Spoiler alert! Riley faces a whole new set of emotions in Inside Out 2

Ever since Pixar’s Inside Out 2 released on June 14, fans have not been able to stop talking about the animated blockbuster, featuring the voices of Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri, Phylis Smith and others. Lately, Pixar has been known to push the boundaries of what we understand as children’s media by explaining tough-to-understand topics through loveable characters and storylines such as answering existential questions about life through its mega-hit ‘Soul’, the complexities of familial responsibility through ‘Turning Red’, and ‘Elemental’.

The film builds upon the success of the 2015 original, where viewers learned to embrace sadness as a natural part of growth. This time, 13-year-old Riley faces a whole new set of emotions in her “control room”: Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment, and Ennui (boredom) quickly take over and push Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust out, leaving Riley in a whirlwind of confusion. Throughout the film, Riley tries to join a group of high school hockey players fuelled by Anxiety’s schemes.

Things take an ugly turn when Anxiety begins to micromanage Riley’s personality by changing her “sense of self”, a collection of good memories through which Riley forms a perception of her identity. Anxiety explains that her job is to protect Riley’s future, but her over-zealous planning tampers with this sense of self, leading to Riley betraying her friends, openly dissing her favourite band, and even sneaking off at night to go through the coach’s folder.

Meanwhile, Joy and her friends embark on a series of adventures to get back to headquarters. They ferry across a literal “stream of consciousness”, ‘Dreamland’, and ‘The Vault of Secrets’. But when they finally arrive back at headquarters, they witness Riley’s first panic attack after getting a penalty during an important game.

Riley’s heartbeat quickens and her legs shake uncontrollably. She grapples with this new destructive sense of self, a stark contrast to the upcoming star player and straight-A student she once was. Despite the chaos, there’s hope. Joy manages to pull Anxiety away, and the emotions come together in a supportive hug. Inside Out 2 beautifully depicts the experience of an anxiety attack fuelled by negative self-perception. Inside Out 2’s depiction of Riley’s panic attack is a standout moment.

Fuelled by self-doubt and negative thoughts, the scene accurately captures the physical and emotional turmoil of an anxiety attack. Pixar’s collaboration with psychologists to ensure authenticity is evident, making it a powerful and relatable experience for many viewers. Riley later manages to overcome the attack with her new and well-rounded sense of self (thanks to Joy) which acknowledges the good and the bad. As viewers, we come to understand that Anxiety is not the villain; rather, she is an important emotion but must not take control over other emotions.

Ultimately, Riley’s journey is one of integrating the new emotions that come with puberty. This newfound balance allows her to navigate the complexities of adolescence, with all its emotional ups and downs.