Joy and Anxiety standing next to each other
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

‘Inside Out 2’ Review: We All Need Joy in Our Lives

The first Inside Out movie is not only my favorite Pixar movie but also one of my favorite films ever, so Inside Out 2 had a lot to live up to, and it far exceeded my expectations. It helps that it’s literally a movie designed to play on our emotions.

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Inside Out 2 brings back Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith as Sadness, but it also ushers in a new range of emotions that come with growing up—or, more specifically, with puberty. Riley is getting older, and when the puberty alarm goes off, the emotions must try to figure out how to navigate what is happening to their girl (all while she’s at a hockey camp that could change her high school life).

The first film made me wish I had it to watch as a pre-teen. I moved across the country, had no friends, and was told all the time that I was a “happy girl.” In a lot of ways, I was like Riley, and I never really knew or understood back then that it was okay to not be okay. So when the second movie was coming out, I wasn’t sure how I would find a way to be as emotionally invested. And yet, director Kelsey Mann found a way to really highlight those feelings of anxiety and envy that come with growing up and stay with us.

Anxiety (Maya Hawke) moves into headquarters and takes over, shutting out every other emotion she can and fueling Riley when she needs Joy the most. It is, in a lot of ways, a perfect glimpse into what those anxious feelings can be like when you’re too overwhelmed to think about anything other than what is bothering you. And it makes Inside Out 2 a perfect companion piece to the first.

Hockey, friends, and new struggles

Embarassment lying on a table in inside out 2

The movie is set mainly at hockey camp. After Riley does well in her championship game, she goes to a camp that the high school coach, Coach Roberts (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), is hosting. She’s prepared to go, impress the coach with her best friends Bree and Grace, and get on the team. But everything goes sideways when she learns that her friends are going to a different high school.

Determined to not be alone in school and wanting to impress older players, Riley uses camp to show her skill and not be the best team player she can be. It is, at times, hard to watch Riley ruining her own friendships because of her own determination. Not because that’s uncomfortable but because many of us know what that feels like, especially as a teenager. Still, Inside Out 2 finds a way of breaking us with all our new emotions.

It is okay to feel every emotion

the emotions in inside out 2

At one point, Joy says that maybe growing up means to just feel joy less and less, and it hurts to hear that. We do, as we age, lose sight of what makes us happy and instead focus on everything that can go wrong. Seeing Riley start those thoughts as a young 13-year-old made me realize how much we put on our own shoulders.

As always, I think that Riley is a lot like me in that she is afraid of being alone and then makes her life so much less joyful because she’s too worried about everything else. But the movie does have a lesson I think everyone can relate to.

Too often, we put our own joy aside to do what we think we have to, but we can always turn back to her when we need her most. That’s what this franchise has always taught us, and I really love that Joy is always trying to do what is best for Riley in the same way that our own versions of happiness would try to help us. It is just that other emotions can get in the way.

New emotions that just want to protect Riley

all of the emotions in headquarters

Inside Out 2 brings in a wave of new emotions that make Riley more complex but also make her become her own worst enemy (at times). Aside from Hawke’s take on Anxiety, we are introduced to Ayo Edebiri’s Envy, Adèle Exarchopoulos’ Ennui, Paul Walter Hauser’s Embarrassment, and June Squibb’s Nostalgia—all emotions that come with growing up and changing.

What consistently makes these movies so special to me is that these emotions don’t try to harm Riley (even when they do); they’re trying to protect her. It makes you look at your own emotions differently. My anxious thoughts are not there to make me miserable but to try to soften the blow if something goes wrong. My fear wants to keep me from getting hurt, but most of all, my Joy just wants to see me smile.

I think I maybe connect so much with these movies because Amy Poehler would be my Joy. She’d be the voice telling me everything was going to be okay, as she has been for most of my adult life; her work has helped me through so much.

But Inside Out 2 manages to tell us a different story while still giving us an important message in the end: It is okay to feel all your emotions, but just remember to let Joy in.

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.