Inside Out 2 review: Will Pixar’s new movie trigger a diplomatic incident? Either way, it deserves to be seen

Adèle Exarchopoulos as the dark, heavily fringed, polo-necked embodiment of Ennui is borderline genius

Inside Out 2: What else but puberty could so shake up the inhabitants of young Riley’s head?
Inside Out 2
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Director: Kelsey Mann
Cert: G
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Kensington Tallman, Lewis Black, Tony Hale, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

If the Pixar film Inside Out had a problem, it sprang from the profoundly American notion that all life, however chaotic, can be categorised, ordered and made to obey a system. You might, for example, reduce elements of the human psyche to characters voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith. That sort of thinking got them to the moon.

There is more of that in this fine sequel, but Inside Out 2 is also largely about the breaking down of such order. What else but puberty could so shake up the inhabitants of young Riley’s head? The protagonist of the first film has just hit 13 and, as we meet her, is heading off for ice-hockey camp. (That’s how they systematise their summers.)

Two of her pals are also on the trip, but it turns out they will be moving to a different school when autumn comes. She begins by doing her best to maintain relations. Then a red light flashes on the console in her brain. The new swirl of hormones is set to turn the hitherto reasonable adolescent into a hair-trigger flibbertigibbet.

That biological change comes with the arrival of new personified emotions to the headquarters within. Maya Hawke plays spiky Anxiety. Ayo Edebiri voices sour Envy. Paul Walter Hauser is a huge, blushing Embarrassment. Best of all (indeed, borderline genius) is the casting of Adèle Exarchopoulos as the dark, heavily fringed, polo-necked embodiment of Ennui. We will see if Pixar trigger a diplomatic incident by identifying teenage boredom with an unmistakable caricature of the French persona. More likely, nos amis will just shrug.


There is, as there was in the first film, a profound sadness at the heart of Inside Out 2. The new emotions kick out the old – notably Poehler as Joy and Smith as Sadness – while we watch Riley suck up to the cool girl and display a cold shoulder to old chums. The argument is that the teenage years (and perhaps all adulthood) are ruled by anxiety, envy, embarrassment and boredom.

There is worse news. As the old emotions embark on a journey back from oblivion, Joy comes to a sombre conclusion. “Maybe this is what happens when you grow up,” she says. “You feel less joy.” It is giving little away to say we end in a happier place, but the film never exactly rejects that argument. There is, at the least, a tacit acceptance that adulthood is a mire of swampy discontent.

Before that tidied-up ending we get much overly determined bureaucracy and more than a few compensatory jokes. Both “sense of self” and “belief system” have a physical correlative here: the former a spiky ornament, the latter a series of interconnected circuits. Better (because it’s funnier) is a literal “stream of consciousness” and an equally literal yawning gulf that stands in for sarcasm. “Ah, sar-chasm?” someone says with a roll of their eyes. The Pixar team are impressively at home to self-awareness.

As before, the animators maintain a distinction between the cartoonish inner life and something more photorealistic for the everyday world. Voiced by Kensington Tallman, the agitated, spirited Riley – a single pimple on her chin representing the pubertal challenge – proves excellent company for a journey towards preadult compromise.

No doubt those obsessed with Disney’s supposed kowtow to “woke” will whine about the inclusion of one apparent Muslim character and a possible smidgen of the gentlest gay coding (teenage pash, dreaded hair colouring). Let them so fume. After a period of some ups and more downs, Pixar can at least boast of following up one of their later classics respectfully. Deserves the healthy audiences it will surely stir up.

Inside Out 2 opens in cinemas on Friday, June 14th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist