Inside Out 2 Tackles Belief in a Pixar Perfect Way

Inside Out 2 Tackles Belief in a Pixar Perfect Way June 17, 2024

Disgust, Anxiety and Joy in Inside Out 2, screen shot courtesy Disney/Pixar trailer
Disgust, Anxiety and Joy in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar trailer

Inside Out 2 is great. While not quite peak Pixar (which hit its artistic zenith with WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3 in the late 2000’s), it’s awfully close. Moreover, the movie is all about belief: Not belief in God, exactly, or what we believe happens when we die, but what we believe about ourselves.

But don’t fool yourself into believing that Inside Out 2 isn’t spiritual. In its own way, it’s deeply so.

As the Disney/Pixar film opens, we renew our friendship with Riley—the girl at the center of the two Inside Out movies—and her five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. And, naturally, everything is going along swimmingly.

And then, the puberty alarm goes off—quite literally. And even though Joy successfully rips the alarm off and flings it across the expanse of 13-year-old Riley’s mind, there’s no stopping it. Soon, construction workers are tearing up the emotions’ nice little control room to make room for “the others,” which is just as ominous as it sounds.

New emotions arrive soon after: Embarrassment Ennui, Envy and—most especially—Anxiety.

It doesn’t take long before Anxiety gently pushes Joy away from the controls. She has her own ideas of what Riley needs.

Anxiety in Inside Out 2
Anxiety in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer

Anxious Days

We’re going to get into some spoilers from here on out, so if you haven’t seen Inside Out 2, you might want to stop here and return once you have.

In Riley’s emotional control room, we see a symbol of Riley’s core beliefs—a beautiful, flower-like thing that glows in the background. This is a product of countless memories that feed into those beliefs. And because Joy’s been conscientiously culling Riley’s negative memories, that flower is pretty beautiful. Every memory strand that goes into it re-affirms that Riley is “a good friend” or “kind” or, very simply, a “good person.”

But when Anxiety takes over, she creates memories that can run counter to that self-identity.

Anxiety’s not bad: She just wants Riley to think about the consequences if she doesn’t work as hard as she ought to or makes a bad decision. She compares herself to fear, who keeps Riley safe from all the things she can see: busy streets, hot stoves, that sort of thing. Anxiety’s around to keep her safe from the things she can’t see: If Riley doesn’t pay attention in hockey camp, for instance, Riley might not make the hockey team. If Riley doesn’t make new friends, she could be all alone in high school.

But while all that’s well and good, Anxiety rips away Riley’s existing flower of core beliefs and starts sending new formative moments into the lake of Riley’s core beliefs—memories that remind her when she let people down or didn’t work hard enough. And as those messages grow ever more numerous, Riley’s core belief about who she is begins to twist. It moves from I’m a good person to I’m not good enough.

Riley in Inside Out 2
Riley in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer


I’m not good enough.

Those words can haunt many of us—especially those of us who’ve struggled with anxiety or depression at some point. And when we watch Riley’s own struggle with out-of-control anxiety, we remember that beautiful little flower of core beliefs and we wish that we could go back to that. That’s so much healthy, right?

Well, maybe. In a way. But honestly, both versions of Riley’s core beliefs are built on a misperception of who Riley is. In a nice mirror of the first movie, the goal isn’t to get Riley back to the state she was in, but bring her forward to a more realistic—and dare I say it, more biblical—state. Let me explain.

Emotions guarding each other in Inside Out 2
Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy and Disgust in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer

Mixed Messages

As Anxiety plays havoc with Riley’s emotional state, Joy leads most of our familiar emotions across Riley’s mind, hoping to retrieve her childhood flower of core beliefs. And as the trek gets ever more challenging, one of Joy’s fellow emotions tells her that she’s delusional. Joy snaps at him: Of course she’s delusional! She has to be sometimes, giving all the sniping her workmates do. It’s not easy being so sunny all the time, y’know.

And honestly, Riley’s old flower of core beliefs was built on the same sort of delusion.

We mentioned that Joy had long catapulted unpleasant memories to the farthest recesses of Riley’s brain. Joy’s intentions, as always, were good: Let’s not let inconvenient facts get in the way of how you see yourself. (You’d think she would’ve learned from the first Inside Out movie, right?) And Riley’s so much happier—and honestly, better—if she thinks of herself as a good person. If she thinks of herself as kind, for instance, she acts more kindly to feed that reality.

But none of us our kind all the time, and the Bible tells us so. We are fallen creations, and if left to our own whims, we’ll do some pretty terrible things. We have the capacity to be cruel and hateful. We can—and do—hurt the people we love.

Riley’s previous core belief told her that she was a “good person.” But according to Christian doctrine, we’re not. We’ve all fallen short of what God had hoped for us. We’ve all been bad. We’ve all sinned.

But what Anxiety ultimately brings to the party is no better.

Riley in hockey gear in Inside Out 2
Riley in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer

Fallen Creatures

When you deal with depression or anxiety, as I have, Riley’s statement that she’s not good enough can hit like a swinging 2-by-4. I was probably a little younger than Riley when I’m not good enough became my own core belief. And I deal with those feelings even now.

But I don’t think you need to be clinically depressed or anxious to struggle with a sense of worthlessness. Maybe most of us feel like we’re not good enough during a season, or in a particular environment. We can feel that we’re failures at a job. That we can’t do anything right with a group of friends. We can feel like we’re perennially disappointing our parents, or our spouse, or our kids. We’re not good enough.

But if we embrace that message, we’re embracing another lie—one far more debilitating than the first.

In Inside Out 2, we see what Riley does to get better. To try to wipe away those feelings of failure. But ultimately, she freezes: She suffers a panic attack. And inside her, Anxiety has locked up, too. And all the other emotions with her seem almost helpless to redirect.

And man, that’s the way anxiety and mental illness can truly feel. Our fears become ruts that we can’t get out of. Our regrets can throw us into holes we can’t climb past. We freeze. Joy? It doesn’t get through. Anger? Not much better chance. It’s even hard for Sadness to make a dent. We’re frozen, like a computer that just can’t boot up.

Our anxiety can overwhelm us—leaving us powerless in its wake.

bottled up emotions in inside out 2
Bottled-up emotions in Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer

Hug It (Inside) Out

Those overwhelming feelings of worthlessness are lies too, of course. I think they’re lies straight from the Evil One—whispers meant to tear us away from God, from hope, from everything we value and love. But those lies can be so convincing. Why? Because they are lies rooted in our own memories. Lies that ultimately form the core of who we believe ourselves to be. And as such, they can be so hard to fight.

But I love what Inside Out 2 does to combat those lies.

In the midst of Riley’s panic attack, her friends—people who’ve been treated pretty shabbily by Riley for most of the movie—skate over to her to make sure she’s OK. They make sure Riley knows they care. They love her. And they’re with her, no matter what.

At the same time, we see something similar take place in Riley’s mind. Anxiety is utterly locked up—spinning faster than you can see and yet, utterly frozen in place. And what does Joy do? She comes alongside. She touches her. She holds her. And soon, all the emotions are hugging.

And that, I think, is the key for those I’m not good enough feelings.

I’ve sometimes described mental illness as being locked away in a dungeon. Maybe there’s a barred window 20 feet up or something, but not close enough to look out of. Certainly not close enough to reach. The jail door is locked, and no one—not your best friend, not your mother or father, not your spouse—has the key.

So what can you do if you’re on the outside? What can you do if you’re desperately trying to help the person locked inside?

You sit by that window and remind them that you’re there. That you love them. And that won’t change.

To know that you’re not alone—that’s big. To know that you’re loved when you’re at your most unlovable—that’s even bigger.

inside out 2 memories
From Inside Out 2, screenshot courtesy Disney/Pixar Trailer

The Cosmic Takeaway

That’s what God does with us, after all. And really, Riley’s story arc is an echo of one that began in the Garden of Eden itself. We were created to be beautiful. To be wonderful. To be God’s crowning glories. To be, in Riley’s words, good people. But along the way, we fell. And no matter how hard we try, we will fail again. There will be times we won’t be good enough. And we’ll never be good enough to bridge the gulf between us and God.

So what does God do? He loves us. He holds us. He forgives us. He reminds us that, no matter what we’ve done, we have a place with Him if we ask for it. And we broken creatures can still be beautiful.

Yep, Inside Out 2 is a pretty great film. And one of the reasons why is simply this: It reminds us that we don’t have to be lovely to be loved. We don’t have to be perfect to be redeemed.





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