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‘Inside Out 2’ review: Pixar recontextualizes puberty

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Inside Out 2’ review: Pixar recontextualizes puberty

INSIDE OUT 2. Pixar releases the sequel to their 2015 animated hit 'Inside Out.'

Pixar's YouTube

While the four new emotions introduce fun and inventive layers to Riley's brain, the core structure of 'Inside Out 2' is nothing but a retread

This review contains minor spoilers.

I was 14 years old when the first Inside Out was released. Back then, I probably had a cursory understanding of what anxiety and envy meant. I chalked up boredom and embarrassment as flaws, not as parts of my identity. Watching this film now, as a soon-to-be 23-year-old, I wish I had known better.

Pixar excels at recontextualizing concepts that we now understand much better. The first film is surprising because, as our younger selves, we likely didn’t realize that moving to another place would cause such a monumental shift in emotion. I didn’t think much about leaving home myself; in fact, much like Riley, I was excited.

Inside Out deconstructs these unkempt feelings in simpler, psychological terms. Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are all easy to understand, lend themselves to compelling storytelling, and allow us to reflect on our lives with nuance and empathy. It’s a moving watch for parents and even more crucial viewing for kids.

Where Inside Out 2 shines is in its newfound lessons. Riley is now 13 years old, has developed new beliefs, and is about to throw herself headfirst into a tornado of hormones and contradictions known to many as high school. It’s an instantly recognizable time of crisis.

Questions like “How do we gain new friends?” or “How can I be perceived as more cool?” have, in one shape or another, become the center of our young teenage lives. As grown-ups, we may find these questions childish or immature, but in reality, having a film acknowledge that these emotions were misunderstood is a crucial step toward making them feel less opaque.

While the power of a film like this can’t be denied, it is also worth evaluating whether it achieves a finer execution than its predecessor. By all accounts, the first film already distinguishes itself with its structure and emotional arc.

Joy and Sadness are pulled from headquarters and must find their way back. Meanwhile, Riley experiences unexpected changes, behaving in ways that are unlike her usual self. As her world begins to fall apart, Joy comes to understand that it is just as important to feel sadness as it is to experience joy, recognizing both as integral parts of Riley’s identity.

What does this sequel bring to the table? Like it or not, the exact same thing. The unexpected change is puberty, which brings about four new emotions led by Anxiety: Envy, Embarrassment, and Ennui. These new emotions introduce fun and inventive layers to Riley’s brain, such as sarcasm, brainstorms, and a secret vault filled with new gags likely inspired by the Spider-Verse films.

But if we strip away these gimmicks, the core structure of Inside Out 2 is nothing but a retread. Joy must journey back to headquarters and learn another lesson along the way. Riley must undergo a radical transformation and gain a much more complex understanding of her sense of self. In the end, Joy synthesizes her status quo with a new norm, offering kids valuable insights they can apply in their own lives.

Perhaps the biggest mistake this film makes is separating Joy and Anxiety, or at the very least, making Joy and the original crew’s departure so sudden. Moreover, the distillation of the film’s events into three days seems limiting, given the numerous potentials that other days — and more fruitful interactions with the parents — could have provided.

Maya Hawke does a fantastic job as Anxiety, as does Ayo Edebiri as Envy, and Paul Walter Hauser and Adèle Exarchopoulos in their brief turns as Embarrassment and Ennui, respectively. This is why it’s such a shame that Amy Poehler and company (including the talented Fil-Am actress Liza Lapira as the new voice of Disgust) are not afforded the opportunity to develop a dynamic repertoire of scenes, aside from a few moments at the start.

Effective scenes revolve around Riley’s interactions with her friends Bree and Grace. Riley’s admonishment and lashing out at them are cringe-inducing, not least because these are familiar moments we’ve all encountered, recreated with biting accuracy. What happens outside her head often becomes more interesting than what’s occurring inside, a balance the first film managed much better.

In fact, the film’s depiction of a panic attack is remarkably authentic. For Filipinos, this representation is especially significant, as it underscores that mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or any emotional crisis can affect someone as young as Riley. These struggles are real, not merely a passing phase or “gawa-gawa lang.”

Of course, being a retread of the first won’t necessarily sway one to dislike this film. While Joy’s attempt to control headquarters and shape Riley’s identity may strike some as a recycled narrative, the familiar stakes conjure depth that might still resonate with certain viewers.

But if we’re being honest, this is Pixar playing it safe, likely a reaction to the box office failures of Lightyear and Elemental in recent years. However, we should expect more from them. They shouldn’t rely on the safety net of Disney+, assuming these animated films will succeed on streaming platforms regardless. Pixar should aim higher and take the creative risks that once defined their storytelling brilliance.

This is the same studio that gave us Ratatouille, among many outlandish and original ideas that stick not because they are familiar but because they are different. Cars was a very back-to-basics, rural sports movie, and whatever your opinion is on Cars 2, I’m still glad that they went in a wildly different direction, turning it into a spy espionage story of mistaken identity.

Inside Out 2 is an undeniably important and educational film, but if this is a bellwether for Pixar’s future prospects, then its creative daring seems to be waning. – Rappler.com

‘Inside Out 2’ is now showing in Philippine cinemas nationwide.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.