Inside Out 2 review: a family movie that combines surreal comedy and race-against-time adventure

Inside Out 2 doesn't quite reach the heights of the original film but is a lot of fun

Inside Out 2 emotions looking scared as they meet a new character
(Image: © Disney)

Early Verdict

Pixar delivers fun, adventure and touching psychological insights with this clever sequel to the animation studio's brilliant 2015 film.


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    Makes inventive use of its predecessor’s conceits

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    Terrific voice cast and dazzling animation

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    Provides humorous insights into adolescence


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    Can’t match the impact of the original

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    Race-against-time quest is a bit too similar

Pixar's brilliant 2015 animated movie Inside Out brought a young girl's growing pains to life with dazzling wit and tender wisdom — and immediately established itself in the top rank of the studio's films. A hard act to follow, then. Nine years on, the sequel pulls it off. 

Inside Out 2 reprises its predecessor's vivid central conceit that five personified emotions live inside the head of a girl named Riley, guiding her feelings from a knob-laden control desk and processing her new memories as they arrive at their headquarters in the form of bowling-type balls colored according to mood. In the previous story, wide-eyed, permanently buoyant Joy (marvelously voiced by Amy Poehler) and her colleagues, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness, were plunged into crisis after 11-year-old Riley found herself uprooted from Minnesota to San Francisco. The turmoil of the move to a new home and school triggered a crisis that led to Joy and droopy, owlish Sadness (Phyllis Smith) being ejected from their headquarters and faced with the challenge of making their way back from the outer reaches of Riley’s mindscape in order to prevent further disaster.

The new film raises the stakes still higher as Riley (now voiced by Kensington Tallman) turns 13 and wakes up with a zit on her chin. Puberty has struck. Cue panic stations in HQ for Joy and co. as a siren sounds, a red light flashes and a crew of construction workers arrives to tear down the old headquarters and install a new console to handle the tumult of adolescence. Even more alarmingly, a new set of personified emotions — Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment and Ennui — now turns up in Riley’s hormone-surging brain.

Anxiety, an orange-coloured, frazzled looking emotion

(Image credit: Disney Pixar)

Riley, an ice-hockey star on her middle-school team, is about to move up to high school and hopes to make a good enough impression at a forthcoming three-day hockey camp to make her new school's team, the Fire Hawks. She has just learned, however, that her best friends, Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grae Lu), will be attending a different school. At the hockey camp, should she disloyally cut her old friends loose and strive to ingratiate herself with the older Fire Hawks girls? Is she cool enough to be their friend? And is she a good enough player to make their team?

With all this going on it is no wonder that Anxiety, a toothy, bug-eyed, frazzled orange figure voiced with manic nervous energy by Maya Hawke, should now supplant Joy as Riley’s dominant emotion. Worse follows as Anxiety jettisons Riley's old Sense of Self and ejects Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, exiling them to the Vault where suppressed emotions are locked up. Can Joy and her companions escape the Vault, retrieve Riley's former Sense of Self and make their way back to HQ before her Belief System (depicted as glowing strands of light) is altered for good?

Once again the Pixar team — headed by director Kelsey Mann, here stepping into the shoes of the first film’s director, Pete Docter — have managed to deliver a family movie that combines surreal comedy and race-against-time adventure with heart-tugging psychological insights. Inside Out 2 can't, understandably, match the impact its predecessor originally made, but it does make freshly inventive use of the earlier film's clever conceits, coming up with a string of humorous visual metaphors and jokey puns for the workings of the brain and the raging emotions of adolescence. (Look out for a whirling brainstorm and the canyon-sized Sar-Chasm.) The new characters, including awkward, hulking Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), constantly blushing pink and hiding himself in his hoodie, and languid Ennui, voiced with studied Gallic disdain by Blue Is the Warmest Colour's Adèle Exarchopoulos, make a vivid impact, while the animation is, if anything, even more dazzlingly crafted than before.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.