‘Inside Out 2’: Here Come Envy, Ennui, Embarrassment, Anxiety — and Disappointment?

Film Review: Sequel lacks emotional heart of original.

An 'Inside Out 2' display at a special screening of the movie at El Capitan Theatre on June 13, 2024 in Los Angeles, Calif.
An 'Inside Out 2' display at a special screening of the movie at El Capitan Theatre on June 13, 2024 in Los Angeles, Calif. (photo: Michael Tullberg / Getty )

At the end of the Pixar film Inside Out back in 2015, Riley Anderson collides with a boy. He drops his water bottle. Riley cheerfully picks it up for him. The boy is frozen, aghast. Girl alert! The camera pushes into his brain. His emotions are running rampant. Girl … Girl …Girl …

Riley gives the boy one last look and a smile before skating on to the ice for her hockey match. Her journey as a middle schooler moving from Minnesota to San Francisco and the strain it puts on herself and her relationship with her mom and dad are at the core of Inside Out. It was a creative and financial success, claiming the Oscar for “Best Animated Film” of its year.

Almost a decade later, the anticipated sequel is at last here. Riley’s central emotion, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), is again at the helm. When the film first opens on Riley, she is on the ice rink again, locked in, happy and content. Riley goes to sleep that night at peace with herself, her family, friends and her life.

Then the puberty “alarm” hits.

We knew this was coming, of course. And yet there was more conveyed about changing bodies and unusual emotions in those seconds with the boy at the end of the first film than for most of Inside Out 2. And that’s unfortunate, because something of this magnitude has the opportunity to truly impact its young viewers. When Pixar and Disney talk, for better or ill, the little ones listen.

Amid its blockbuster opening, there has been talk of the film’s purported “woke” inclusions, which we’ll address later, but I did not detect overt or even covert “wokeism.” My gripes are elsewhere. It’s always somewhat unfair to compare sequels to the original, but when the title is Inside Out 2, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons. The old emotions are still with us. Along with Joy, there’s Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. They are totally thrown off when new emotions are added. In one of the most creatively realized parts of the film, the puberty alert is followed by an army of construction workers who storm into the emotion console ready to demo and make way for the new emotions: Envy, Ennui, Embarrassment and, most importantly, Anxiety.

The original Inside Out was a dazzling emotional journey brimming with creative ideas centered around a very-well-realized 12-year-old. Inside Out 2 is not so much a retread — it certainly banks on your familiarity with the first film — but the plot itself is not as fully formed or interesting as either the original or what this could have been. And when you’re dealing with the chaos of being 13, there should be no lack of ideas to explore. Rather, we have a fairly-by-the-numbers plot that boils down to Riley torn between appealing to the older kids or retaining her genuine friendships with girls her own age.

The film tries to have it both ways, and that’s just not really how it works in real life. Most of the story is set during a weekend hockey camp, featuring incoming prospects and established high-school veterans. This is an environment that should be riddled with emotional minefields, but there is a frustrating lack of conflict. There are some requisite peer-pressure moments, but nothing substantial. There is no consequence to Riley sneaking into the coach’s office. Riley’s friends, Grace and Bree, are surprisingly passive as they watch Riley gravitate to the older hockey players.

This brings us to one of the questions generating chatter online: Is the film suggesting Riley’s “crush” is the rising-senior hockey star Valentina “Val” Ortiz? Riley gushes over Val, stuttering and fawning over her like a Woody Allen character. But is this evidence of a “crush”? Besides, the film actually takes pains with some labored humor to depict Riley’s past crushes — all of whom are boys, etched onto “Mount Crushmore.”

Remember, Riley is still in middle school. She will be joining Val’s high school that fall, making her three years younger than Val and her friends. Anyone who remembers high-school dynamics knows it is very unlikely for a popular group of varsity athletes to befriend a freshman — let alone a 13-year-old who hasn’t even started high school yet.

Let me put it this way: My Catholic high school was a Midwest athletic powerhouse. As a freshman, I gawked at the “legends” who were seniors, young men who would go on to play at Michigan, Ohio State and the New Orleans Saints. At this time, we did a compare and contrast in our freshman theology class about the emotional, physical and spiritual differences between a freshman and senior. These two groups are worlds apart, and the most confusing part of Inside Out 2 is how lazily the film addresses that fact.

It should be noted that Pete Docter, who directed and co-wrote the first Inside Out, does not return for this one. He is, however, chief creative officer at Pixar, so he was certainly involved in the film’s development and production. But the personal ties he had with the material — basing the first Inside Out on his daughter — is sorely absent here.

Finally, much has also been made about Riley’s “Deep Dark Secret,” which we glimpse only briefly. This also sparked rumors. What might Riley be hiding? Is it related to her “crush” on Val?

I dare not spoil what the Deep Dark Secret is. You have to wait until the post-credits sequence. But I will say that what the Deep Dark Secret is revealed to be is somewhat of a letdown — and that, unfortunately, encapsulates the whole of Inside Out 2.

Viewer Caveat

Rated PG for thematic material.