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Disney’s Emotional ‘Inside Out 2’ Is Tailor-Made For A Therapy-Obsessed Culture

The characters of "Inside Out 2" are standing in a group.
Image CreditPixar / Youtube

‘Inside Out 2’ is a very safe film — and that is frankly its greatest flaw.


It must be said that it was nice to spend a Saturday afternoon in a tightly packed movie theater full of people who are enthusiastic to see a movie. That doesn’t happen frequently anymore, shy of hyper-successful films like “Dune: Part II” and “Barbie.” It is rare nowadays to get turned away at the box office because the theater is full, as the guy behind me was; my local theater is still having trouble giving away free “Furiosa” posters.  

However, it shouldn’t be surprising that animated films would be the things that break the trend. “Kung Fu Panda 4” grossed $545 million this spring primarily because it was the only animated movie in theaters through three months, and “Despicable Me 4” is currently tracking for an $80 million opening for the July 4 weekend. April’s rerelease of “Shrek 2” grossed more than Pixar’s last three releases combined

Naturally, the surprise comes in the fact that this opening is for a Disney film — coming from a studio that is facing enormous amounts of burnout and controversy due to its perceived partisan slant, declining quality, and proclivity for anti-creative decision-making, and that doesn’t include this week’s Project Veritas sting. In 2019, Disney produced eight of the 10 most popular blockbusters of the year, and seven of them broke the billion-dollar mark at the box office. In 2023, seven of their eight films were box-office disasters. Disney is an unwieldy unprofitable sinking ship, and the majority of its franchises are battered and exhausted.  

An animated family picture like “Inside Out 2” that is financially successful is not necessarily surprising given the current trends with other animated films this year. It only took eight days for the film to eclipse “Dune: Part II” as the highest-grossing film of 2024, with a global box office gross of $512 million. 

What is surprising is that the movie is actually quite good. Despite being one of my favorite Pixar films, I had no enthusiasm for a sequel to “Inside Out” after nine years. It was announced in February 2023 among an onslaught of rapid sequel announcements from returning CEO Bob Iger, including “Toy Story 5” and “Frozen 3,” in a bid that felt like a desperate cash grab for studio investors. 

Yet the formula that the original “Inside Out” created was strong enough to support a direct sequel. This film fully delivers on its premise both by staying true to the original film and by building on it in fun and creative ways.

Set several years after the first film, Riley is now 13 years old on the cusp of going to high school. She continues to be who she was in the first film, but it is clear that she’s been progressively burying negative emotions on the cusp of puberty. While away at hockey camp, she finds herself plagued by four new emotions that hijack the control room in her head. It forces the original five emotions on a journey deep into the back of her mind to retrieve her true sense of self, to protect her from becoming a worse version of herself that abandons her friends and seeks constant validation. 

Just like the first film, there isn’t an antagonist to the film. The nominal “villain” is emotional immaturity and dishonesty. Riley is a developing teenager, and faltering is an obvious metaphor for emotional growth. Facing new challenges, her personification of Anxiety and Envy, new emotions brought on by puberty, ends up taking over. It’s clear that Anxiety is useful in helping navigate complicated social situations but is also prone to poor decision-making and catastrophizing, such as bottling up Joy and casting her into the back of Riley’s mind — even going too far as to take over Riley’s imagination to use it against her. 

Anyone who has seen the first film will probably guess where this goes. The emotions go on an epic journey through the mind, meeting strange personifications of complex ideas and facing unfamiliar challenges, in a clever but loaded metaphor for emotional processing. The film explores how these negative emotions can result in anxiety attacks and builds a nuanced emotional understanding that acknowledges the importance of all human emotions.

“Inside Out 2” is a very safe film, and that is frankly its greatest flaw. As with many of Disney’s mistakes, it comes down to rank cowardice in the face of creative, financial, and political risk. Making a late sequel to the most critically acclaimed Pixar film of the past decade is not a difficult decision, nor is it dangerous to make a movie about the importance of expressing emotions in our modern therapy-obsessed culture. 

It may forgo some of the superficial trappings of “wokeness,” but it pulls too many punches and falls short of the first film. It’s already a faster-paced film, tuning heavily to the hyperkinetic sensibilities of the TikTok generation being faster than they were a decade ago. In a film landscape that has already made the creatively bankrupt live-action “Lion King” remake into one of the highest-grossing films of all time, it is a shame that “Inside Out 2’s” box office success rewards Disney for being safer and less risky. This feedback is why we’re being forced to endure an upcoming “Lion King” prequel, a “Moana” sequel, and a live-action “Moana” remake, in short order. 

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