Bing Bong: How Pixar Created 'Inside Out's' Breakout Character

·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
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Sculpted study for Bing Bong (Disney/Pixar)

Who’s your friend who likes to play? Bing Bong, Bing Bong…
His rocket makes you yell, “Hooray!” Bing Bong, Bing Bong
Who’s the best in every way…
and wants to sing this song to say, “Bing Bong, Bing Bong!”

He’s part elephant, part cotton candy, part kitten, part dolphin. He cries tears of pure candy. He dresses like a cuddly hobo and travels via a tune-powered wagon rocket. He’s got an awesome theme song. And he’s the bestest pal a kid could ever want.

He’s Bing Bong.

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Aside from a few fuzzy leaked images from the movie and tie-in toys, Disney and Pixar had kept Inside Out’s secret weapon under wraps. But with the film setting records in theaters over the weekend, there’s no more hiding the fact that Bing Bong — the imaginary friend of Riley, the 11-year old girl at the center of Inside Out — is the movie’s undeniable breakout character.

Bing Bong with Sadness and Joy in ‘Inside Out’ (Disney/Pixar)

Bing Bong, voiced by Richard Kind, lives in the deep corridors of Riley’s long-term memory, holding out for one more trip to the moon with her before she totally forgets about him. He’s re-discovered by Joy and Sadness and ultimately — in the most bittersweet moment in a film full of them — sacrifices himself to save Riley.

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We spent some quality time last week with the film’s co-director Ronnie Del Carmen to learn everything about Bing Bong, from his origin story to the other imaginary friends that didn’t make the final cut to his big heroic turn.

You must be pleased that this film is finally being released and being embraced by filmgoers and critics.
It’s been five years of working on this movie, and it’s been a five-year secret. Zip. You can’t talk to anybody. I can’t wait for people to finally experience it, so they can tell me what it felt like and what it meant to them.

Bing Bong. He was the one character who doesn’t appear in the trailers or press materials, but he absolutely steals the show. Let’s start at the beginning — how did you come up with his name?
It’s a funny name. It’s a child’s kind of name. We thought it suited him.

Was he based on anyone’s actual childhood imaginary friend?
It wasn’t any one particular imaginary friend. We poll each other — “What were the things you did when you were a kid?” — and then we go and ask our own kids. And we started thinking, “Let’s have an imaginary friend that still lives in the mind.” And when that came up, it became obvious to us that it’s hard to create just one imaginary friend, so Bing Bong should be an amalgam of many things. He’s cotton candy; part elephant; he’s part dolphin. There’s a cat in there…. He has a wagon that he never calls a wagon — it’s his rocket ship.

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That’s the kind of imagination we see in our kids. When you see your kids sitting in the living room singing or talking and talking to no one, and you ask them, “Who are you talking to, honey?” and they say, “I’m talking to my friend.” We just felt it necessary to create one for our story.

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Bing Bong animation test (Disney/Pixar)

Did the final version of Bing Bong differ from your original conception?
Originally, we had created a whole village of imaginary friends. We had another character, Mrs. Scribbles, a crayon drawing on the wall, a stick figure. And she hangs out with Corner Sun. Corner Sun is like when a kid draws on a pad of paper, and there’s always a quarter sun in the corner with rays coming out. Corner Sun is not actually a full circle. It’s a just like a pie slice that comes out of the corner and talks. It was a lot of fun, but we were having so much fun that we realized it detracted from the story. So the village of imaginary friends got whittled down to just one: Bing Bong.

Richard Kind is one of your go-to actors, part of several Pixar voice ensembles over the years, including A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 3. Was there a reason you picked him for Bing Bong?
He has such an endearing quality to him. We have to think about who would be a great voice before we can create the character, as a placeholder in our minds. In my mind and in [Inside Out screenwriter] Josh Cooley’s mind, there’s this voice that’s ringing in there, and it’s Richard’s voice. When it came to casting, we said, “We created this character with your voice in mind.” We hoped he would say yes and he did, and it was awesome. He did an amazing job.

We have to tell him that all the time, because he’s a very hard worker — he’s very serious about his craft. We have to tell him, “We love you already.”

He makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Joy, and by extension Riley. He accepts that he won’t go on that last rocket ride, and it’s extremely poignant.
It has to be. An imaginary friend is an aspect of childhood that does not become center stage anymore and eventually just a memory of an imaginary friend. When you get older you can’t call them back. The magic is gone. The time for that is over.

I can remember imaginary settings, but the characters no longer. Riley’s transition phase needed an aspect that starts to fade. That’s Bing Bong.

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What was the thought process behind that scene? How did you come up with the visual representation?
One of our first concepts before we even thought of doing that to Bing Bong is that we wanted memories to have a life cycle. Very bright memories stay with you a long time and never fade. But you have a lot of memories, millions of them, and you can’t remember everything. Many turn less bright, become brittle, and then they break open and disappear into dust. When you’re in the Memory Dump, that’s what happens to you. It’s not safe for you to stay in the Memory Dump.

The moment is part of a grand Pixar tradition: You have these movies that are wild, wonderful, exuberant rides, yet so often tinged with sadness. Are you trying to make parents cry?
We don’t go out of our way to do something for the sake of manipulating the audience. But all the moments we put in our movies are there because they are part of the statement of the story. It’s always been our intention to make [Inside Out] Joy’s story and Sadness’s story. We need to find our characters at their most challenged: “What’s the most difficult thing you have to face.” We’re going to go there. And it’s heartbreaking.

See how memory works in Inside Out: