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Inside Out 2 (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

The original Inside Out film (2015) likely makes many people’s short list of favorite Pixar films. The inventive tale was a triumph that showcased the animation studio at the top of its game. Unfortunately, it also marked a high point that has seldom been reached since. A recent string of mediocre-to-bad films—Luca, Turning Red, Lightyear, and Elemental—has led many people to wonder if Pixar has lost its golden touch. Sequels often reek of studio desperation, but revisiting one of its most beloved stories may be exactly what the doctor ordered (and not just because Pixar’s chief creative officer is named Pete Docter). A triumphant return to form, Inside Out 2 is Pixar’s best film in years.  

Inside Out resonated with viewers not only because of its fun and vibrant story but also because it provided a rich and enlightening framework for understanding our emotions. Inside Out 2 takes a similarly insightful approach, but it keeps things fresh by exploring a later stage in young Riley’s development. When a flashing red light announces that “puberty” has arrived, the personified emotions of the first film—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust—are unexpectedly greeted by newcomers such as Anxiety, Embarrassment, and Envy. Suddenly, Riley’s head becomes a chaotic and turbulent place as she struggles to process the confusing experience of being a teenager. If the original film focused on navigating our base-level emotions, the sequel shows how we mature and form the beliefs that ultimately comprise our sense of self.   

If that sounds more like Psychology 101 than a form of family entertainment, take heart that the delightful film is brimming with effective humor and amusing worldbuilding. While some of the themes and specific circumstances may target a slightly older demographic, the film doesn’t leave younger viewers behind. My own nine-year-old twin boys loved the film, even if they resonated with different moments than I did as an adult. While younger viewers may not relate to the need for deodorant or the whiplash of hormonal mood swings, they can nevertheless understand Riley’s more universal struggles surrounding loyalty to her friends and developing a healthy self-esteem.   

The concept of personified emotions may not be the novelty it was in 2015, but the filmmakers keep things fresh by expanding the worldbuilding in fun and interesting ways. For example, the characters float down the “stream of consciousness,” a river filled with items representing whatever is currently on Riley’s mind. Later, they must cross “Sar-chasm,” a pit that amusingly lends a sarcastic tone to every spoken word. In other scenes, the characters are literally “bottled up” as “suppressed emotions” and get caught in a “brain storm,” as “idea lightbulbs” pelt down on them like raindrops. The concept may not be new, but the worldbuilding remains as clever and playful as ever.   

Many parents’ relationship with Pixar has been tested not only because of a drop in quality but also because of the studio’s tendency to emphasize unwanted themes or messages. Thankfully, Inside Out 2 is clean and wholesome, a refreshing change of pace from the ideological minefield children’s entertainment has increasingly become. There are several opportunities for the film to travel down some of those undesirable roads, but it restrains itself—and the film is better as a result.   

For example, while much of the movie is about developing a sense of self, the role of sexuality is not given prime importance. With a cast of human characters comprised almost exclusively of teenage girls going through puberty, Christian parents may find themselves holding their breath and waiting for the inevitable LGBTQ subtext, but the film doesn’t go there. Yes, Riley’s personified emotions journey to Mount “Crushmore” (which represents her juvenile crushes on real and fictional boys). But as a thirteen-year-old girl, her sexuality is not emphasized as a defining component of her sense of self. Instead, the film leans into deeper, more fundamental values, such as her convictions that “I’m a good person” or “I’m a good friend.”    

Fun, wholesome, and thematically rich, Inside Out 2 offers an important reminder that people are complex, and life is messy. In fact, while writing this review, one of my children dashed by my home office in tears over a trivial conflict with his brother. Instead of reacting with annoyance, I found myself thinking, “There’s a lot going on inside that head right now.” That’s the power of the Inside Out movies. Yes, they’re colorful and entertaining. But on a deeper level, they provide a lens through which we can see and understand ourselves and each other more clearly.    

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Beliefs and Self      

Inside Out 2 focuses on the formation of beliefs and values. It doesn’t expand its commentary to include religious or spiritual matters, but it showcases how our fundamental beliefs take root and how pivotal these beliefs are in understanding ourselves.  

In the movie, the personified emotions take Riley’s important memories down an elevator shaft to the deepest part of her, planting them and allowing them to take root and grow. It is a potent visual for how our sense of self is not merely the product of abstract ideas or “head knowledge.” It is shaped by our memories and experiences at a deeper “heart” level. The Bible cautions, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).  

The film is a timely reminder that as we interact with people, we are dealing with a myriad of deeply rooted influences (if that interests you, I encourage you to check out my new book on that topic, Straight to the Heart: Communicating the Gospel in an Emotionally Driven Culture)

Empathy      

Arguably the most immediate lesson of both Inside Out films is that people are complex, and life is confusing. As a result, we should all strive to show grace and patience rather than frustration and judgment. Actions have consequences, as Inside Out 2 makes clear. But Christians should be slow to assign nefarious motives or hasty character assessments, understanding that there is always more taking place on the inside than we can see. An effective way the film highlights this truth is by having the audience leave Riley’s head to check in on the various emotions working behind the scenes in the minds of her friends and family. In a culture increasingly characterized by emotional excess and division, Inside Out 2 reminds us to show empathy and grace. The Bible urges us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). 

  

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1 Comment

  • by Jeanniekay Zinda
    Posted June 17, 2024 10:50 pm 0Likes

    Thanks so much for the thorough review. I have been searching for a Christian entertainment review site and stumbled across yours. Just what I was looking for! Our family is thankfully looking forward to the movie.

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