Inside Out 2 follows in the rich and disappointing tradition of Disney sequels such as Cinderella 2 or Lady and the Tramp 2.

Inside Out is fifth on my list of the best movies of all time. But I don’t think I’d even take my kids to see this sequel. 

To say the film was a massive disappointment would be an understatement. Almost immediately after the end of Inside Out, the millions of us who loved the film realized the potential for a sequel set in Riley’s teenage years. But we were all wrong.

Inside Out 2 takes place during a hockey skills camp that Riley attends in the summer before high school. She learns her two junior high friends will be going to a different school, so the camp serves as a chance for her to navigate that transition, and to try and impress the high school varsity coach and her potential new teammates. 

The day before the camp is to start up in the headquarters of Riley’s brain the big red alarm labeled “Puberty” goes off, and a giant wrecking ball slams through the control center.

The setup doesn’t pack nearly the emotional weight of the moving that set the stage for the first film. When Riley tearfully tells her junior high friends that they will be friends forever, I assumed it was a laugh line for the knowing parents in the room, but the movie took that premise very seriously.

Yet, the problem is not merely the setup. The voice performances also don’t hold up. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith are back to their usual selves, but Fear and Disgust are given much bigger roles in the story, and have been recast. Evidently Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling had a pay dispute with Disney. Disney miscalculated badly. Whatever Hader and Kaling were asking would have been worth it. The lack of Michael Giacchino’s score is also notable. Each time his old themes reappeared, it left me wanting.

And the voice actors are given much weaker characters to work with this time. It shouldn’t be complicated to write for the literal embodiment of the emotions, and yet the characters are often acting at odds with their core personality to serve the plot points. Anger is nostalgic. Embarrassment brings Riley joy.

The film does give us some delightful puns such as a brainstorm or the stream of thought, but they don’t work together to provide some greater metaphorical whole like they did in the original. They are just amusing one-off jokes.

In our current age of franchises and spinoffs, being a sequel is no longer seen as the death knell it once was. No longer can we always assume that the sequel will be worse. But this film really exhibits the classic weaknesses of a sequel; it is a weak imitation of its predecessor. 

All of that can be true while simultaneously the film sends a much worse message for children.

One of the reasons I considered the original so beloved was its ability to help children better understand themselves and appreciate the complicated emotions they were dealing with. The original helped empower children by helping them understand their emotions.

This film does the opposite. The world of Riley’s mind has changed. Instead of “core memories,” memories create beliefs about herself, which come together to create Riley’s “sense of self.”

Riley is a slave to her sense of self in this film. She literally freezes when the new emotion Anxiety tries to get her to act against her sense of self. 

So Anxiety throws away the sense of self to build a new sense of self based on an anxious understanding of who she is. 

But no matter what sense of self is present, the greatest good is Riley being true to that sense of self. In fact, [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]in the film’s conclusion, we are intended to be happy when Riley makes a bad choice[/perfectpullquote]

because it is in line with her improved, more complex version of her inner self. And the worst choices Riley makes throughout the film have no negative consequences. Inside Out 2 is the embodiment for the Instagram version of mental health. There may be some minor upside to showing this to pre-teens to talk about who disruptive puberty can be, and how much stronger and out of control their emotions will be, but it would require a strong hand from a parent to lead them away from the more harmful themes the film is offering up to children in that group.

One and a half out of five stars.

Inside Out 2 opens worldwide on Friday, June 14, 2024.