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INTERVIEW – Disney and Pixar’s ‘Inside Out 2’ Director Kelsey Mann and Producer Mark Nielsen

Inside Out 2 Interview min

Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out is an ingenious concept. On its face, it’s a cute story with fun, colorful characters doing hilarious things. And it is that. But look a little deeper, and Inside Out carries an important message about the varied emotions that children, and all people, are dealing with, and it helps teach us how to identify and start to deal with those emotions in a healthy way.

As a father, I reference the Inside Out characters within my household regularly. It’s been an incredibly helpful and fun tool to discuss the complex world of emotions. So I was delighted when Disney and Pixar announced that a sequel was coming. The first film, released in 2015, was about an 11-year-old girl, Riley, as she began to grow beyond simple childhood. This time, Riley is a teenager, and we all know how much more complex that period in life is.

Now, almost ten years after the first film and after what we as a society have endured these last few years, is the perfect time for Inside Out 2. In advance of the highly anticipated film, Senior Writer Jorgie had the opportunity to visit Pixar’s campus in California to get sneak peak and speak with the creative minds behind the sequel.

First, Jorgie sat down with director Kelsey Mann and producer Mark Nielsen to discuss their approach.

“Very early on, I knew I wanted to explore Riley becoming a teenager. And I’m like, ‘I think there are a lot of new emotions that show up at this age,” and I remember writing a list of all the emotions that could show up and I kept going to anxiety. I started in January of 2020, and I narrowed in on that…that was before the pandemic hit. And once the pandemic hit, if anything, we were dealing with anxiety even more,” Mann said about the decision to focus on the new character Anxiety, voiced by Maya Hawke. “It became even more of an issue. It was already an issue before the pandemic when I’m like ‘I think this is an issue we should talk about,’ and then all of a sudden, it really became a thing. And I’m like, this is a good thing to put out into the world. It’s really great. A way to deal with your emotions is to name them and talk about them. And not only that but we give them a face. And what better way to deal with this complicated emotion that we’re all dealing with, than through storytelling and humor.”

Joy (Amy Poehler) and Anxiety (Maya Hawke)
Joy (Amy Poehler) and Anxiety (Maya Hawke)

Nielsen enthusiastically agreed, and shared that the filmmakers approached the character of Anxiety with depth and sincerity.

“And we also wanted to be truthful to anxiety as an emotion also. It’s not something you can banish. That wouldn’t be truthful. So it is a villain in the beginning that we needed to reconcile and find peace with. And there are ways, in all the studies and conversations we’ve had with experts, there are ways to manage it and to talk about it and to wrestle with the good part of anxiety because it really is there for a reason,” Nielsen said.

It’s important to note that Anxiety may be an unwelcome new visitor in Riley at first, but she is not a villain. As with all of us, anxiety has a place and value as we grapple with the real world.

“She always was going to be the antagonist in the film. But she’s doing it coming from a good place. She wants to protect Riley and she loves Riley just as much as Joy. I keep thinking of them as two parents arguing about how to best take care of their kid,” Mann said.

Mann and Nielsen then considered what other well-known Pixar characters they would want to explore, mentioning Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. and of course, the iconic sheriff from Toy Story.

“Woody? Woody’s got emotions. Of course he does,” Mann said laughing.

“Are they toys? There’s emotions in toys!” Nielsen agreed.

Check out our full conversation below. Inside Out 2 premieres June 14, 2024 only in theaters.

POC Culture Interview with Inside Out 2 Director Kelsey Mann and Producer Mark Nielsen

About Inside Out 2:

Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” returns to the mind of newly minted teenager Riley just as headquarters is undergoing a sudden demolition to make room for something entirely unexpected: new Emotions! Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, who’ve long been running a successful operation by all accounts, aren’t sure how to feel when Anxiety shows up. And it looks like she’s not alone. Maya Hawke lends her voice to Anxiety, alongside Amy Poehler as the voice of Joy. The voice cast also includes Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, Tony Hale, Liza Lapira, Ayo Edebiri, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Paul Walter Hauser, Kensington Tallman, Lilimar, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Sumayyah Nuriddin-Green, Grace Lu and Yvette Nicole Brown. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen with a screenplay by Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein, “Inside Out 2” features a score by Andrea Datzman. The all-new feature film releases only in theaters June 14, 2024.


Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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