Pixar’s Inside Out imagines a world in which our minds are command centers manned by emotions, working a sprawling control panel to help us be our best selves. It’s one of Pixar’s most creative, memorable films, filled with funny visual gags and devastatingly sad moments sure to emotionally scar a generation (RIP Bing Bong). Inside Out is like Mr. Rogers writ large, a sprawling cinematic play space meant to help kids understand their big emotions. Its sequel, Inside Out 2, brings back the big emotions and the mental command center and asks: What if Inception was for kids?


Directed by Kelsey Mann and co-written by Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, Inside Out 2 catches up with Riley (Kensington Tallman) as she’s turning 13. She’s a confident, kind, sporty kid with braces and acne, secure in her parents’ love and approbation and, bolstered by the slightly aggressive management of her chief emotion Joy (Amy Poehler), secure in her sense of self—that she is A Good Person. 

Joy is running a tight ship in Riley’s mind, securing the best memories to add to Riley’s sense of self while banishing the more upsetting and disappointing memories to the back of her mind. Until one day a wrecking ball destroys Riley’s control panel, and a construction crew shows up with orders to build “puberty” into Riley’s brain. Inside Out remains a free-wheeling combination of imagination and body horror as Riley’s mind is wrecked by puberty, and a bunch of new, more nuanced emotions show up, led by Anxiety (Maya Hawke) and her sidekick, Envy (Ayo Edebiri). Joy and the older, broader emotions are rapidly banished by Anxiety, sent to Riley’s secrets vault so they can’t interfere with Anxiety’s management of Riley’s brain. 


Thrust into the depths of Riley’s mind with only a tenuous plan to make it back to command central, Joy must lead Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Liza Lapira), and Fear (Tony Hale) through the layers of Riley’s mind in search of her lost sense of self. Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is entrusted with the rescue plan while the others search for Riley’s sense of self in a race against the clock as Anxiety is building a new, substantially worse sense of self back in the central brain. As they wind their way deeper into Riley’s memories, they must evade the thought police and the existential threat of being trapped in the back of Riley’s mind forever should they lose their way. Sound familiar? It should! It’s Inception!


But the odds of a 12-year-old having seen Inception are low, so it’s likely only parents who will notice the cribbed notes. And frankly, the narrative structure works as an allegory for how strange and alienating puberty is to your sense of self, how quickly and radically everything changes, and how dire every social situation feels as your emotions careen out of control. Just as Inside Out is meant to help little kids understand their feelings, Inside Out 2 is aimed at a slightly older crowd, to help them understand the wrecking ball of puberty rearranging their brains.

There is a weird inference, though, that anxious people are bad, as every decision Anxiety steers Riley into is a bad one. Giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think they mean to imply that having anxiety makes you a bad person. I think it’s a byproduct of keeping things as broad and simple as possible for the target tween audience of the film, but the inference is there, and some people might pick up on it. 


Inside Out 2 doesn’t reach the emotional depths—or manipulation—of the first film, but it has plenty of jokes that run the gamut from “fun for kids” to “winks for grownups”, and there is a depiction of a panic attack that lends some gravitas to the film. There’s nothing to rival Bing Bong, but the panic attack scene is a standout moment, a reminder of what the writers and artists of Pixar can do at their best. It’s visceral and emotional, a fanciful rendering of a real-life condition many people deal with presented with enough empathy and kindness to do Mr. Rogers proud.

Inside Out 2 isn’t a “return to form” for Pixar because they’ve made some really good films over the last few years, but it does feel especially satisfying to see the world of Riley’s mind on a big screen. The animation is out of control, from the textures of the emotions—Sadness’s sweater is so fuzzy!—to the contrasting animation styles that underscore Riley’s various developmental stages. If anything, Inside Out 2 is a reminder that Pixar builds these worlds for the big screen, to pull us into their wonderful world in the vastness of a darkened room and a larger-than-life screen. And all that wonder and beauty and emotion is in service of producing as many full-body cringes as possible as we’re reminded of the utter nightmare of puberty. At least until the filmmakers double down on Inception with an ending that everyone will definitely love, and no one will argue about online ever. 


Inside Out 2 is now playing exclusively in theaters.


Attached - Ayo Edebiri at Good Morning America yesterday in New York.