Surprisingly, Anxiety sometimes helps Riley in Inside Out 2. Courtesy Pixar

I was going to start this review with an accounting of the ways in which Inside Out 2 fails to reach the lofty heights of the original movie and perhaps a musing on where Pixar might go from here. These issues are certainly worth exploring, but I found the newer animated film giving me a few horrible moments of recognition about the workings of my own mind (which is not so very different from that of a teenage girl’s). Any movie that can do that has achieved something considerable.

The movie picks up with Riley Anderson (voiced by Kensington Tallman) now 13 years old and considerably taller. The puberty that brought on the growth spurt also brings a host of new emotions to the inside of her mind, led by Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke). Riley has a great game in the district hockey championship, including an are-you-kidding-me?! drop pass to assist on the winning goal which earns her an invite to a three-day skills camp with a bunch of high-school players who might be her teammates next year. With the pressure on Riley, Anxiety leads a coup against Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) and the other four core emotions, literally bottling them up so that their girl can fit in and impress the right people.

Even with Hawke missing some of the comic potential in this role, Anxiety is probably the best thing about this sequel, partly because she is never a pure villain. Not only does she help Riley navigate a tricky social encounter on the first day of camp, but she also spurs Riley to work in some extra ice time to raise her game. Still, when Anxiety drafts an army of storyboard artists to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong for Riley at camp, it gave me a chill, because that’s how my mind works. Then, too, the movie climaxes with Anxiety inducing a panic attack as Riley sits in the penalty box during the camp’s final scrimmage. I’ve never been assessed a 2-minute roughing minor for possibly injuring my best friend, but I do know all too well how panic attacks unfold. The movie has it down beautifully.


However, my professional side forces me to note that the jokes here don’t land as consistently as they did in the first movie (like the gum commercial jingle that briefly reappears here), nor is anything here as piercing as the opening of Inside Out, which never fails to reduce me to tears. The animation does delve into other drawing styles to funny effect when the original five emotions run into other characters in the style of paper cutouts, a 2D Saturday morning cartoon, and Japanese anime.

Despite these and a lovely visual of the glowing cords that make up Riley’s sense of self, the landscape of Riley’s mind isn’t as inventive here and the visual conceptions of Envy and Ennui (voiced by Ayo Edebiri and Adèle Exarchopoulos, respectively) are more memorable than anything that those characters do. The original movie is about Joy realizing that she can’t control everything in Riley’s mind, and maybe the most disappointing thing in the sequel is that she has to learn that lesson all over again. Locked in a power struggle with another emotion who’s angling for the same sort of control, Joy appears no wiser for her experiences. That’s just dull drama.

But let’s keep things in perspective. They aren’t as bad as all that. When Pixar recently announced its plan to release more sequels, animation fans unsurprisingly reacted with despair, yet last year’s Elemental was an original film, and I’ll easily take Inside Out 2 over that movie. This latest sequel from the studio has become the first bona fide hit of the summer season, and we’ve seen crowds turn out for worse animated movies. This one at least gives them some real achievements to feed their minds.

Inside Out 2
Voices by Amy Poehler and Maya Hawke. Directed by Kelsey Mann. Written by Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein. Rated PG.