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Anxi-Tea: The Calm Of Inside Out 2



Feature By: Jamie Skinner

As the emotions of 13-year-old Riley gather round the Headquarters console, waiting for an email to see if she’s made the high school hockey team, the bright orange figure of Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke) pops up in a sudden burst of worry. In a personally highly relatable throwaway line, as the film winds down, going over the lessons learned over the last 90 minutes, she panics about what will happen if they’re unsuccessful. Things rapidly escalate from disappointed parents to “we have no friends, and we die alone!”

Quickly, she’s guided to a massage chair, given a cup of Anxi-tea (a pun fitting of Aardman) and reassured that there’s no need to worry about something like this, which is out of the control of Riley (Kensington Tallman) and her emotions. What we see is a much calmer, more ordered form of Anxiety. Focusing on the now and near-future rather than the extreme worst-case scenarios many years down the line, without even considering the other chances and opportunities which could arise.

Much like its 2015 predecessor spoke of the importance of sadness, and being open about your emotions, Inside Out 2 talks about how it’s ok to worry. A bit of anxiety is fine; nerves are natural. What we need to remember is to not lose control of who we are in these moments.

Throughout the film, after bottling up and casting out the central emotions from the first instalment, Anxiety attempts to change Riley’s sense of self in order to be accepted by the already-established hockey team over a three-day camp, for when she finally makes it to high school. What was once a smooth set of neatly tangling and overlapping arcs telling Riley she’s a good person becomes a group of sharp, jagged points clashing into each other at various angles – prodding into her mind the idea that she’s not good enough. The only way she can make the team is to try harder, show she’s better than she’s forced to believe she is.

Over time, as Anxiety tries to keep control of Riley, she begins to lose control of herself. Headquarters becoming consumed by a growing electrical storm of racing panic. Unsure as to what to do as she tries everything in her power to make sure that Riley has the best possible future by focusing on every possible negative outcome to show what will happen if they don’t succeed. She becomes frozen to the spot in fear, yet somehow continues rushing around in an increasing frantic surge of frenzied worry.

Seeing this unfold on screen put something long unseen for me into a proper visual context. Whilst generally having a good grasp and idea of control on my emotions, when it comes to more intense feelings and circumstances my autistic mind occasionally causes me to struggle to externally convey what’s happening inside it.

Often when facing a barrage of seemingly never-ending (aside from the frequently inevitable conclusion of death – whether it be an interview or buying a box of Jaffa Cakes my mind tells me that almost any decision or situation will eventually lead me to death in the next one to three years) branches of thoughts and worries, I’ll try to put things into perspective by describing them as a physical feeling. Even if just for the sake of my own understanding, making the unseen mental force running through my mind seem like something physical makes it that bit more visible, understandable and potentially easier to tackle.

The Pixar creative team behind Inside Out 2 have perfectly captured the internal panic of holding thoughts in without being able, or having anywhere or way, to properly externalise them to make room for more rational and likely scenarios. As the emotional peak of the closing stages unfolded I realised that the animation studio had pulled off the rare feat of making me feel truly calm. As if in that moment there wasn’t anything immediate or major to worry about. No decision or set of events that would eventually lead me to dying in a short space of time.

With this sequel Pixar extends a hand of reassurance. One of understanding. Stating clearly that anxiety can be chaotic and consuming. It can easily take over and dictate everything about who we are and what we do. Yet, when controlled and brought back to a more grounded state it can help as a reminder to prepare for maybe not the scary things we can’t see, as Anxiety claims is her role to plan to prevent, but the potential challenges we face and the places we want to succeed. It can help us prepare, without interfering in the moment itself.

The difficulty of allowing this to happen is acknowledged by the film, particularly Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein’s screenplay. It can be hard to control and understand ourselves, especially when who we are and what our minds say and do is so complex. As Joy (Amy Poehler) and co return to Headquarters with Riley’s original sense of self it no longer properly connects. Instead, it, and the one created by Anxiety, is replaced by a changing set of multicoloured shapes, some neat some not, created from the set-loose memories of awkward situations which have otherwise been thrown to the back of the mind. Each form complimenting and contradicting the last, while all looking like they would be at home in a modern art museum – especially when paired with the explanation that they show the complex, fluctuating nature of the self. Who we really are, who we want to be and how we want others to see us.

We are messy in our conflictions. We are consistent in our inconsistencies. There are many different elements that make us who we are, including the embarrassing and awkward moments we would rather forget. And that’s ok. As emotions old and new gather round this newly-formed, ever-changing sense of self they embrace it and each other. It’s a moment of real self-acceptance and self-love.

Joy finds herself guided to the console to put a much calmer Riley back into the final game of hockey camp, alongside her best friends who Anxiety has distanced her from throughout the film. No longer forced to repeatedly imply she’s not good enough. She’s got this and is ready to simply enjoy the game at hand as she was able to before Anxiety took over with her plan, and the plan’s which subsequently replaced it when each new step backfired.

After its initial release, and subsequent home releases, there was much discussion about how the original Inside Out helped many to better understand and express their emotions. The film has been notably used in Special Educational Needs schools for just this purpose, and has been said to have been highly effective. I genuinely can’t wait to see the effect that Inside Out 2 has regarding both this and what it has to say about mental health and looking after ourselves in the face of anxiety. Complimenting the messages about self-love and acceptance which wash over in a wave of calm; in part through letting viewers know that they’re not alone in the intensity that these feelings can reach and offering a further hand to say that it is going to be alright.

As Anxiety is guided to the massage chair, self-care is on the menu. Instead of worrying about everything that could go wrong from one small thing, she’s encouraged to focus on the next point that can be controlled, in this case preparing for Riley’s upcoming Spanish test.

Some worry can be good, it’s perfectly fine. What we shouldn’t let it do is consume and control us. In those moments we need to remember to look after ourselves and know when to take a moment for self-care – whether that be a quick moment to breathe, stepping aside to put things in order to better understand them or simply sampling some comfort food. By not confining ourselves to be just one thing, or constantly kicking ourselves for every little thing we do and always thinking towards the negative, anxiety’s chance of completely taking over and causing damage decrease.

Inside Out 2 admits that it takes some work to get there, and it can sometimes need a real push to get through the forceful storm which anxiety can create. Through thoughtful and understanding visualisations of these concepts it may well have just as much effect as the first film did in helping people to recognise, understand, act upon and control their emotions –getting out of the car after finding out that Riley’s friends are going to a different high school Sadness (Phyllis Smith) is finally allowed to take control of the console so that Riley can have a moment to cry. “It’s ok, we need this” Joy reassures.

It can take some time to find that balance, and indeed to get through the tumultuous experience of anxiety, no matter how intense. However, as a starting point to understanding, alongside an opportunity to find calm in identifying with visualised mental concepts, Inside Out 2 is a fine dose of soothing Anxi-tea.

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