.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, Riley is facing various problems that are literally triggering her Anxiety. On her way to Hockey Camp, she learns that her two best friends won’t be at her high school next year, so she ditches them in an attempt to curry favour with cool hockey star Valentina (Lilimar). Convinced that if she gains a spot on the team, her life will be better, Riley (fuelled by Anxiety) makes a series of increasingly bad decisions, which in turn begin to impact her personality.

It’s impossible to watch either of the Inside Out movies without marvelling at how beautifully well constructed they are, with the characters, gags, ideas, themes and emotional moments all working together in perfect harmony. To that end, the script (co-written by the original’s Meg LeFauve) does a terrific job of visually conveying some complex emotional ideas, like the way that our memories and actions shape a belief system that results in a certain type of personality, or the way our lives require more sophisticated emotions as we get older.

That said, though the world building of Riley’s emotional landscape is just as inspired as it was the first time round (one joke involving the sudden appearance of a geological feature is utterly delightful and gives the film its funniest moment), there are a couple of missed opportunities. For example, Riley’s Stream of Consciousness (an actual stream, with things floating down it) seems like it has a lot of untapped comic potential.

The voicework and character designs, however, are outstanding. Maya Hawke is the clear stand-out as Anxiety, who resembles a sort of over-excited Fraggle, all hopped up on nervous energy, but there’s strong support from Adèle Exarchopoulos as ultra-bored Ennui (“You care too much about things”), and frankly, whoever had the idea of casting her in the first place is an absolute genius who has single-handedly earned the film an extra star.

The secondary characters are a lot of fun too, including Riley’s favourite useless video game character, Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea) and, in another inspired gag, Nostalgia (June Squibb), an old lady emotion who’s quietly shooed out of Riley’s head, because it’s not her time yet.

Ultimately, though the finale concludes in satisfying fashion, narratively speaking, it’s fair to say that the film never quite delivers the emotional gut punch of the first movie, and that’s slightly frustrating, because a couple of tweaks could have got it over the line in that respect.

The only other issue is that there’s a slight hint of a cop-out, in that the film side-steps anything to do with teenage desire, other than a brief visit to Mount Crushmore in Riley’s subconscious. The script stops short of labelling Riley’s obsession with Valentina as a crush, for example, even though that’s clearly what it is.

In short, Inside Out 2 is essentially Pixar’s coming-of-age movie, and while it doesn’t quite hit the same five-star highs as its predecessor, it’s still extremely enjoyable. Oh, and stick around for both a mid-credits and a post-credits sting, if you like that sort of thing.

**** 4/5

Inside Out 2 is in cinemas now.

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