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Teen emotions turn Riley inside-out in Pixar’s latest

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 23, 2024 7:05 am

One of the biggest box-office draws this month is Pixar’s Inside Out 2, sequel to the 2015 tale of toddler Riley Anderson, and her expanding gallery of emotions. Among them are Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), Disgust (Liza Lapira) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and the logical next stage for now-age-13 Riley (now voiced by Kensington Tallman) is adolescence, puberty and all the turmoil that these changes bring.

Enter all the awkward emotions, plus a social-acceptance pusher in the form of a new orange emotion voiced by Maya Hawke: Anxiety.

Maya Hawke, as Anxiety, takes over Riley’s mind in Inside Out 2.

Anxiety maximizes fear, emotion and peer pressure in Riley to a point where she starts to become someone else—somebody she doesn’t even recognize—in her pursuit to join the junior high girl’s ice hockey team and gain acceptance. In the process, her usual emotions get sidelined and her literal “self” gets deep-sixed somewhere in the back of her mind.

It doesn’t take a psych degree to figure out that Anxiety mirrors the current social media crisis among teens—a crisis of self so troubling that the US Surgeon General now wants warning labels for social media sites, like there are for cigarettes.

Emotions like Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust are deep-sixed as teenage Anxiety takes over.

And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to also link the fear-driven Anxiety emotion to another orange-hued character with outsized influence on current US politics. Is Anxiety meant to stand in for Donald Trump, marching his way towards another White House run with nonstop fear-mongering about crime, immigration (“Vermin infesting our country!”) and the Deep State? Pixar owner Disney will not comment on such a leap of imagination, but trust us: it’s there.

Other emotions pop up in Inside Out 2, including an amusing Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who introduces the teenager to emo-laden irony; Paul Walter Hauser as pink-hued Embarrassment; and Ayo Edebiri as social-climbing Envy. All of it part of the stew of growing up and connecting to your inner self and core beliefs.

Speaking of envy, the box office for Inside Out 2 kicked butt locally. Disney Philippines announced the sequel raked in the third biggest opening day of all time in the Philippines at P88.8 million, behind the last two Avengers movies (also under Disney through Marvel Studios). Its opening weekend box office slayed at P381 million.

With such big numbers, Inside Out 2 is likely connecting with teens who grew up with the toddler Riley and are now experiencing a gallery of new social anxieties—from outside and from within—these days.

But according to Walt Disney Company Southeast Asia vice president and GM Vineet Puri, there are more analytical reasons for the hit numbers, including “Disney’s enduring connection with fans in the Philippines,” its keen understanding of local consumption habits and “innovative, integrated marketing efforts” to engage local audiences.

Disney Southeast Asia VP and general manager Vineet Puri

He adds, “Inside Out 2 really is the perfect film for a family and barkada outing, where audiences can experience new and old emotions with their friends and families.” Witness all the Inside Out 2-themed photo walls, Mood Swings Installations, Selfie Mirrors and other displays at local malls during opening weekend.

There’s a lot of family-oriented messaging that also resonates with Filipinos. The film “spoke to audiences across age demographics as it touches upon universal and deeply relevant themes like growing up, coping with change, and the importance of emotional balance and understanding.”

Local influencer Kendra Kramer was invited to Pixar Studios in California to share a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Inside Out 2.

But Disney also sought to expand its reach to new audiences through modern channels. One way was inviting local influencer Kendra Kramer to visit Pixar Animation Studios in California and share a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Inside Out 2 with her 1.2 million followers. “With Inside Out 2, we wanted to engage not only our existing fans, but also a new generation of young audiences and families.”

A little girl with Sadness display at an SM mall

There’s something very social about Disney’s approach. “We know Filipinos love the social experience of watching great films on the big screen,” Puri says, and with a coming lineup that includes Deadpool & Wolverine (July 24), Alien: Romulus (Aug. 14), and musical sequels and prequels like Moana 2 (Nov. 27) and Mufasa: The Lion King (December), Disney has clearly tapped into local audience “feels.”