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‘Inside Out 2’ is poised to make a billion dollars at the box office. Here’s why people love it so much

The last film to gross a billion dollars was 2023’s “Barbie.” Northeastern experts explain why this Pixar sequel may soon join those ranks.

'Inside Out 2' characters portray different emotions inside the purple-colored control room of the main character's mind.
“Inside Out 2” was released in June 2024 and introduced new emotions like “Anxiety.” Disney

It may seem like every movie has a sequel these days — and not all of them are good. But “Inside Out 2” seems to be an exception. The second movie in the Disney-Pixar franchise that brings to life the inner emotional workings of young Riley is poised to become the first billion-dollar movie of 2024.

As of June 23, “Inside Out 2” grossed $724.4 million worldwide, making it the highest-earning film of the year. If it breaks the billion-dollar mark, it’ll be the first film since last summer’s “Barbie” to do so.

As an animated movie aimed at children, “Inside Out 2” might not seem to have the same wide audience base as “Barbie.” But the movie, which follows Riley from the first movie as she enters puberty and experiences new emotions like anxiety, builds on the success from the first film.

“Inside Out” resonated with audiences of all ages for its realistic depiction of emotions that were portrayed as people living in Riley’s head and controlling her feelings and reactions to a big move. 

The film is even used as a tool for those in the mental health field who recommend it to clients as a way to understand their own feelings, says Christie Rizzo, a professor of applied psychology at Northeastern University who has worked on building resilience among vulnerable youths.

Rizzo says she recommended the film to families with adolescents after seeing how it captured the trickle-down effects emotions can have on our behaviors.

“When you’re doing counseling with a young person or talking with a family, it’s a lot easier if they can see it play out,” Rizzo says. “It’s another teaching tool, to be able to see these characters and demonstrate (emotions) with these characters. I found it really helpful.”

It isn’t a coincidence that “Inside Out” portrays emotions with accuracy. Director Peter Docter said he consulted with doctors and psychologists to tell a story that was fun and accurate.

“Disney Pixar put a lot of time and effort into working with experts around not just emotions, but child development,” Rizzo says. “What you see in the scripts of both movies is a lot of care and thought to really try and replicate what most young people are experiencing moving through these different phases of development. 

“I think that a lot of folks were excited about the second movie because they saw the first and were moved by it because it felt so close to home, even if you were an adult watching it. I remember seeing the first one with my daughter and it gets you choked up because it really does bring you back to those periods of time where you’re grappling with these feelings that you don’t know what to do with. So you’ve got adults that are connected to the movie and you’ve got young people who feel like they’re being represented in the film which I think is really cool.”

The original “Inside Out” won an Oscar in 2016 for Best Animated Feature Film and was nominated that same year for the Best Original Screenplay for its story following the emotional journey of Riley, a young girl dealing with a family move. The accolades came on top of making over $857 million at the box office worldwide when it was released in theaters in June 2015.

The success of the first movie created a built-in audience for the second, says Northeastern associate teaching professor and pop-culture expert Steve Granelli. Additionally, animated films tend to make more money, and this one came out just in time for summer, when parents are looking for things to do with their kids.

“There’s been all this talk about the death of the box office and what’s going to save movies,” Granelli says. “Well, we have a wonderful kids movie that everybody’s going to want to go see. Everybody knows the premise … and the additions that have been made to the story (are) natural. It’s not a forced sequel.”

In “Inside Out 2,” Riley is preparing to enter high school and her personified emotions from the previous film — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust — are joined now by Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment and Ennui. Much like in the first film, these emotions have to figure out how to work together as Riley enters a new phase of life and begins to develop a “sense of self.”

Rizzo says the new emotions will likely appeal to viewers the same way the ones in the first film did because they’re feelings young people deal with now, especially anxiety and envy in a world of social media.

“There’s just a lot of relevance to incorporating those particular emotions into this movie,” she adds. 

Despite the heavy subject matter, Granelli says the “Inside Out” movies balance this with fun animation, good jokes and a star-studded cast of voice actors that includes Amy Poehler and Ayo Edebiri, known best from her work on “The Bear.”

“It feels like a natural sequel because the main character was a child going through changing emotions,” Granelli says. “And as this child, years later, is starting to enter puberty and experience new emotions and feelings. Instead of just fear and anger, now we’re talking about complex emotions like anxiety, which I think is a wonderful conversation to be able to have with kids, to be able to put a name to a complex emotion.” 

Rizzo says kids who watch the film may not look at it as educational because it naturally teaches viewers about emotional intelligence through its storyline and how their emotions relate to their sense of self. 

“What I understand about the second film is that there’s more attention being paid to how the way you feel and how you think are tied together,” she adds. “The thoughts you’re having about yourself and how that relates to how you’re feeling is such an important message, because if you understand that, you also understand how you might have the ability to manage how you feel and … think about things a little bit differently. It’s such an opportunity when you have such a huge audience to be able to have that moment where you are giving accurate information and doing it in such a creative way.”