Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Reel Thoughts: ‘Inside Out 2’ creatively depicts the emotional side to puberty

Pixar+released+its+new+summer+hit+%E2%80%9CInside+Out+2%E2%80%9D+in+theaters+June+14%2C+the+sequel+to+Inside+Out+which+explored+the+grappling+of+emotions+throughout+childhood+and+adolescence.+
Illustration by Danny O’Grady
Pixar released its new summer hit “Inside Out 2” in theaters June 14, the sequel to “Inside Out” which explored the grappling of emotions throughout childhood and adolescence.

This article contains spoilers.

Pressures of fitting in, spirals of self-doubt and…eek…PUBERTY! 

My entrance into ninth grade was certainly a formative time in my life as I became painfully aware of my position as an awkward teen navigating a vast, treacherous sea also known as high school social dynamics.

Luckily, I was not alone in my journey, a fact well depicted by 13-year-old Riley (Kensington Tallman) in Pixar’s new summer hit “Inside Out 2” — which released in theaters June 14.

With “Inside Out” (2015) becoming an immediate fan favorite for its fantastical, yet acutely relatable portrayal of the complex emotions of children and adults alike, its sequel expertly balances an ensemble of original and new characters in both the real world and inside Riley’s mind. Director Kelsey Mann, making his feature directorial debut, could’ve chosen to go in an infinite number of directions for the second film, which makes its genuine, heartwarming and often humorous plot an even greater feat.

The movie follows Riley two years after we last saw her as she and her personified emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira) — experience her first moments of puberty, represented by a bright red alarm on the console the emotions use to influence her actions.

With the puberty alarm suddenly going off the night before Riley and her two best friends, Bree (Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green) and Grace (Grace Lu), start hockey camp, four new emotions make their way into Riley’s mind headquarters. Among the four arrivals, Anxiety (Maya Hawke) is the one who assumes a leading role in shaping Riley’s behavior, clashing with Joy over whether the teen should prioritize fitting in with the older players — which would help her chances of making the high school team — or stick with Bree and Grace along with their seemingly immature antics.

The film’s portrayal of puberty admittedly strays away from themes typical of other coming-of-age depictions such as physical transformation and romantic interest, but instead authentically explores how teens’ actions and priorities naturally evolve as social pressures begin to weigh down on them.

Having to choose whether or not to sneak into an office to read her coach’s evaluations or defend her favorite band in the face of her scoffing seniors, Riley is faced with consequential decisions that challenge her familiar way of thinking and likewise upend the abilities of her emotions to sustain the teen’s sense of self.

As a result, throughout hockey camp, Riley feels compelled to hastily manufacture a brand new “mature” personality — with the help of Anxiety and co. — at the expense of abandoning the principles, emotions and friendships that brought her to where she is today.

The precariousness of this makeshift sense of self culminates in a poignant, defining scene of Riley experiencing a panic attack upon getting sent to the penalty box for body checking Grace during the camp’s final scrimmage.

With the statement “I’m not good enough” echoing through Riley’s mind, Anxiety finally relinquishes control over the central console in a moment that witnesses all the emotions — old and new — embrace Riley’s new sense of self that consists not just of her positive traits but her pessimistic ones too. 

Scenes like this make “Inside Out 2,” like its predecessor, more than a mere “kids” film, but an excellent tool for all ages to understand a key lesson: Emotional turmoil is natural and, in fact, necessary to grow into a better person. 

Because of this quality, I remain unsurprised at the sheer amount of success the film has enjoyed at the box office. Boasting the third-biggest domestic opening weekend for an animated movie, “Inside Out 2” has already surpassed “Dune: Part Two” as the highest-grossing film of 2024 just nine days after releasing in theaters.

With recent films such as “Elemental” and “Lightyear” having underperformed in the box office, Pixar bounced back in a major way to produce another instant classic in “Inside Out 2.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lucaskim_15

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