‘Inside Out 2’ Review: Pixar’s Talky, Uneventful Sequel Doesn’t Have Much Fun In Mind

“Hey, kids! Let’s go to the multiplex and check out that animated movie about a moderately talented teenage girl trying out for a place in a slightly older ice-hockey team,” said practically no American parent to the delight of their children ever. Yet this is the path that Pixar have chosen for the sequel to 2015’s Inside Out, a twee but nevertheless thoughtful film that sought to sort out the jumble of emotions inside an 11-year-old girl’s mind as she adapted to life in a strange new city. This time round, our heroine is settled in, facing another less seismic yet much more personal change when she is forced to choose between doing what might be best for her, long-term, and doing what (in the movies, at least) is right.

Although it’s been nine years since the original, Riley, now voiced by Kensington Tallman (replacing Kaitlyn Dias, one of several cast changes), has only aged two. And when the film starts, her five key emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) — are carrying on as usual, cheerleading Riley’s progress as a rising star on the ice-hockey rink. This time round, Joy, is the den mother, keeping all the others in check and prioritizing Riley’s “sense of self”, which, though it might sound abstract, is an actual, physical thing that she’s very protective of.

More from Deadline

This idyll is interrupted when a red button, previously unnoticed on Joy’s control deck, makes itself violently known, waking all the emotions in the middle of the night. Riley has turned 13, and the puberty alarm is sounding, to the consternation of the emotions — especially Anger and Sadness — who find themselves amplified to previously unknown levels. This all coincides with Riley being invited to an ice-hockey summer camp, where she will be punching above her weight with older players and is about to find out that her two best friends will be leaving her anyways to go to a different school.

To Joy’s dismay, a demolition team moves in to tear down HQ (“Pardon our dust, puberty is messy”), and in come the new team of emotions: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Anxiety — played very, very well by newcomer Hawke — makes her presence felt immediately, and her humble but pragmatic personality seems charming and even quite reasonable. But Anxiety’s needs grow, leading her to stage a coup that sends the other emotions, literally, to the back of Riley’s mind. As a result, Riley gives in to her own imagined peer pressure, ghosting her friends to curry favor with local sports star Val (Lilimar).

Which is where Inside Out 2 starts to come unstuck, since, of all the new emotions, only Ennui — “Eet’s what you would call boredom,” drawls Exarchopoulos (an inspired piece of casting, by the way) — is really anything new to a developing child. And what happens next is a long slog in such a relatively short film, as, in lieu of anything else actually happening, Joy leads her team back to take control of Riley’s emotions. You could be forgiven for thinking that this journey home will be a picaresque riot, a colorful flexing of the collective Pixar imagination, but there’s not much fun in this 13-year-old’s mind. (Really? A parade of future careers? And being a Supreme Court judge is in that mix?)

Ultimately, the battle is over the control of Riley’s conscience, but seeing as there’s never been any serious dramatic conflict in this kind of family fare since High School Musical did away with it altogether, it’s pretty clear where a Disney production is going to go with that. So, really, you end up with a movie about a teenage girl playing junior-league ice hockey, while a lot of excitable animated characters — yellow, blue, green, whatever — chatter on and on about it.

But what you don’t get, sadly, is any sense of thought, which, by now, Riley should be capable of assembling. While it does suggest that Riley’s emotions combine in ways that guide her, Inside Out 2 stops short of assembling emotions into intelligence. Which might sound like a harsh takeaway for what’s essentially a kids’ movie, but the result is that Riley just doesn’t seem to have any agency of her own; she’s more like the malleable chef in Ratatouille than the kind-hearted flesh-and-blood teen her emotions have to keep telling us she is.

Battle-weary parents of surly teens will have some fun here and there, especially when Ennui’s blasé influence opens up a “sar-chasm” in Riley’s brain that makes everything sound, well, sarcastic. But, when all’s said and done, the stakes are so minor, it’s hard to imagine anyone will leave this desperate to see an Inside Out 3.

Title: Inside Out 2
Distributor: Disney
Release date: June 14, 2024
Director: Kelsey Mann
Screenwriter: Meg LeFauve, Dave Holstein
Cast: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Ayo Edebiri, Paul Walter Hauser, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Lilimar
Running time: 1 hr 36 min

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.