Yay, Pixar is back! (Let's never speak again of Cars 2.) The digital-animation house that gave us Finding Nemo, Up and Toy Story returns to form with Inside Out, a film that is fresh, funny, wise, sweet, gorgeous to look at and, for a "kid pic," epically high-concept.
But don't panic! On one easily accessible level, Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, is simply a tale about some cute mini-people who have to get some shiny objects from Point A to Point B through a kooky, colorful landscape. If you're ready to handle more, know this action mostly takes place inside a girl's brain, as her anthropomorphized emotions work to keep her stable and happy after she endures a traumatic move to a new city. Please meet: Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black, naturally).
Now hold on, because Inside Out is also a loopy, satisfying deep dive into the metaphysics of what it means to be — the unseeable, complex, intertwined ever-evolving self that is thoughts, memories, dreams and emotions. Here, memories are colored marbles to be stored, retrieved or tossed into a bottomless pit. (Goodbye childhood piano proficiency, except "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul"!) Out-of-balance emotions shut off access to "lands" such as "family" or "friends." Imagination is a skittery but useful coping mechanism; it's also a pink elephant clown named Bing-Bong. You can literally get lost in the swirling maze that is long-term memory, though a good escape is the (literal) "train of thought."
And in the outside world, there's young Riley (voice of Kaitlyn Dias), trying to make sense of her warring emotions and troubled memories, a necessary and somewhat bittersweet step on her journey from child to young adult.
But none of this is as serious as it sounds! Inside Out is bright and lively, and should delight kids and adults alike. (It also has what may be the greatest cat joke ever.) The film is preceded by a short film, "Lava," which frankly seemed conceived in bongwater, about a lovelorn, singing volcano.