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New Emotions Take Center Stage in “Inside Out 2” | Review

Designed and orchestrated for a teenage audience, Inside Out 2 by Kelsey Mann blends teen and sports movie elements, multiplying emotions but not amplifying them. It's entertaining but lacks the philosophical depth of the previous film by Pete Docter.
Inside Out 2 (2024)

MOVIE REVIEWS

Inside Out 2 (2024)
Directed by Kelsey Mann

Houston, we have a problem

Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust don’t know how to react when new emotions—Anxiety, Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment—enter the mind of Riley, who has just entered adolescence.

Nine years have passed since the emotions and memories of childhood overwhelmed unsuspecting adult viewers, leaving them in tears with a Kleenex in hand while watching Pete Docter’s Inside Out (2015). This film captured something universal in its colorful and imaginative depiction of childhood, resonating with both audiences and critics, even winning an Academy Award.

During the viewing of the sequel, Inside Out 2, directed by Kelsey Mann, one might think that childhood holds more universal emotional weight than adolescence. However, numerous films dedicated to the latter stage of life contradict this notion. While this new Disney Pixar production is colorful, adventurous, and light-hearted, it lacks the human, philosophical, and metaphysical nuances characteristic of Docter’s work, as seen in Up and Soul.

The plot accompanying protagonist Riley’s entry into puberty is straightforward: on one hand, her “physical” existence is depicted through a classic teen-sport movie narrative. On the other hand, her “mental” realm is marked by the arrival of new emotions that compete with the old ones to form a new balance.

As Riley faces a crucial summer hockey camp for both her sports and academic career, the headquarters “inside” her mind sees Joy, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust invaded by new emotions: Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy, and Ennui (boredom). The hyperactive Anxiety takes control, pushing the previous emotions aside and forcing them to embark on a journey through Riley’s repressed memories and subconscious to save, rebuild, and expand the girl’s sense of self.

During this adventurous expedition, cinephiles may notice echoes of Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage (1966) and its remake Innerspace by Joe Dante (1987), as well as the animated TV series Once Upon a Time… Life. Disney Pixar showcases its imaginative potential as our heroes explore Riley’s fascinating “belief system,” depicted as a network of translucent, fiber-optic-like threads. The film also references traditional animation techniques, with 2D animation characterizing the pink dog Bloofy, who has a speaking yellow pouch with a crucial content. Among Riley’s embarrassing memories is Slashblade, a hero from an imaginary old video game, complete with a katana and flickering pixels. A brief stop-motion cutout flashforward is also noteworthy, along with Riley’s “anxious projections,” depicted as 2D animators under Anxiety’s command, reminiscent of Disney’s 1940s in-betweeners.

As might be guessed, Anxiety is central in Inside Out 2, with the other emotions taking a backseat. This new addition to adolescence likely provides the film’s therapeutic function, at least for those who have experienced it. Scholars and educators contributed to the film, credited in the end credits, but the film’s less universal appeal stems from its strong cultural specificity and very American narrative choices.

The film features numerous enthusiastic “Yays!”, high-fives, and “we’re proud of you” moments, juxtaposed with “I’m not good enough” sentiments. It emphasizes fears of loneliness and popularity, and equates sports success with life success, suggesting that winning a competition helps tackle growing pains. This simplification aligns with a Protestant ethic where competition is central, and winning is crucial. The human brain is portrayed like a factory, with long-term memory resembling large servers, all controlled by a command center, prompting one to think, “Houston, we have a problem!”

In short, Inside Out 2 simplifies and reduces the deeper aspects of the previous film, shifting from the metaphysical to the physical with its focus on sports. It leaves out the heart and sentiment, replacing them with a desire to succeed and win (albeit through teamwork). While the target audience for Inside Out 2 is more adolescent than adult, current box office numbers from the USA indicate that this is what matters most now.

Daria Pomponio

Quinlan, June 19, 2024

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