‘Inside Out 2’ Review: More Emotions, Less Feels

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Inside Out 2, a return to the world that delivered a big, emotional, Pixar hit, although there are more mixed feelings this time around.
User Rating: 6

2015’s Inside Out was a smash-hit original from Pixar Animation. I can’t say I was as fond of it as the many others who would line it up alongside the various classic Pixar features, but I get it. A sequel made plenty of sense. Adolescent Riley was going to keep growing, so, of course, there were more opportunities to see further adventures with her emotions. Inside Out 2 delivers on the next logical step for her (puberty), resulting in another zany trip inside her mind. The results, however, didn’t quite give me the feels I would have hoped for. Coming from a studio that tends to match the eye rolls regarding news of a sequel with quality follow-ups, it’s an underwhelming result but still pleasant enough in spots and surely satisfying for those more closely aligned with Riley.

Set shortly after the events of the first film, Riley (Kensington Tallman stepping in for Kaitlyn Dias) has just turned 13 and is about to enter high school. Her emotions, Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), and Disgust (Liza Lapira), are all in alignment as far as building Riley’s strong sense of self (literally realized as a glowing MacGuffin).

All are upset when the puberty alarm goes off, and new emotions arrive as interlopers. This includes Anxiety (Maya Hawke), who puts in the most effort to change up what Joy and the gang have worked so hard to perfect. As all this is happening, Riley is spending the last few days with her best friends at a Hockey Camp, where she also hopes to befriend a Senior hockey player and potential new friend group. These are highly emotional times, to say the least.

inside out 2

See Also: ‘Luca’ Review: The Shape Of Pixar

There’s something about this world that I don’t seem to respond to, and it’s in regards to the expressions of Riley in the real world matched against how the emotions function. In spots, this makes sense to me, and whenever the films cut to what’s going on in the heads of others, it’s a real treat. Minor moments also track to me, as there are clearly relatable aspects of what’s taking place at play. It’s only when I think about what it would be like if I watched Riley separately from all of the emotions’ activities that I seem to be overthinking the logic of the world inside her mind.

Okay, but clearly, writers Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein, and director Kelsey Mann (let alone Pete Docter, director of the first film) have thought about this much more than I have. Say that’s not an issue, and it’s more of me being petty. I can accept that, but what do we have left in this sequel? Well, despite the novel approach of saying that puberty means a bunch of new emotions will be coming into play, I don’t think the film quite grasps how to better represent an overcrowding of feelings beyond ways that feel (much like the first film) plot contrivances to push forward drama. We may be inside the body, but the story doesn’t feel all that organic. Not helping is that we follow Joy, who seems to be repeating the lessons she has already learned (acceptance of new emotions, Riley must grow, etc.).

inside out 2

Surely there are some redeeming values though, as this is Pixar, after all. Yes, this is true. While not an obvious leap in visual quality, there’s still stellar animation work taking place to fully realize this imaginative world. Between this film, Soul, and Elemental, I hope we can see more of a jump into something that feels truly aesthetically different at some point soon, but it’s not like Pixar isn’t delivering with what they accel at. With that in mind, while Andrea Datzman provides a fine score to accompany the colorful imagery, Michael Giacchino’s liveliness is missed.

Comedy-wise, this film has its share of jokes. I have my preferred areas as far as which Pixar toons deliver the humor that makes me laugh more than others. Still, there are some good gags in here, such as a childhood TV show character and a video game reference that felt entirely like a joke designed for me. I wish the visuals had gone further in this regard, as the original film felt like it had more of a spark to nail some creative ideas that led to big laughs. By comparison, I thought we were revisiting what we were more or less used to this time around. The “Sar-Casm,” however – A+ idea.

If I’m going to examine all the feels, I suppose the other notable aspect of any Pixar film comes down to how much each one attempts to make the adults cry while the kids enjoy whatever goofy, colorful thing the film throws at them next. Inside Out 2 didn’t need a Bing Bong to win me over, but the lack of any real emotional climax was felt. I see the spots intended to poke at some dry eyes in the theater, but I can’t say these were hitting me.

It calls into question how demographics may make a difference. Still, I also didn’t need to be a fish with PTSD to understand the emotions involved in letting my handicapped fish child go out on his own to help others. Yes, as an adult, I wasn’t seemingly letting Inside Out 2 get to me, but I know how this studio works and have been happy to submit to their machinations plenty of times in the past. Perhaps being taken inside of the mind just isn’t the way to hit me.

inside out 2

Outside of teasing attempts at making grown-ups ugly cry next to their kids, I will say Inside Out 2 has a few moves that hit on what it means to have anxiety and how it can rub up against joy, sadness, fear, etc. Perhaps more effort to keep these characters in close proximity would have led to some more enlightening bits. Still, I can accept that these films aren’t about to feature a surplus of deeper discussions. Still, even if I’m coming from a place of trying to take the good that’s here, despite not being so enamored with this world, I can see the work being done and appreciate it.

Mixed feelings is about right, but who knows what will be next for Riley and this gang of moods. As it stands, from dystopian garbage dumps to Parisian restaurants, I may have other areas of the Pixar-verse that I’ve liked visiting more, but Inside Out 2 is not without its charms. I only wish I felt more in sync with what it aims to deliver.

Inside Out 2 is now playing in theaters and IMAX.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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