A star rating of 4 out of 5.

As we left 12-year-old Riley in the closing minutes of the first Inside Out, the colourful characters representing the emotions in her head took delivery of an upgraded console and were wondering what the shiny new button marked “puberty” meant.


No surprises, then, where this next instalment leads us. After several captivating films portraying the dynamics of family, Pixar now set sail on the (for them) comparatively uncharted, choppy waters of teenage torment and peer pressure.

It’s not a wholesale detour into the acid-tongued arena of, say, Tina Fey’s Mean Girls; there are elements of that, but the studio’s longstanding core values remain intact, the phrases “belief system” and “sense of self” cropping up early on to describe corners of Riley’s maturing, often conflicted noggin.

The major changes are at the controls, where familiar faces from the original movie (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust) continue to potter along, shepherding their charge through life, until all hell breaks lose, practically overnight.

Enter a new, more complex crew, comprising Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment and Ennui, the latter first seen reclining on a chaise longue and barely looking up from her mobile phone.

Their arrival coincides with a full-scale remodelling of the now teenage brain, heralded by the unforgiving swing of a construction wrecking ball (a nod, perhaps, to former sweet-natured child star turned edgy pop vixen Miley Cyrus), before Joy and company are banished to darker recesses.

Embarrassment, Anxiety and Envy at the controls of Riley's console in Inside Out 2.
Embarrassment, Anxiety and Envy in Inside Out 2. Disney

Meanwhile, Riley heads off to a residential ice hockey camp, and Joy (again, superbly voiced by Amy Poehler) is perturbed by her replacements’ plan for the girl to all but ghost her hitherto best friends and hang out with a cooler, slightly older clique.

Consequently, she must find her way back to the console to redress the balance; an obstacle-strewn voyage to relocate Riley’s aforementioned sense of self, requiring the outcasts to befriend forgotten childhood memories, hitch a ride on a slice of pizza floating along a stream of consciousness, the whole kaboodle.

It’s a journey and jeopardy situation which pretty much mimics the first film, and although all five of that story’s chief emotions are along for the ride, the key relationship is still between Joy and Phyllis Smith’s Sadness (essentially a variation of the actress’s hangdog character in the American version of The Office).

They’re a delight throughout, and an even more rounded comic pairing than last time. “Have I ever steered you wrong before?” asks the perennially upbeat Joy at one point. “Yes,” deadpans Sadness. “Many times.”

As ever, Pixar’s across-the-board appeal is on point, although the film’s youngest viewers may not fully grasp the threat the newcomers pose, while mums and dads of a certain age are likely to shudder with recognition at the behaviour of, especially, Anxiety and Ennui.

In that respect, parts of IO2 can be read as an ad hoc parenting manual (as could Finding Nemo), while Riley’s story follows an arc of finding a place to fit in an ever-changing world (think Toy Story, WALL-E or Coco).

Arguably more so than the sequel-spawning Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles or Cars, the initial premise of Inside Out was always ripe for continuing chapters, such are the seismic shifts of a youngster navigating a path towards inevitable adolescence.

Inside Out 2
Sadness, Joy, Disgust, Fear and Anger in Inside Out 2. Disney

Riley is now, to all intents and purposes, nine characters in one, a crowded playing field littered with contradictions and confusion that first-time director but longtime Pixar creative Kelsey Mann and his co-writers landscape with assurance, empathy and wit.

It all takes place against an endlessly inventive backdrop of out-there imaginings of the inner workings of a young girl’s mind, rich in colour, texture and a steady stream of sight gags.

Not that you have to be 13 and female to identify with the perils of this particular evolving personality, and if you can’t find something that speaks to your own experiences, as either a kid or a parent, you probably need your own head examined.

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Inside Out 2 is released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th June, with the first Inside Out movie available on Disney+. Sign up to Disney+ from £4.99 a month.


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