Inside Out 2 is a movie at conflict with itself, both literally and figuratively. The plot of the film features emotions battling for control of Riley, in a story full of beautiful ideas about what it means to grow up and establish our own identities. It’s a coming-of-age tale about the struggles we face building the personal belief system that will both guide and define us. It also has some genuinely funny scenes and characters. That provides the balance of heart and comedy you expect from a Pixar movie.

But Inside Out 2 has too many ideas without the time or space to explore most with enough depth. It’s also so desperate to be clever it’s often groan-inducing. But what really holds it back are its new emotions. The film introduces feelings that say they’re complex, but are really (at best) derivative, or (much worse) downright confusing. That includes the film’s villain, Anxiety (Maya Hawke), a character that makes Inside Out 2 downright terrifying for kids.

With both so much going for it and so many fundamental issues, it definitely evokes one strong emotion: “meh.”

Inside Out 2 reunites us with its young star who recently turned 13. Riley is an almost perfect child to an annoying degree. That’s intentional and has a meaningful payoff by the end of the film. But it’s still less interesting than if she were obviously flawed to start. How perfect is she? Riley is a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky. That sounds like hyperbole but is laughably not.

Riley’s problems begin when puberty hits the same exciting day she gets news that would devastate any teenager. That’s the worst possible time because she doesn’t know how to handle so many big moments at once. Puberty means her brain gets all new, unexpected emotions: Anxiety, Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment.

Anxiety smiles while surrounded by other emotions in Inside Out 2

The result is a film with a clear villain. Anxiety banishes the old emotions, including head emotion honcho Joy (Amy Poehler), from Riley’s control panel. She then begins to remake Riley in her own nervous image. Only, Anxiety also seems to be wholly responsible for Riley’s ambition, which is weird. Anxiety is also responsible for any sense of planning and forethought, which is also weird. But Anxiety is also full of fear, even though the literal emotion Fear is still around. Meanwhile, Envy and Embarrassment also overlap with Sadness and Disgust, who also overlaps with Ennui. It’s not exactly clear plot-wise or thematically why all these similar emotions exist. They seem to only exist so the movie can. That’s a big and consistent problem that detracts from the film.

We’re told these emotions are “more complex,” but it doesn’t make sense when the first film wonderfully established that feeling different emotions at the same time is complex. Why have individual, well-defined emotions at all if some convey the same feelings? And why is Anxiety—presented as a troubling emotion that is hard to control and capable of ruining your life—also responsible for things that seem good? For a film focused on what it means to have a “sense of self,” Inside Out 2 also doesn’t seem to understand itself.


Anxiety’s issues are not just for adults. The emotion’s total dominance and fear-mongering makes this a tough viewing for young kids. Some will be old enough to understand the film’s broad ideas but not old enough to get all the nuance. The result might very well be them dreading getting older. I mean, fair, but not exactly fun.

It is also is very, very, very hit-or-miss with its humor. The film features some surprise characters and concepts that are as good as anything in the original film. (Minus Bing Bong, the greatest character ever). Please try to avoid spoilers for those characters hidden away in Riley’s mind. They’re the movie’s best surprises and how they’re handled are among the film’s best moments. The problem is Inside Out 2 also has some gags, and “clever” ideas that are absolute duds and worse. There are moments so painfully unfunny, Dread might as well have been a new emotion.


Despite its rushed plot and confusing characters, Inside Out 2 sticks the landing both emotionally and thematically. Everything ultimately comes together exactly how you think it will. Being predictable doesn’t stop the ending from being effective. Like its beloved predecessor, it captures the complexity of being a living, emotional, flawed, creature full of contradictions.

The uneven journey of highs and lows on the way to that ending, though, is why Inside Out 2 left me feeling underwhelmed. That’s better than feeling anxious, but that’s not nearly as good as feeling joy.

Inside Out 2, directed by Kelsey Mann, stars: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Kensington Tallman, Liza Lapira, Tony Hale, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Ayo Edebiri, Lilimar, Grace Lu, Sumayyah, Nuriddin-Green, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paul Walter Hauser and Yvette Nicole Brown. It comes to theaters on June 13, 2024.