Inside Out 2 is a funny, affecting and inventive Pixar sequel

We get why you might be feeling a little anxious about Inside Out 2, which has the small task of living up to a movie that's widely considered one of Pixar's best.

Inside Out exemplified Pixar at its strongest, taking a complex idea of what makes us who we are and turning it into a relatable blockbuster for all ages. It was hilarious and inventive, as well as being heartbreaking and profound. A near-perfect movie that also made nearly $860 million worldwide.

So while the idea of returning to the world made sense, Pixar bosses probably also felt a whole lot of Fear at the prospect. Luckily, that hasn't led them to completely change what worked before – like Riley does when she turns 13.

Instead, Inside Out 2 utilises the template of that movie's success to tell another affecting and funny tale of the challenges of growing up.

envy, anxiety, disgust, anger, fear, sadness, inside out 2
Disney / Pixar

The first sign that Inside Out 2 will build on the first movie, rather than completely shake things up, comes from its story. Taking its cue from a gag at the end of Inside Out ("Riley's 12 now, what could happen?"), the sequel starts with Riley now 13 and puberty about to hit.

To further complicate matters, Riley's best friends are heading to different high schools than her, meaning she's going to adjust to a new school on her own. Luckily, a hockey camp provides an opportunity for Riley to make some new friends, including super cool hockey player Valentina 'Val' Ortiz.

But how can Riley make a good impression? Enter new emotions Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), Envy (Ayo Edebiri) and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) to guide Riley through this scary new chapter of her life.

It's a spin on the first movie where Riley had to adjust to a new city, but it's no less relatable. We've all been faced with that dilemma of how much to adapt ourselves to appear 'cool' or make friends with new people, while still battling to retain our sense of self, and the sequel is packed with sharply-observed details of the perils of growing up.

inside out 2

Centre to those is the main new emotion Anxiety, superbly played by Maya Hawke to the extent that you can't imagine anybody else doing it. It's such a complex emotion to portray, but writers Meg LaFauve and Dave Holstein simplify it without dumbing it down, leading to a nuanced and important discussion of how anxiety can impact any of us.

Envy, Ennui and Embarrassment don't get quite as much to do, yet each are easily identifiable thanks to terrific character work. They all have their stand-out moments too – the development of sarcasm in Riley's personality, driven by Ennui, is ingenious – but be prepared to especially fall in love with the near-wordless Embarrassment.

That's not to say the original five emotions are completely relegated to the side. They have their own engaging journey, coming to terms with how they fit into Riley's new stage of life. It leads to some cutting observations, like how as you grow older, you might "feel less joy", but director Kelsey Mann is careful to not make things too bleak.

It's a credit to Tony Hale and Liza Lapira that you won't really notice the recastings of Fear and Disgust, respectively. Amy Poehler's Joy is still the leading emotion here with the core story revolving around Joy coming to terms with Anxiety. If there's a complaint to be had, it's that Sadness is sidelined somewhat, especially as Phyllis Smith is perfect in the role.

sadness, fear, anger, disgust, embarrassment, anxiety, inside out 2
Disney / Pixar

What stops Inside Out 2 from reaching the heights of the first movie is that it is overly familiar at times. The events and the gags might be different, but the structure of the three acts is the same, so it doesn't feel quite as fresh this time around.

As a result, it doesn't quite pack the same emotional punch, even if it builds to a sweet message about being yourself. For some viewers, the lack of a heart-crushing "take her to the moon for me" moment might be a blessing in disguise though.

But wanting Inside Out 2 to match the first movie was always set to be an unlikely challenge as it was such a unique concept. What the sequel does achieve is being a worthy follow-up that expands the world with brilliant tweaks to the concept, as well as delivering witty gags that simplify big ideas.

Riley might just be coming to terms with anxiety, but we can assure you that there's no need to be anxious about Inside Out 2.

4 stars
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Inside Out 2 is out now in cinemas.

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