The ‘Inside Out 2’ ending, explained

We’ve been twiddling our thumbs for a long time (nine years, to be exact!) waiting for “Inside Out 2,” and true to form, the movie’s ending tugs at the heartstrings, but in the best way possible. The beauty of this story lies in its lack of a traditional “villain.” Instead, it’s all about the growth Riley and her emotions need to undergo.


The ‘Inside Out 2’ ending, explained


“Inside Out 2” continues the saga of Riley Anderson, the kid from the first movie with those wonderfully anthropomorphic emotions, now teetering on the brink of adolescence. Riley, voiced by Kensington Tallman, navigates her young life with the familiar help of Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (formerly Mindy Kaling, now Liza Lapira), Fear (formerly Bill Hader, now Tony Hale), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

In this sequel, the emotions work tirelessly in their “control center,” regulating Riley’s well-being and managing the inner workings of her mind and personality. The inciting incident? Riley’s plunge into puberty, prompting a construction crew to swoop in and upgrade the work center.

These upgrades bring a whole new set of emotions: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser). Much like Sadness in the first film, Anxiety steps in as a pseudo-foil—not evil, but insistent that her way is the right way.

In her quest to prove herself, Anxiety decides she can manage Riley’s life better than the old gang, kicking them out of the control center. This sends the original emotions on a journey of self-discovery while Riley struggles with hockey camp and the unsettling news that her best friends are transferring to another school.

Throughout most of the movie, Anxiety attempts to reshape Riley’s belief system, inadvertently crafting an unstable new identity. This new identity is unhealthy, causing Riley to doubt her own capabilities rather than empowering her. Her entire future seems at risk.

A major addition to the “Inside Out” lore in this film is the Sense of Self, a pivotal plot device. When memories become deeply ingrained in Riley’s personality, they transform into “beliefs,” visualized as musical strands that compose the Sense of Self. Joy has carefully curated these over the years, but Anxiety, upon taking control, dismantles them.

As the climax builds, Joy fights her way back to the control room. Anxiety is in a full-blown panic, and Riley is playing far too aggressively in her hockey game. She steals the puck from a teammate and injures her friend Grace, landing herself in the penalty box and triggering a panic attack.

Joy battles through Anxiety’s tornadoes of despair, urging her to let go and allow Riley to reassemble her belief system independently. As Riley’s panic attack peaks, her belief system evolves into something more intricate, nuanced, and colorful.

From this point, Riley breaks free from her emotional slump. The emotions learn the crucial lesson that managing a person becomes more complex with age, and that a balanced individual requires all emotions to work together. The new Sense of Self is now adaptable to various situations rather than being rigid, and the musical strands of Self are some of the most stunning visuals in the film.

With such an open ending, it’s easy to speculate that Pixar is paving the way for another sequel. While there’s no official word on “Inside Out 3,” director Kelsey Mann has some exciting ideas for a follow-up.

“I love this world. It’s such a great world to play in, and ideas just kind of come from playing in this world, both for locations and characters,” Mann said. She mentioned there were many concepts within the franchise that made her think, “That’s a really fun, clever idea. I don’t know how it fits into this particular story, but it should be used at some point.”

“Inside Out 2” is in theaters now, so grab your popcorn and get ready for another emotional rollercoaster!