TV & Movies

5 Surprising Lessons I Learned About Adulthood From ‘Inside Out 2’

written by MICHELLE LEMA
Source: Disney
Source: Disney

On the morning I turned 13, I burst into tears. A sudden, stark realization dawned on me: I was now a teenager, and I would never really be a kid again. This teenage angst is exactly what Disney and Pixar’s new movie Inside Out 2 tackles in the most Pixar way possible. If you didn’t see the first Inside Out when it came out back in 2015, the movie follows 11-year-old Riley as she’s uprooted from her home in Minnesota and moves with her parents to San Francisco. The story is told through the emotions in Riley’s head: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear. It was poignant to watch as an adult and had me laughing and crying at the same time. Two words: Bing Bong (IYKYK).

Nearly 10 years later, we’re getting to see Riley grow up as she becomes a teenager. She’s taller, she has zits and braces (relatable), and she gains brand new emotions to contend with. The emotions we know and love from the first Inside Out are joined by Anxiety, Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black return to voice Joy, Sadness, and Anger. Tony Hale and Liza Lapira voice Fear and Disgust. And coming in hot as new emotions, Maya Hawke and Ayo Edebiri voice Anxiety and Envy, respectively.

When I was watching Inside Out 2, I was struck by how relatable it was, not only as I looked back at my younger self but also at the adult I’ve become. Even though the movie centers around Riley as a 13-year-old about to enter high school, the story inside her head can actually help us process our current experiences as adults. Here are some lessons from Inside Out 2 that adults can relate to as well:

1. Balancing old friends and new friends is important.

At the beginning of Inside Out 2, we see Riley meet her best friends, Grace and Bree. If this isn’t a relatable friend group, I don’t know what is. They share secrets, support each other, love the same bands, play hockey, and generally do everything together. I had a friend group like this, and they were absolutely everything to me. Of course, as life changes and we take different paths, friendships can get harder to maintain. We see Riley struggle with this change, especially as she and her friends head to hockey camp and meet their varsity hockey idol, Val Ortiz.

How do we balance new and old friendships and make them last? And how do we know when to try to make new friends? Riley faces this conflict as she tries to impress Val and the older high school kids while still having her OG friends around. As an adult, it made me think about how I’ve often felt that some friends only know one version of me. For example, my work friends only know the professional side of me, whereas my elementary school friends may not know who I’ve become as an adult. What I learned from Riley and Inside Out 2 is that friendship is about trusting our hearts, honoring the bonds we have, and staying open to new relationships. True friends accept whatever version of ourselves we are in the moment and help us to be our best selves in the future.

2. Puberty is similar to other life changes.

Riley is going through puberty, and new emotions are bursting out in the space that is the Headquarters of her brain. Anxiety, Envy, Ennui, and Embarrassment are suddenly a part of her life, and this rocks her sense of self. While I remember that time as a kid, I found myself comparing her experience to other changes in my adult life, like turning 20 or 30. In those big transitions, it’s incredibly difficult not to take stock of the previous decade and the one to come. You wonder where the time went, but at the same time, the journey to get there seemed incredibly long. You have anxiety for the future and maybe some envy for what others have accomplished. Similarly, as a 13-year-old, Riley is looking back at the kid she was and looking forward to a future in high school as a teenager.

Watching Riley experience these emotions for the first time made me realize that life is one big series of changes. We’re never not going to be experiencing new emotions or ones that haven’t come up in a long time. Even as an adult, I’ve had time periods where I can feel myself changing and I don’t know where I’m going to end up. But accepting this inevitable change almost always pays off in growth and a more solid sense of self. Inside Out 2 reminded me to look forward to the wave of the next decade in my life rather than dread it. If we can get through puberty, we can get through anything.

3. Anxiety is just trying to help us.

Anxiety is something we can all relate to, so watching the personification of Anxiety in Inside Out 2 is a surreal and comforting experience. I felt so seen when watching how Anxiety attempts to help Riley address the “fears she can’t see.” Anxiety tricks us all the time. Sometimes, the emotion tells us that if we can just achieve something, we will feel better. In the movie, I particularly related to Anxiety’s need to get Riley to excel at hockey camp to combat a fear of failure. We often think that if we just reach a milestone, like a graduation, a promotion, or a romantic partnership, everything will be better. And yet, when we achieve these things, anxiety is still there.

Anxiety as a character in the movie is absolutely adorable, orange, and has a mischievous grin. I liked Anxiety and wanted her to be able to help Riley. This was the perfect metaphor for how I personally relate to my own real-life anxiety. I think it’s trying to help me, but sometimes it’s actually preventing me from living in the moment. And yet, anxiety will never truly go away. We, like Riley, need to manage the emotion and rely on the rest of our emotions to balance us. Much like the tense relationship between Joy and Sadness in the first Inside Out, bringing Anxiety into the mix of Riley’s brain was a brilliant way to analyze our own brains, no matter what stage of life we’re in.

4. We’re constantly becoming our next self…

When Riley’s age, I thought that when I was an adult, I’d have it all figured out. Now, as an actual adult, I’m still wondering when I’m going to have it all figured out. At the beginning of Inside Out 2, Riley has a very solid sense of self, but her new emotions rock that foundation. While Joy and Sadness and the original emotions try to restore Riley’s sense of self after these new emotions appear, Riley’s new sense of self is forming. Updated thoughts and fears are entering her mind and shaping the way she views herself. In the first Inside Out, we learn that Joy and Sadness are equally important in forming our memories. We learn Sadness isn’t bad for Riley, and that acknowledging Sadness allows Riley to experience Joy.

In Inside Out 2, we see that the end of the first movie wasn’t a resolution. It was just the beginning of the many stages of Riley that will continue to keep the emotions and any new emotions that join them on their toes. It’s a great reminder that as we move through life, we’re never going to have it 100 percent figured out—and that’s a good thing. The turmoil that new emotions bring is what makes life, well, life.

5. … but our younger selves are always with us.

Riley is changing in Inside Out 2, but she’s still Riley. Watching Riley and the emotions in her head made me feel so much compassion for her and, in turn, for myself as a 13-year-old. The various emotions and locations in Riley’s mind in Inside Out 2 were a genius way to unpack what it means to be human. It reminded me how difficult yet beautiful it was to be a kid, become a teenager, and enter adulthood. It made me think about 13-year-old me, who also had braces, zits, and newly formed anxiety.

No matter what we go through as adults, we can sometimes regress into that scared kid we once were. When that happens, it’s important to listen to our inner child and let ourselves feel all the emotions. Even when we’re going through a hard time, Joy is just around the corner, waiting to enthusiastically tap a button on the console that is our mind. After all, we’re all still growing up, no matter our age.