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Inside Out 2—A Predictable Exploration of the Teenage Mind

Inside Out 2 movie poster

Back in 2015 Pixar released Inside Out, a film centered on the core emotions of a young girl named Riley. It quickly became a massive critical and financial hit. Everyone everywhere was talking about it. In fact, it was so lauded that it became what many (including myself) consider to be one of Pixar’s best films. So it’s only fitting that Inside Out got a sequel. And here comes the most dreaded question that every sequel gets asked: does it honor the first film while doing something completely new?

Riley is now entering high school. After learning that her middle school friends are going to different high schools (and won’t be on the same hockey team anymore), she develops a few more core emotions: Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy and Ennui (Boredom). Anxiety quickly introduces herself to Joy as the new leader during these difficult times as Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust are all apprehensive towards these new emotions. Joy believes that Anxiety’s way of running things is not good for Riley’s character. Not wanting Joy and her friends getting in the way, Anxiety casts them out from their HQ as she destroys Riley’s core character tree and begins forming Riley’s new character.

Joy and Anxiety in Inside Out 2

I think we can agree that puberty was a hard and awkward time for all of us. You’ve got sudden mood swings, acne all over your face and unbelievable growth spurts. And of course, there’s high school and the tribulations that come with navigating it. During this time, we are all typically brimming with anxiety. And Inside Out 2 sees how anxiety tends to make us overthink everything we do or say. At first, Anxiety is helping Riley think before acting on her first day at hockey camp and even helps her plan out her future friends in high school. But as the film progresses, she begins to do more harm than good. For example, she makes Riley ditch her middle school friends in order to hang out with the popular crowd, encourages her to partake in illegal activities and even making her doubt her own abilities. Although some self-doubt can help push you to improve, too much of it damages your self-confidence and can even induce panic attacks, which we later witness Riley experience.  

Much like the first film, we see Joy explore the entirety of Riley’s brain, although this time she has the other emotions with her instead of just Sadness. We also get to see much more of the schematics of Riley’s mindscape. We see where her dark secrets and repressed memories are kept and even how Anxiety shapes her imagination to think up of absolute worst case scenarios to keep her awake at night. But most importantly, we are introduced to the development of her character represented by a tree. At the beginning of the film, her character tree is carefully curated by Joy and the other emotions to create a perfect image of what she should be. However, after Anxiety rips her old character tree out and begins to sow the seeds of her new character, Riley goes from believing that she is a good person to believing that she’s not good enough. And this is shown through the designs of the trees themselves. Her old tree glows a pale shade of cyan and has a smooth appearance, while the tree grown by Anxiety is dark orange and jagged.

Inside Out 2 Core Tree

Speaking of the other emotions, I do like how every one of the main core emotions is given complexity. For example, Anger isn’t always explosively angry and actually cares for Joy and the others. He even goes out of his way to encourage Joy when she emotionally breaks down. Additionally, we see Disgust display a romantic side when she meets Lance Slashblade (a Cloud Strife knock off who was Riley’s childhood crush). Even Fear exhibits some form of courage when he saves the other emotions from falling to their deaths. Finally, I can’t help but mention Joy’s moments of despair, especially her line “maybe you just feel less joy as you get older.” It’s a really well-written line that resonates with everyone because as we get older, we often do feel less joy the more stressful our lives get.   

My only major complaint is that the story’s template is exactly the same as that of the first film. The two plots literally feel like a copy and paste of each other. Joy and at least one other emotion get kicked out of HQ, they journey across Riley’s mindscape, run into a grab bag of other characters that either help or hinder them all while Riley’s personality undergoes a dramatic shift. Even the ending is relatively similar to that of the original. While this doesn’t destroy the film, it really makes it unoriginal and predictable. I understand that Pixar and Disney wanted a winner since both Pixar’s Elemental and Disney’s Wish were considered failures. But this is my exact same complaint I had with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Disney is afraid of trying something new and it often bites them in the ass. While Inside Out 2 broke box office records for both Pixar and Disney, I am rather concerned that Pixar will be going for more of these formulaic movie plots that are focused on purely driving up revenue rather than telling a creative story.

Anxiety from Inside Out 2

With how financially successful Inside Out 2 is, I fully expect a sequel. I only hope that the sequel will be more original while exploring the threads the film left unanswered. However, with Pixar’s track record of late, I remain skeptical. Is Inside Out 2 a bad film? No, far from it. The new emotions (particularly Anxiety) are depicted realistically that fit perfectly within the scope of how puberty affects your brain chemistry. But that being said, the film is far from the best that a powerhouse animation studio like Pixar can make. They have made so many unique stories full of rich characters and original ideas. So whenever I see a mediocre film amongst their repertoire, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. For those who enjoyed the first Inside Out, you’ll probably like this movie as much. But for those who wanted a unique film, you might have to keep looking.

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