Inside Out 2 (2024) Review: A Better-Than-Expected Sequel That Explores Teenagehood in a Heartfelt and Humorous Way

At the end of Inside Out, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) narrated “We’ve been through a lot lately, that’s for sure. But we still love our girl. She has great new friends, a great new house. Things couldn’t be better. After all, Riley’s twelve now. What could happen?

The first movie was about Riley’s (Kaitlyn Dias) childhood and how she dealt with her emotions through Joy, Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Nine years later, the movie returns with an inevitable sequel as the now 13-year-old Riley (Kensington Tallman, replacing Kaitlyn Dias) enters adolescence. It’s a stage where her mind a.k.a. the Headquarters is no longer restricted to just five core emotions (sad to see Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling not reprising their roles due to salary disputes as Tony Hale and Liza Lapira replaced them as Fear and Disgust).

It all happens one night when Joy and the rest of the emotions are awakened by the sound of an alarm. That big red button labelled “puberty” previously appeared in the first movie. It’s now blinking and before they know it, a demolition crew arrives with a wrecking ball crashing through the Headquarters for a sudden makeover.

This is where five new emotions start to dominate Riley’s mind including the tiny teal mushroom-like Envy (Ayo Edebiri), the limp noodle Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), the giant pink and hooded sweater-wearing Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) and the elderly lady Nostalgia (June Squibb). Leading the new emotions is the nervy frazzled-hair orange Anxiety (Maya Hawke), who wants to take charge of Riley’s teenagehood. Conflicts happen when Joy and Anxiety don’t see things eye to eye, resulting in the latter bottling up — both literally and figuratively — these pre-existing emotions and banishing them out of the Headquarters.

Back to Riley, she and her best friends Grace (Grace Lu) and Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) are invited by Coach Roberts (Yvette Nicole Brown) to join the summer hockey camp before they start high school. From there, Riley gets to meet her favourite hockey idol, Valentina “Val” Ortiz (Lilimar), who plays under Coach Roberts’ prestigious team.

Introducing the new emotions in "Inside Out 2" (2024)

I was initially sceptical about Inside Out 2 when Pixar announced the sequel two years ago. The 2015 original is the kind of one-off that doesn’t need a follow-up and yet, here we are. Pixar sequels can make or break the quality of storytelling. The Toy Story franchise turns out to be the most consistent franchise in Pixar history but others like Cars 2 and Incredibles 2 pale in comparison with their superior originals. Thankfully, Inside Out 2 is more of the former and it’s even surprisingly better than the original (maybe I’m in the minority here).

Kelsey Mann, who replaced Pete Docter from the original but retained his role as one of the executive producers and voiced Dad’s (Kyle MacLachlan) Anger, may have been making his feature-length directorial debut. Previously a story supervisor for several Pixar movies such as The Good Dinosaur and Onward, he proves to be an outstanding replacement with his astute direction.

With Riley undergoing her puberty stage, this allows Mann alongside screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein to explore what comes next when one’s becoming a teenager. Besides, transcending from childhood to teenagehood is a whole new ball game as Mann successfully reflects some of the common and relatable dilemmas that every teenager like us faces in real life. The inevitable emotional changes and mood swings naturally emerged, which justified the introduction of the new personified emotions. This is especially true with Anxiety and credit goes to Maya Hawke for her scene-stealing voice work. The rest of the voice cast, both new and recurring ones are just as good and I’m glad that Tony Hale and Liza Lapira prove to be worthy replacements as Fear and Disgust.

Throughout the movie, we see Riley try to fit in with her new friends, particularly Valentina and her hockey buddies. She also suffers from conflicting emotions throughout her time in the summer hockey camp, mirroring what’s going on in her mind between Anxiety and Joy attempting to take control. This leads to a few higher stakes happening in Riley’s mind and even when Mann repeats Docter’s coming-of-age road trip-style storytelling, it still works well in his favour. It also helps the sequel is giving equal opportunities for the pre-existing emotions facing the challenges together as a team and at the same time, allowing them to play off each other.

Mann doesn’t forget to inject some ingenious visual personifications into his sequel such as the pun-intended “Sar-Chasm” in the form of a deep and large gap between the cliff. The movie also scores some great laughs, notably with the appearances of pixelated videogame character Lance Slashblade (Yong Yea) and the 2D Dora-like annoying cartoon pup, Bloofy (Ron Funches) and his talking fanny pack nicknamed Pouchy (James Austin Johnson).

Inside Out 2 benefits a lot from its well-balanced combinations of exploring Riley’s range of emotions from a teen’s perspective, clever puns and subtle humour. Mann also does a great job in the animation department and while it’s nothing groundbreaking in its visuals, it’s vibrant and at times beautiful with the latter’s ethereal, glowing harp strings-like Belief System deserves mention.

A friendly reminder here: Don’t forget to stay back for the post-credits scene.