Inside Out 2: This terrific, high-stakes sequel proves Pixar’s still a force to be reckoned with

Inside Out 2
Inside Out 2 - Disney/Pixar

Even five years ago, it would have been impossible to picture, either drawn in CG or by hand. But in 2024 – two decades after reinvigorating an entire medium – Pixar Animation Studios find themselves with everything to prove.

Since Covid, the one-time jewel in Disney’s portfolio has been tarnished by a conflux of ills. Some, like 2022’s dreary and cynical Lightyear (the studio’s first out-and-out bomb), were self-inflicted. But others – such as the ruinous shovelling of their most exciting new works onto Disney+, reducing them from cinematic events to bonus content – were imposed from on high, and borne through gritted teeth.

How to correct course? Partly, the hope seems to be, with a sequel to Inside Out – Pete Docter’s cash-and-awards-magnetising 2015 masterpiece, and arguably the film that most perfectly distilled everything the studio did best.

But isn’t this just a retreat into past glories? Aren’t there still original ideas out there to be had? The answers provided by Inside Out 2 to both questions are a smiling “Yes, but…”. Crucially, Kelsey Mann’s film, co-written by returning screenwriter Meg LeFauve, gets Pixar back to doing what they always did best: juggling big concepts in fun and ingenious but also surprisingly wise and moving ways. (One vintage Pixar trait it successfully revives is the power of its final 15 minutes to cause older viewers to tear through half a pocket-pack of Kleenex.)

Yet it’s also ironically well-suited to a studio weathering an awkward transition out of its young-hotshot years. Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman) is now a teenager in the first throes of puberty, with a new squad of emotions ready to take up residence inside her head. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust may have steered her right through childhood. But now – just in time for a hockey camp before high school begins – it’s time for Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment and Ennui to take the reins. Ennui speaks in the low, sullen tones of the French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos, which is the sort of casting choice that earns a film four stars by itself.

Joy (Amy Poehler) and the rest of the A-team are summarily bottled up at the back of Riley’s mind, from where a return journey involves crossing a vast and deadly landscape of clever cognitive metaphors. That was also more or less the format of the first film, but the cast-iron ontological brilliance of Docter’s original premise bears expansion well.

Again, all sorts of complex, challenging ideas aren’t just literalised, but turned into adventure playgrounds. Riley’s beliefs, for instance, are shown as threads growing out of a pool of formative experiences, which converge in a knot in the centre of her self. Other facets of her psyche become reverse-engineered puns, such as a stream of consciousness that’s an actual stream, in which half-formed thoughts bob past.

Meanwhile, the animators lend the film’s out and inside worlds excitingly different textures and vibes. The first is captured realistically, with a mobile, inquisitive camera; the second like a studio sitcom, all stagey dazzle and gloss. Perhaps very young viewers – say, under-eights – might not relate to Riley’s adolescent struggles quite so keenly as her childhood ones, but the zippy adventure of it all should still keep them glued. It may be some time in the Hollywood animation world since Pixar was the only show in town. But on form, they remain a vital one.


U cert, 96 min.  In cinemas now