Hollywood loves to look inside people’s minds.

Since the first doctor examined the first patient on the first screen, the movies have wondered what happens inside the mind to prompt the actions that people take.

While conventional films must look at behavior from the outside — by showing the steps and words that emotions inspire — the creative animators at Pixar can journey anywhere they wish to examine what makes people interesting. Live action moviemakers may try to explain the mind by looking at what people say and do while Pixar can travel inside to explore the ins and outs of all those emotions that drive how people act.

In the wonderful Inside Out we meet an 11-year-old girl who’s upset about moving to San Francisco. As she tries to adjust to new surroundings, challenges at school, changes to her environment and pressures on her parents, her emotions naturally go into overdrive. She simply doesn’t understand why her world needed to change. And, rather than just watch what happens, Pixar gives us front-row seats on Hollywood’s first thrill ride through the complex collection of feelings we call emotions.

According to our Pixar tour guides, the mind is home to all types of conflicting emotions. Yes, we feel joy, at the same times that we may experience sadness, disgust, anger and fear, too. To keep all these emotions in balance, internal control rooms try to manage how various emotions compete with each other for control over thoughts, actions and words. Sometimes the emotions work in harmony, other times in conflict. And, when we sleep, beware who’s on duty. Those wake-me-in-the-middle-of-the-night dreams can be intense.

With the visual innovation that Pixar brought to Toy Story, Wall E and Finding Nemo, Inside Out is one of the year’s most visually exciting films. The trek the emotions make through the mind dazzles with creative details. What makes the film so special, however, is its insightful commentary into how emotions may work. As exaggerated as the narrative may sound, the story advances a point of view of how complex people may be. Every day, our emotions create the highs and lows we experience. And Inside Out helps us learn a bit more about how the dots connect.

As with any animated film, Inside Out must balance what will appeal across the ages. While all family members will savor the animation — especially the sequences inside the control room and the mind — some may focus on the thought-provoking ideas about how we react, what we can control and how we try to keep our emotions in check. The vocal performances — especially from Amy Poehler (as Joy) and Phyllis Smith (as Sadness) — radiate with emotion. Poehler, in fact, delivers a broader emotional range in this performance than her work on television permits.

Inside Out is a visual masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of animation and much more. In addition to giving us a something to look at, the film offers plenty to think about, too. After all, with all these emotions floating around, it’s quite a job to stay in control.

Film Nutritional Value

Inside Out

* Content: High. Once again, Pixar uses a simple story to help people understand something quite complicated.

* Entertainment: High. Visually, the movie pushes the boundaries of animation, especially in its interpretation of the journey our emotions may have to take.

* Message: High. As the film entertains, it also makes us think about the challenge anyone may have to keep their emotions in balance.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to have fun at the movies and discover something to talk about — as a family — is welcome.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. There’s plenty to talk about from the dazzling visuals to the fun performances and the meaningful moral.

(Inside Out is rated PG for “mild thematic elements and some action.” The film runs 94 minutes.)

5 Popcorn Buckets

Behind the Screen: Reel Moments Exploring Emotions

While Inside Out suggests how people may manage their emotions, other films over the years have tried to explain what inspires people to say and do what they say and do. These films from the Hollywood archives – some serious, some ridiculous – remind us how tricky it can be to explore the psyche on film. Take a look.

Spellbound (1945). When it was released, Ingrid Bergman was the star of the day and Gregory Peck was the newcomer of the moment. Audiences flocked to the film despite its superficial treatment of the emotional issues that may cause someone to block certain memories from immediate recall. Today it’s great fun to watch Bergman try to explain how the mind works as well as Salvador Dali’s visual interpretation of human dreams.

Ordinary People (1980). Robert Redford won an Oscar for directing this thought-provoking look at how people handle trauma. As a therapist who helps a young man deal with his brother’s death, Judd Hirsch is calm, candid and clear about what it takes to keep emotions in check if, in fact, that makes any sense. While Redford doesn’t take us to medical school, he does help us understand the support that anyone can need.

Good Will Hunting (1997). The calm Judd Hirsch brings to his role in Ordinary People seems to channel through Robin Williams’ Oscar-winning take on a similar approach to therapy. Williams pushes his patient, played by Matt Damon, to the edge while offering a safety net in case the young man goes to far. The sincerity of Williams’ performance makes his own life all the more tragic to consider.

Agnes of God (1985). Jane Fonda shines as a chain-smoking psychiatrist who arrives at an abbey to examine a young girl who claims a virgin conception of her newborn baby. While Anne Bancroft chews the scenery as an outraged nun, and Meg Tilly whimpers her way through the role for which Amanda Plummer won a Tony on Broadway, Fonda makes us believe in the sincerity that someone can bring to her work even when a situation is difficult to imagine.

The Prince of Tides (1991). On paper, Pat Controy’s novel is a thoughtful examination of one man’s journey to absorb the reality of his abusive childhood. With Barbra Streisand in command of the film version, the story shifts its focus to the man’s relationship with his psychiatrist, a minor role in the book. Streisand makes sure we see a lot of her in this sudsy tale that is at its best when the actress steps off screen to direct.

Nuts (1987). Streisand’s overbearing approach to psychiatrity in Tides is a bit surprising given the layers of her work as a callgirl charged with murder in this adaptation of a play. Without letting the drama become too exaggerated, director Martin Ritt forces the actress to work within the ensemble (including Maureen Stapleton, Karl Malden and Richard Dreyfuss) rather than insist the spotlight only shine on her. She delivers one of her most affecting performances.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). Several years before, Streisand took a musical journey into therapy in this adaptation of the Broadway play from Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane. As a young woman who seeks hypnosis to treat her addiction to cigarettes – and discovers she may have lived other lives in the past – Streisand is funny, human and sympathetic. And her voice always astounds.

Suddenly Last Summer (1959). Elizabeth Taylor has a field day as a woman trying to understand the brutality her cousin faced in this film translation of a play by Tennessee Williams. While Katherine Hepburn overacts as her mother, and Montgomery Clift strains as the doctor who tries to make sense of the girl’s experience, Taylor is magnetic in a performance that suggests what she will later deliver in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Three Faces of Eve (1957). Today, we think of Joanne Woodward as much for her many years of marriage to Paul Newman as for her strength as an actress. Watch this movie to discover, perhaps for the first time, how striking she can be on screen when given a substantive role to play. As a young woman facing the fear of multiple personalities, Woodward is deliberate, detailed and decisive. And she won a well-deserved Oscar.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). No visit to the worlds of emotions that movies explore would be complete without mentioning this Oscar winner based on the book by Ken Kesey. Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar as an engaging non-comforist who decides it’s his personal mission to test the patience of an entire medical system. He makes us believe a driven nurse, beautifully played by Louise Fletcher, is the villain in his drama.

Yes, Hollywood likes to look inside the behavior people display. And, with Inside Out,” moviemakers have discovered a new way to take this journey.