Inside Out shouldn’t have worked as a children’s movie. Its theme—personified emotions on a quest through the human mind—suggests a surreal indie experiment or a Woody Allen movie gone awry. Yet Inside Out is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Through animation, the filmmakers bend the laws of time and space to take the viewer on a tour through the mind of 11-year-old Riley. We visit the brightly colored labyrinth of long-term memory storage, the carefully guarded fortress of the subconscious (accessed along a treacherous cliff leading to permanent forgetfulness), the warehouse of abstract thought, and the surreal enchantment of imagination land. The result is a visual delight and an animated marvel.

While this sounds like a psychology textbook, children and adults love it. My five-year-old was amused when Anger blew his top, and when Fear flung himself around like a wet noodle. I wept openly when Riley felt as if her goofball dad had become an embarrassing stranger who didn’t understand her. The emotions in this movie are more than theories or allegories.