With “Inside Out”, Pixar finally gets its groove back.

By releasing sequel after sequel Pixar was in danger of becoming a shadow of a once-great and innovative studio. But “Inside Out” is their return to the wonderfully imaginative and original storytelling that made Pixar so great with “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo” and “Ratatouille.” “Inside Out” is the animation studio’s best film since 2009’s “Up” and deserves to sit among the best of Pixar’s classics.

Directed by Pete Docter (“Up”), “Inside Out” takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Her emotions are controlled by Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) in a central control room not too unlike the Star Trek Enterprise bridge. Like a well-maintained machine, each emotion works seamlessly together to make Riley an emotionally balanced human. Joy, though, with her type-A personality, wants to maintain control at all costs, including ostracizing Sadness, who has the misfortune of turning any stored happy memory into a sad one when she touches them. When Riley’s parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) uproot the family to San Francisco, Riley goes through a major emotional meltdown. Inside Riley’s mind, Joy and Sadness become stranded far away from the control room in the dangerous, remote areas of the brain. Together they need to work together to get back to the control room – venturing through fantastic realms like Imagination Land - to stop Riley from completely losing all her stored memories and emotions.

In that indelible Pixar way, “Inside Out” is as perceptive as they come, truly capturing the emotional roller coaster of adolescence. Why do children behave one way and not another? Why do they take incredible risks adults are more afraid to take? Why temper tantrums? Why utter joy over “food planes?” Docter’s insightful and hilarious look inside the mind is the best answer to being a child. In the cleverest of ways, there’s a wonderful message showing that there’s sadness in joy and joy in sadness and that’s what makes life so complicated but beautiful. This is smart but incredibly fun entertainment the entire family will enjoy.

Pixar has always set the bar high when it comes to their characters. It’s their loveable and deeply relatable characters that have set their films apart from their competitors and “Inside Out” births a most welcome crew of new memorable characters.  Joy bursts through every scene with an infectious joie de vivre. Sadness’s dour cynicism is as adorable as “Winnie the Pooh’s” Eeyore. Disgust is the snippy mean-girl. Fear is all Chuck Jones slapstick. Anger, voiced by the hilarious cantankerous comedian Lewis Black, steals just about every scene with his brilliant one-liners and ferocious temper. A running gag featuring Anger dealing with a bubble-gum commercial stuck in the head is priceless and Black’s performance is perfection.

The highlight, though, is Bing Bong, Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend who aides Joy and Sadness in their quest. This goofy purple elephant-dolphin-hybrid-thing is voiced with such affection by Richard Kind. Kids will swell with happiness at Bing Bong’s joyful, care-free bounce through Riley’s brain. If Sadness is like Eeyore then Bing Bong is certainly Tigger.  

Of course the source of every great film is it’s script, and “Inside Out” is one delightful scene after another with more than enough clever and witty dialogue to leave you in stitches long after the movie has ended. Docter takes us from one breathtaking scenario to the next but all is grounded with realistic bitter sweetness as Riley is genuinely aching inside due to her major life changes. The story is one any parent or child can relate with and it’s that understanding of how people work – both old and young – that makes this a timeless, beautiful story.   

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Pixar has cooked up some gorgeous animation. Each set piece within the mind is as unique and inspired as each of character’s identities. The dark recesses of the mind, Imagination Land, the corridors of stored memories, and a trippy jaunt through abstract thought puts all of Pixar’s animation talent on full display. There’s some truly gorgeous work here.

With “Inside Out,” composer Michael Giacchino – who won an Oscar for Pixar’s “Up” – has his third film in theaters this summer.  (He also scored “Tomorrowland” and “Jurassic World.”)  There’s buoyancy to Giacchino’s score that seamlessly captures the spirit of each of the film’s major characters and emotions; jazzy motifs for Joy’s optimistic adventure transition to the sheer force of the full orchestral for their more harrowing and dangerous journey. But it’s the tender and bittersweet moments for Joy and Sadness that resonate most. Giacchino certainly opens the waterworks here and like the best of Pixar’s movies is effortlessly endearing and uplifting.

The year is only half over but the sheer originality and soul in “Inside Out” easily puts it as one of 2015’s best films. A definite must-see for the whole family.

Disney/Pixar. Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour and 42 mins.