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Review: Inside Out 2: Overcoming Teen Angst

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Inside Out 2 is the sequel to Pete Doctor’s 2015 Inside Out.  While Doctor did direct and write the story and screenplay for Inside Out, he was just the executive producer for this sequel which was directed by Kelsey Mann.  Doctor’s absence in the main workings of the movie however does not deter from the story.

The story takes place 2 years after the first movie.  Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman, taking over for Kaitlyn Dias) is the star of her middle school’s hockey team with her 2 best friends, Bree and Grace, and is about to enter high school the following fall after turning 13.  The emotions, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), Fear (voiced by Tony Hale, taking over for Bill Hader), and Disgust (voiced by Liza Lapira, taking over for Mindy Kahlng), are a well oiled machine inside Riley’s mind, manning the emotion/reaction console smoothly throughout the day.  At the end of the day, Joy selects only the best memories and emotions to enforce Riley’s core sense of self, a construct of Riley’s core personality represented by a weaving of all those choice memories Joy has cultivated.  Joy then ejects all of Riley’s bad memories via an elaborate catapult mechanism that hurls them to the far reaches of the back of Riley’s mind.

Riley, Bree, and Grace are invited by the high school hockey coach to attend a hockey camp where Riley hopes she can qualify for her upcoming high school’s hockey team, the Firehawks, along with her friends.  Everything seems to be going Riley’s and her emotions’ way until the night before the hockey camp.  The emotions are awaken in the middle of the night by pings from an alarm on the console marked “Puberty.”  The puberty alarm first appeared on the emotions new elongated console at the end of the first movie which Joy thought wouldn’t amount to anything.  After the pings awaken the emotions, the alarm goes catatonic and triggers a whole breakdown of the console room.  A group of mind workers barge in and does a complete makeover of the console which is now orange instead of white.  Along with a new console comes a new set of emotions which introduce themselves to the group: Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke), Envy (voiced by Ayo Edibiri), Embarrassment (voiced by Paul Walter Hauser) and Ennui (voiced by Adele Exarchopoulos).  Anxiety introduces herself first and seems to be the leader of the new group.

At first, the old emotions try to navigate the new console, but they find that even the slightest touch triggers huge overreactions by Riley depending on who touches the console.  They’re not sure what to do anymore, so Anxiety suggests some new finessing of the console.  The new reactions from Riley via Anxiety seem to somewhat ‘calm’ Riley down from her previous emotional highs and lows from the handling of her old emotions, but that soon changes when Riley gets to hockey camp.

Joy wants to make sure Riley has fun at camp while Anxiety wants Riley to win a spot on the high school hockey team and make new friends to ensure Riley fits in since finding out that Bree and Grace will be going to a different high school.  Not long into hockey camp, Anxiety feels that Riley needs to change to fit in and stages a coup to take over headquarters.  She bottles up all of Riley’s old emotions and throws them in Riley’s memory vault prison.  Anxiety also rips Joy’s carefully woven Riley’s sense of self out and uses the ejector to throw it into the back recesses of Riley’s mind.  Anxiety and the new emotions then guide Riley on a series of bad choices: Riley ditches her best friends Bree and Grace.  Riley cozies up to the lead and popular Firehawk, Val, and copies her.  Riley suppresses/abandons her own self and personality to fit in with Val’s group.  Riley even does things she never thought she would do by breaking into the coach’s office to read the coach’s file on herself.  With all these new negative memories and emotions, Anxiety slowly tries to build Riley’s new sense of self which also includes her fears that she’s not good enough and all her future failures.

Meanwhile, Riley’s old emotions find a way to break out of their jar and out of the memory prison.  They’re not sure how to get back to headquarters easily, but they know they need to get back Riley’s ‘true’ sense of self and stop the new emotions from turning Riley into someone she’s not.  After a series of misadventures for every emotion involved, who will the new Riley be?

As with the previous movie, Pixar consulted with a children’s mental health professional.  For Inside Out 2, Pixar consulted psychologist Lisa Damour, author of Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.  Damour told Slate:

“There’s healthy and also unhealthy anxiety.  Anxiety is a natural and unavoidable aspect of life.  It’s there to alert us to potential threats, and to help us protect ourselves.  In this way it serves as a valuable – in fact indispensable – emotion.”

Anxiety actually helped Riley in a few ways by encouraging her to practice at the break of dawn to get better and doing several other things, both good and bad, ‘old’ Riley would never do before.  However, uncontrolled anxiety also fear projected and imagined Riley would be all alone without her old best friends in high school, and that she wasn’t good enough for anything or anybody.

The ending is an uplifting epiphany many of us hope to achieve with understanding our emotions, especially if anxiety is the sole leader of everything all the time.  Make sure you stay through all the credits to learn about Riley’s deepest and most darkest kept secret in memory prison!

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