Pixar’s Inside Out 2 Captures What I Felt Like As A Teenager With Anxiety, And Everyone Needs To See It

 Anxiety in Inside Out.
Credit: Pixar

Spoilers for Inside Out 2 lie ahead. If you haven’t seen the sequel that's on the 2024 movie schedule, you can catch it in theaters now. 

As hard as it is to rank the best Pixar films, Inside Out has always been my favorite. When the first trailer for Inside Out 2 was released and introduced Anxiety as a new emotion, I knew I was headed for another emotional journey. I had high hopes going into the new movie and, somehow, it managed to exceed all of them. Just like the first film, the follow-up tells a carefully crafted story about how our emotions affect us. As someone who struggled with anxiety as a teenager in high school, I can honestly say that the Maya Hawke-voiced character made me feel seen, and that is just one reason why people need to go see the movie in theaters.

Judging by the phenomenal opening box office numbers for Inside Out 2, I’m far from the only one who went out to see the movie this past weekend. The hour-and-a-half film is really a coming-of-age story that follows Riley as she once again grapples with monumental changes in her life. I think everyone can relate to the struggles Riley faces in the movie, even if you’ve never dealt with anxiety. But there were certain moments that made me feel as though I had traveled back in time and was watching my teenage self on screen. Pixar may not have set out to cater to people like me specifically when making this film, but I can’t help but feel like I was the target audience.

The emotions in the trailer for Inside Out 2.
The emotions in the trailer for Inside Out 2.

How Inside Out 2 Captured My Experiences With Anxiety As A Teenager

Anxiety manifests differently for everyone who deals with it but, the minute she was introduced in the film, I knew this was the emotion running things in my own head. What was even more relatable was that Riley was dealing with this emotion without formally getting diagnosed with it — something I myself have yet to do.

One of the key scenes that resonated with me happens about halfway through the film. Anxiety has taken over as Riley’s primary emotion and has begun to spiral, taking over the teen’s imagination. Instead of letting her get to sleep and escape to a wholesome dreamworld that once conjured up widely mourned imaginary friend Bing Bong, Anxiety has the Mind Works in Imagination Land working overtime. Instead of rainbows and sunshine, they imagine horrendous scenarios that could happen to Riley during the big hockey scrimmage that she feels will determine her high school future.

I can’t even begin to estimate how many nights I spent laying awake in bed, running through what-if scenarios about big life moments that only got worse and worse. It’s in our nature to worry about our choices and how others will perceive us but, with Anxiety at the helm, it takes on a world of its own.

More On Inside Out 2

From left to right: Riley smiling in Inside Out 2 and Maya Hawke looking to her left and smiling in Stranger Things.
From left to right: Riley smiling in Inside Out 2 and Maya Hawke looking to her left and smiling in Stranger Things.

Maya Hawke Shares Her Thoughts On Fan Theories About Inside Out 2 Having A Queer Storyline

In that scene, Joy eventually breaks in and gets the Mind Workers back on track by reminding them that none of this stuff has happened yet, so there’s no sense in worrying about it. It’s easy to see Joy as the hero in that moment but, when you’re in a spiral like that, it’s almost impossible to see a way out.

That moment becomes clear at the emotional climax of the movie when Anxiety loses control of herself. Riley gets sent to the penalty box after crashing into her best friend and immediately starts worrying that not only has she lost a spot on the high school team, but she’s also lost her friend now. In her head, Anxiety has taken on the form of chaotic spirals circling the control panel, keeping everyone away. In reality, Riley is seen getting emotional in the penalty box. She’s gasping for breath and clutching at her heart while Anxiety starts to worry that she’s ruined the young lady's life.

I was definitely holding back tears, because it was the first time I saw the way my anxiety/panic attacks manifested on screen. I knew immediately that Riley was in the midst of an anxiety attack, and it broke my heart watching her have to experience that. But it also made me feel seen. When you’re a teenager, you often feel like you’re the only one enduring mass pressure and the desire to be perfect, but the truth is we’re all struggling in our own ways.

In movie terms, it’s easy to say that Anxiety is the villain of the sequel, but the reality is far more complicated than that. While it’s true that she does create problems for Riley, she only does so because she cares about her and her future. For me, personally, watching Joy and the other emotions embrace Anxiety at the end was an eye-opening moment. This emotion, which can sometimes wreak havoc on our lives and dream up nightmare scenarios, does have our well-being in mind. Like the original movie, the overall message is that all our emotions are valuable and should be appreciated.

Inside Out 2 emotions
Inside Out 2 emotions

Everyone Should Go See Inside Out 2 Because You’ll Be A Better Person After Watching It

The first Inside Out did a phenomenal job of portraying the raw way emotions manifest in the real world, and the sequel really carried on with that tradition. Part of what makes the movie so great is that it exposes audiences who might not deal with anxiety to what it actually feels like for those of us who do. Sure, we might not all spiral out of control, imagining horrible scenarios and the like. But everyone can relate to questioning their choices and wondering if they’re going down the right path.

At the same time, I think the movie can help destigmatize anxiety a bit and show that it really is tough to deal with. It doesn't always revolve around nightmare, what-if scenarios; sometimes, it alters our core being to the point that we begin to doubt ourselves, just like Riley does in the movie. It’s easy to write Riley off as an over-dramatic teenager but, in that moment, these tribulations are some of the worst things that she’s experienced, so her actions are justified.

Beyond the mental health aspect of it all, the Kelsey Mann-helmed film is an incredibly joyous movie that really captures what it’s like to be a 13-year-old with your whole future ahead of you. I laughed as much as I cried. There were clever, hilarious moments — with one being the original emotions discover Riley’s vault of secrets and love of a children’s animated show. There were poignant moments — like the entire core belief system — that made me understand myself as a person more.

By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had been to a therapy session and finally understood how my own emotions work in my life. I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling.  Watching the movie definitely feels like a “core memory” to me, and I can't recommend this wonderful film enough.

You can catch Inside Out 2 for yourself in theaters now. I also encourage everyone to stream the first film with an active Disney+ subscription. And keep an eye on the schedule of upcoming Disney movies in case the Mouse House surprises us by announcing a third film, which the director already has ideas for.