Inside Out 2 REVIEW – Nothing But Growing Pains

Inside Out 2
Inside Out 2

Walking out of the cinema for Inside Out 2, my friend told me, “As a Psych major, that’s just not how the mind works.” She’s absolutely right; even the younger kids in the audience probably figured that out too. After all, are we really expected to believe Riley never once felt anxious, embarrassed, envious, or bored before she turned 13, or that she’ll only feel nostalgia when she’s much, much older?

However, the film’s metaphorical accuracy is the least of its problems. Inside Out 2 follows the emotions of the now 13-year-old Riley (Kensington Tallman), who gets invited to a three-day hockey camp the summer before high school starts. With Joy (Amy Poehler) now getting along swimmingly with the other emotions, the camp should be a blast, but the arrival of new emotions, especially Anxiety (Maya Hawke), threatens unwanted changes in Riley’s mind and life.

That new emotions part is pretty much the source of Inside Out 2’s biggest problems. Yes, it’s straight-up impossible to believe Riley never once felt these new emotions before she became a teenager, but more than that, adding four new characters to the mix and having to give all of them significant roles makes the whole film feel so crowded.

Pixar movies typically center on just two characters: Woody and Buzz for Toy Story, Dory and Marlin for Finding Nemo, Carl and Russel for Up, Merida and Queen Eleanor for Brave, and Arlo and Spot for The Good Dinosaur. That formula has always worked because it keeps the film focused and allows time to fully develop the two leads.

In Inside Out 2, so many characters both inside and outside of Riley’s mind are fighting for screen time, so not a single character is developed, and all the emotions save for Joy and Anxiety feel interchangeable. Some of them feel straight-up unnecessary. Envy (Ayo Edebiri), for instance, is simply there to agree with everything Anxiety says, and Fear (Tony Hale), Disgust (Liza Lapira), and Anger (Lewis Black) feel obligated to be there because of their appearance in the first film.

Speaking of the first film, Inside Out was great, largely because of its subtlety. In Inside Out 2, everything is annoyingly in-your-face. Anxiety literally traps the original five emotions in a bottle, “bottling them up,” but if that wasn’t obvious enough, Fear then says, “We’re suppressed emotions!” So many of the film’s themes and ideas are spelled out by the characters through dialogue, lest a single audience member miss out on the movie’s supposed cleverness.

This problem shows up most disappointingly through Riley’s character. Every emotion she feels, she apparently chooses to express in the most exaggerated ways possible. This character doesn’t feel like a teenager, she feels like a caricature of one. The movie suffers so much due to this — after all, why do we care how this girl feels when we don’t even care about her? How can we when she feels a lot less real than she did in the first film?

If there’s one thing Inside Out 2 has going for it, though, is that it’s fast-paced enough to not feel like such a drag. When Pixar movies are bad, they’re typically bad because they’re boring. Inside Out 2 is, at least, a quick-moving film, even if that does come at the cost of the movie being far more plot-driven than it is character-driven.

It’s a shame, because there’s no reason an Inside Out 2 had to be immediately bad. The first film, after all, is considered a masterpiece by so many, and it’s not like the movie’s ending closed it off entirely from any follow-ups. Unfortunately, Inside Out 2 is far too clustered and lackluster a sequel to be anywhere near the level of Inside Out’s greatness. Joy may be Riley’s most prominent emotion, but Pixar’s recent decline in quality, as well as all their announced sequels, makes me feel anxious most of all for the studio’s future.

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Inside Out 2
Inside Out 2 attempts to tell a tale about the messiness of puberty but ends up being extremely messy itself, with none of the realism and subtlety that made the first film so celebrated.