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    “Inside Out 2” Writer Meg LeFauve on the Power of Adolescent Anxiety

    • 20.06.2024
    • By Hugh Hart
    The Credits

    Inside Out earned its co-writer Meg LeFauve a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination en route to becoming 2015’s seventh-highest-grossing movie. Last weekend, Inside Out 2 hit the box office jackpot again. Directed by Kelsey Mann, the Pixar sequel opened with $295 million worldwide by animating the emotional roller coaster experienced by 13-year-old Riley (voiced by Kensington Tallman) when she enters puberty amid an avalanche of new feelings. Joy (Amy Poehler) tries to maintain a semblance of normality with her sidekicks: Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale), and Disgust (Liza Lapira). But when Riley goes to hockey camp and gets the chance to hang with older, cooler girls led by Valentina (Lilimar Hernandez), she becomes overwhelmed by Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos), Envy (Ayo Edebiri) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser).

    Speaking from her Studio City home in Los Angeles, LeFauve, who co-wrote the sequel with Dave Holstein, de-constructs the big emotions that wreak havoc on Inside Out 2’s heroine and pulls back the curtain on Pixar’s famously meticulous story-building process.



    It was a stroke of high-strung genius to introduce Anxiety as Inside Out 2‘s lead disrupter. It’s a feeling well-suited to adolescence in particular and, more generally, to the times we’re living in right now. How did Anxiety emerge as the dominant emotion once Riley hits puberty?

    Our director Kelsey Mann pitched [executive producer] Pete Docter the idea to bring in Anxiety and make Riley thirteen. Kelsey had a very personal connection to that [emotion] in terms of his own childhood, and Pete really liked the idea. Then I came on, and we did a ton of research about anxiety. The script changed many times, but Anxiety was always going to be predominant.



    Besides all the research, did you also draw on your own experiences as a teenager?

    My dad used to call me Moody Meg. I was a very emotional child, and I was really bad at hiding it. What I didn’t understand at the time is that when I started coming online as an artist and writer, imagination land was getting bigger: The tap is turned on, but what do you do with it? Well, anxiety says, “I know what to do: let’s just tap into that imagination and start projecting what could possibly go wrong!” So I became very good at that. I was a worry wart. My grandfather used to say, “You have early grey hair. You worry so much.” But it’s just because your imagination is being funneled through anxiety. You want to feel safe because everything feels so disjointed. “What’s happening to me?!”

    MEET ANXIETY — Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” returns to the mind of newly minted teenager Riley just as a new Emotion shows up unexpectedly. And Anxiety, voiced by Maya Hawke, isn’t the type of Emotion who will take a back seat either. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

    The movie opens with Riley as a happy 12-year-old. Then she falls asleep, and literally overnight, Riley wakes up yelling at her mom and acting like a cranky teenager now that the frizzy-haired Anxiety has taken over her brain.

    Anxiety comes on pretty hard, and it sure feels like it happens overnight both when you are that [teenager] person and again when you have a kid: “Wait a minute, who just walked down for breakfast today? Holy smokes!”

    Do you have kids?

    Two boys, twenty and eighteen now, but they were teenagers when I was writing the script. It’s that time in your life when your parents, brothers, and sisters recede in importance. Your sense of self starts moving into friend groups. You become self-conscious. It’s a very intense time, and we wanted to capture that.



    When Anxiety takes over Riley’s brain, she’s accompanied by Ennui, Envy, and Embarrassment. How did you connect with these new emotions of adolescence?

    Well, I mostly relate to ennui when raising teenagers because—the eye-rolling! I’m sure I did a lot of eye-rolling when I was a teenager, but boy, when you’re a parent, you really feel that one.



    Then there’s Envy. 

    The truth is that Envy tells you what you want. It’s good to tap into that because it’s a way of knowing yourself and being aware of yourself.

    INSIDE OUT 2 – FEELING ENVY – In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Envy may be small, but she sure knows what she wants. She’s perpetually jealous of everything everyone else has, and she’s not afraid to pine over it. Envy’s wishful thinking and fascination with the newest, coolest thing pulls her attention in all directions and longs for what Riley doesn’t have. Featuring Ayo Edebiri as the voice of Envy, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

    And Embarrassment?

    Come on! If Embarrassment is the biggest emotion, just like he is on the screen. And the idea that Embarrassment doesn’t talk because…he’s embarrassed. He was fun to write.

    NEW EMOTIONS — Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2” returns to the mind of newly minted teenager Riley just as new Emotions show up. Embarrassment (voice of Paul Walter Hauser), Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke), Envy (voice of Ayo Edebiri) and Ennui (voice of Adèle Exarchopoulos) are ready to take a turn at the console. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.


    The original Inside Out established the basic architecture of Riley’s brain—spheres of memory, pneumatic tubes to transport long-term memories, and the control board where emotions gather. This time, Joy and her gang encounter The Vault, Mount Crushmore, and other new features. How did you approach the new design elements?

    I loved Kelsey’s idea of the wrecking ball, that [puberty] can feel like you’re going to pieces. And it was tremendous fun to work with Pixar artists throwing all these wonderful ideas about where we could go. My job as the writer was to make sure it all fits into Joy’s journey because her character movement creates the structure, everything she realizes about herself and, therefore, about Riley and her relationship with Anxiety.

    BELIEF SYSTEM – Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) and Joy (voice of Amy Poehler) deliver key memories to this formative land. “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters June 14, 2024. © 2024 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

    In Riley’s inner world, all roads lead to Joy?

    There were days when I wondered, “Who came up with this rule that we have to follow?” Oh, right, don’t worry—that was me. We could always go into fun worlds, but I need to know why we’re there for Joy. The other emotions have moments that help Joy see something because her belief system is changing.

    JOY AND ANXIETY — Featuring the voices of Amy Poehler as Joy and Maya Hawke as Anxiety, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024.© 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

    Meanwhile, in Riley’s world, all the kids are pretty nice. Did you want to avoid mean-girl villains?

    Kelsey clearly didn’t want to do Mean Girls—by the way, I love that movie—but we worked very hard to ensure there were no mean girls here. And I love the idea of the girl crush.


    With Riley idolizing the older hockey star Valentina. . .

    I think that’s a real thing because you want to be that girl. Yet Val cares a lot about Riley; she’s the one reaching out and telling her friends, “Come on, give her a break.” That was very intentional.

    Toward the end of the big hockey game, Riley scores goals, but she’s haunted by this inner voice saying, “I’m not good enough.” What’s that about?

    The thinking was that anxiety can drive you to do things that look like success to the outside world. You can get the goal, you can get the money, and you can get the big job title. But [at this point in the movie] Riley’s not playing hockey for the joy of it; she’s playing hockey to impress other people. It’s not about, “I love this,” but “Will they accept me?” That does happen in adolescence, and trust me, there were moments at Pixar [meetings] where I was like, “Wait a minute, feel your feet, Meg, because your sense of self is moving outside of yourself. Go back to the story. Get back to your body.” It’s normal to want other people to view you a certain way, but it’s important to remember joy and self-compassion. 

    You mention Pixar, which is well known for rigorous story-building methods. Did you enjoy being part of that process?

    You get a lot of notes. You get a lot of hard questions. But everybody knows it’s all in service of the story because Pixar is about iterations, about letting go, and allowing things to blow up, especially in the early stages, about being brave and starting over. Our executive producer, Pete Docter, is a genius who created all of this [the Inside Out universe] to begin with, so if you want new emotions, you go to Pete and ask why these emotions, where they come from, how they help the journey of the characters. So yes, there’s that rigor. At the same time, Pixar wants you on the edge, trying things and learning from failure. For example, we had Shame in the movie for a long time as an antagonist, but it just didn’t feel right to Kelsey. As much as Shame gave us, it took too much away. So we went back to just Anxiety as the center.

    You had to address feedback not just from Pixar creatives but also from a group of nine teenagers called Riley’s Crew, who watched early versions of the film. What was it like getting notes from a 14-year-old?

    It was amazing! First of all, they came so prepared. They brought notes, and they wanted to talk about what they liked, which people always forget to do. They were really direct about what didn’t work, which was incredibly helpful.

    You started working on Inside Out 2 in pre-pandemic 2020 and attended the red carpet premiere just a few days ago. How do you look back on this deep immersion in the world of teen emotions?

    It’s been a privilege to be part of these movies that have rippled into the world. Having people talk to you about how they see themselves and how they see their kids so that we don’t feel so alone—to me, that’s what storytelling is all about.

    This article was first published on The Credits