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A parent’s guide to ‘Inside Out 2’: What to know before seeing the movie with kids

Is 'Inside Out 2' appropriate for kids? Here's what parents and caregivers should know ahead of seeing the movie — and how to talk about it with kids.

A parent’s guide to ‘Inside Out 2’: What to know before seeing the movie with kids

“Inside Out 2,” the follow-up to Disney and Pixar’s beloved 2015 hit “Inside Out,” has dominated movie theaters since its release on June 14. It just topped $1 billion at the global box office, making it the highest grossing film of 2024 so far, and many families can’t stop talking about its moving storyline, which follows a kid named Riley as she navigates new emotions that come with growing up, and the fun characters who personify those emotions, like Joy, who’s voiced by comedian and actress Amy Poehler. 

For elementary kids and tweens especially, the movie has proved to be an exceptionally great starting point for important conversations about anxiety and self-esteem. “These films are just such a great segue for talking about all the different kinds of feelings and really allowing for and normalizing them,” says Jenn Wert, a parenting coach and educator who specializes in family relationships and communication. “They’re also a great peek into your kiddo’s sense of self and how they accept or reject their uncomfortable feelings.”

Here’s what parents and caregivers can expect when they head out to see “Inside Out 2,” as well as expert advice for talking about the movie with kids of all ages.

Warning: Light spoilers ahead.

What is ‘Inside Out 2’ about?

“Inside Out 2” follows Riley, the main character from the original 2015 film, as she turns 13 and faces new challenges related to friendships, personal goals and changing self-image. Riley is a star hockey player and can’t wait to try out for the high school team, along with her two best friends. But just as she’s about to embark on this new adventure, puberty hits and throws her life into disarray.

Riley’s existing emotions — portrayed by characters named Joy, Sadness, Jealousy, Anger and Fear — are suddenly challenged by four brand new emotions: Embarrassment, Ennui, Envy and Anxiety. It isn’t long before Anxiety takes over and casts out all of Riley’s old emotions. Together, they must find a way to restore Riley’s sense of self before Anxiety permanently changes the core of who she is.

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What parents and caregivers need to know about ‘Inside Out 2’

“Inside Out 2” is rated PG, and Common Sense Media recommends the movie for kids ages 6 years and up. Here are some topics parents and caregivers can expect to see addressed in the film.

‘Inside Out 2’ talks about puberty

Puberty plays a big role in “Inside Out 2.” It’s the reason why Riley’s new emotions are introduced — an alarm labeled “puberty” starts going off in her emotional headquarters just before they arrive. After that, Riley experiences mood swings and new feelings of stress as her emotions fight for control of the internal switchboard that guides her reactions.

While puberty is discussed, the movie steers clear of exploring body changes or romantic relationships. The focus is on Riley’s feelings, friendships and sense of self.

“The best feature in this series is that there are no all-good or all-bad emotions. It highlights the fact that all emotions can coexist and actually complement each other.”

— Sarah Baroud, therapist and licensed clinical social worker

Anxiety plays a major role in the movie

Anxiety is the main antagonist in the movie, which means that the main character deals with a lot of complicated feelings, stress and worry. The movie shows how anxiety can take over in our brains, pushing out other feelings and sometimes causing us to act in unexpected ways. It also highlights how anxiety can be managed and even be a part of healthy brain functioning — once we get it in check.

“The best feature in this series is that there are no all-good or all-bad emotions. It highlights the fact that all emotions can coexist and actually complement each other,” says Sarah Baroud, a therapist and licensed clinical social worker who’s worked with children, adolescents and families for more than 16 years.

The movie addresses friendships and peer pressure

Riley’s desire to be on the high school hockey team and her struggle to maintain her old friendships while meeting new people are main sources of conflict in the movie. Riley wants to fit in with the older kids, and she isn’t sure how to come off as cool while still holding on to her childhood besties, favorite boy band and middle school interests.

Luckily, kids get to see Riley overcome these struggles in positive ways, with the film highlighting the importance of being a good teammate, a loving friend and a responsible and kind person.

‘Inside Out 2’ portrays a panic attack

At one point in the movie, Anxiety gains total control of Riley, and it’s too much for her to handle. Her heart starts to pound, she gasps for air and we see Anxiety whirling around the control center in Riley’s brain like a tornado. This is an on-screen portrayal of a panic or anxiety attack, and while it could be intense for some younger viewers, it’s also a great jumping off point for talking about how to deal with overwhelming emotions.

“I saw the movie with my 4- and 6-year-old children,” Baroud says. “I think the actual panic attack was lost on them, though they could see the character was struggling, and Anxiety was ‘wild,’ as one described. Later, I used the example with my kids about my daughter feeling nervous about her recent dance recital. It was a tangible situation and seemed helpful to name the feeling of anxiety.”

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A core theme of the movie is that emotions help make us who we are

Ultimately, Anxiety isn’t a villain in “Inside Out 2.” The character causes some trouble, but the real message is that anxiety is a useful emotion to have, just like all of the others, and people must make space for all of their emotions — both the “good” ones and the “bad” ones — if they want to be healthy and complete.

“Anxiety really does mean well, just like in the movie. It’s an emotion meant to help protect us, but sometimes it goes too far if we don’t keep it in check,” says Bonnie Scott, a therapist and the owner of Mindful Kindness Counseling. “It’s a powerful emotion with a lot of chemical energy fueling it, so it takes practice to learn how to keep it focused on actual and perceived dangers.”

Talking to kids about anxiety and ‘Inside Out 2’

“Inside Out 2” was made with guidance from respected mental health professionals Dr. Dacher Kentler and Dr. Lisa Damour. That’s a major reason why it does such a great job of representing different feelings and why it’s such a useful tool for talking to kids about their own mental health.

Ask kids for their impressions of the film

You can start by asking some simple questions after you see the film, Scott says, including:

  • What did you think when Anxiety showed up?
  • Could you recognize the different emotions by the energy the characters showed up with?
  • How did you feel when you saw Anxiety start to panic and fly around the control panel?

“The more fluent you get with talking about the ‘not so fun’ feelings, the more safe your children feel in sharing with you when they have these feelings.”

—Jenn Wert, parenting coach and educator

Listen and share without judgment

As kids share their thoughts about the movie, listen openly and without judgment, Wert advises. “Try to stay quiet and curious. Be sure the only agenda is to understand your child better.”

“The hardest thing for parents is being OK with their kids having uncomfortable feelings and conveying acceptance of this,” she adds. “The more fluent you get with talking about the ‘not so fun’ feelings, the more safe your children feel in sharing with you when they have these feelings.”

Talk about how to cope with big feelings

You can use the scene when Riley gets overwhelmed by anxiety to talk about how we deal with intense emotions.

“[It’s] like when a phone gets too hot and shuts down, our brains can ‘overheat,’ and we can’t control our response,” Scott explains. “We’re flooded with chemicals like adrenaline that cause our hearts and breathing to speed up so we can fight or run away. It feels like we are in danger but there’s no obvious threat.”

As Riley panics, she takes deep breaths, tries to focus on the room around her and puts a hand to her chest to center herself. These are good things to point out too, Scott adds. “The example of Riley using grounding techniques was perfectly presented,” she notes. “Our overheated nervous system needs a way to cool down, and that’s called grounding.”

The bottom line

“Inside Out 2” is number one at the box office for a reason. It provides a pathway into vital conversations about growing up and mental health that is paved with lots of heart, compassion and more than a few laughs. Through this movie, parents and kids can explore new ways of talking about feelings and making space for the difficult emotions that come with being a growing human.

“I will be forever thankful to this series of films for opening the conversation to mental health,” Baroud says. “As a therapist, I know that all of our emotions have meaning and value. They help us make decisions, form relationships and give back to the world; however, our emotions can feel out of balance at times and that’s OK too. This film depicted that in an accessible, relatable way.”