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REVIEW: Inside Out 2 (2024) dir. Kelsey Mann

Pixar's latest doesn't overthink it

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While nowhere near as metaphorically brainbreaking as Elemental or Cars, Inside Out 2 is not exactly the film capable of dragging Pixar out of its creative collapse. It’ll certainly help with the box office slump, of course, but Inside Out 2 is a mostly flavorless retread of the pretty good original with a few inspired bits of character animation and plot. Due to the blood oath I made as a child (do not trust a faerie), I am bound by the old ways to bear witness to each Pixar film and consider how they add to the animation studio’s legacy as high quality, imaginative, and culture-defining. With the exceptions of Luca and Turning Red, there hasn’t been much of that lately. Inside Out 2 greatly suffers in comparison to Turning Red. That film is a totally fleshed out story of puberty-induced mania, where Inside Out 2 tries a bit too hard to be universal and ends up generic. It’s another Disney/Pixar production which forces me to ask, “What exactly are kids getting out of this one? Is it not for them?”

Riley Andersen (Kensington Tallman) has just turned 13, and the emotions in her head are about to be thrown for a loop. Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale, replacing Bill Hader because they offered him about $4), and Disgust (Lisa Lapira, replacing Mindy Kaling for the same reason as Hader) have enjoyed watching Riley grow and discover things about herself, including her personal beliefs. Of course, being a teenager is no easy task; fortunately, a new crop of emotions arrive at headquarters to help out. Led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke), these new emotions throw Joy and her crew for a loop, throwing Riley’s sense of self into turmoil just as she’s heading to a weekend hockey camp with cool high schoolers.

The new batch consists of the hyperactive and Muppet-y Anxiety, tiny and winsome Envy (Ayo Edebiri), the shy Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and lazy and dry Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos, somehow). Their goal: make Riley seem cool in front of the older hockey girls so she has a fighting chance of joining the high school team. A stronger film would understand that Riley clearly has a crush on the lead girl, but we’re far more focused on her newly developed anxiety disorder. Anxiety is prone to flipping out about problems that haven’t happened yet, willing to sacrifice everything Riley thinks she is in order to become a winner. This includes her original emotions, which Anxiety throws in a jar and sends to a vault of Riley’s deepest secrets. 

Though the midsection repeats many of the same beats as the original film, the sequel luckily puts a different spin on the Bing Bong character. A Blue’s Clues-esque character called Bloofy (Ron Funches) provides some laughs, but fortunately does not accompany the emotions on their journey to the back of the mind. He is rendered in 2D animation, while a video game heartthrob called Lance Slashblade comes right out of a PS1 game with the movement and texture of Xavier Renegade Angel. These moments of experimentation with form are the most interesting to watch, especially compared to the drab hockey rink Riley spends most of the film skating around.

The most technologically impressive aspect of the film might be the stunningly animated sweat running down the faces of every hockey girl. While I don’t love looking at Pixar humans, they’ve managed to claw their way out of the uncanny valley enough to not be totally upsetting. The sweat no longer just looks like a shiny texture and feels as real as the ocean in Nemo. Similarly, the emotions’ hair starts to look frazzled and off model as the world of Riley’s mind is thrown into chaos. But for all these advancements, they couldn’t have moved the single pimple on Riley’s chin whenever they showed her in flashbacks? How hard would it have been to update the model there?

But I digress. Inside Out 2 comes close enough to success that it is going to make $800 million worldwide, but does not quite cross over into “we will be thinking about this film six months from now”. It is not a hideous disaster like Lightyear; it is closer to Finding Dory with a bit more grace. Pixar needs to start taking more risks, not backing away from them. Maybe instead of having this film use hockey as a backdrop, maybe try to make a full sports movie? And when we inevitably get Inside Out 3, they are going to have to admit that teenagers get horny. Turning Red was brave enough to make this the entire focus of the film, why can’t Riley get in on the fun? Maybe her head would look less like an open floor plan office if she rocked out a bit.

Inside Out 2
2024
Dir. Kelsey Mann
100 min

In theaters now

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