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David Poland

By David Poland

About Bing Bong


I am going to write this whole thing after the jump, so if you haven’t seen Inside Out you can avoid this conversation completely… and I recommend you do… both… see it and avoid discussing until then…



I have seen some discussion about what Bing Bong represents, so I wanted to have the discussion in here, if we can.

I don’t think he is a representation of parents at all, as the very smart Anthony Breznican of EW and “Brutal Youth” has suggested. Yes, he is willing to sacrifice in a loving way for “his” child, but I think the parental metaphor narrows too much what Bing Bong brings to the table.

Bing Bong is exactly what he says he is. He is a child’s idea of perfect non-parental love. He is sugar and spice and everything nice… though in his case, it is cotton candy and elephant and Cheshire Cat and things that make a specific small child feel safe and loved.

Bing Bong’s existence is formed of pure love. What could he do but sacrifice himself, as needed, to the benefit of his child… to the return of her Joy?

Of course, Bing Bong is one of the many complex ideas directly connected to the physiological and emotional maturing of children. Children will sometimes have glimpses into their pre-6-year-old experiences, but most of those memories do disappear, no matter how happy or in most cases, horrible they were. The lessons are learned and they stick. But the detailed memories vanish.

One of the other issues in Inside Out that I am still considering is the ambiguity of having male and female emotions inside of young Riley’s head. We get only a brief glimpse inside one or two other heads of kids her age. The only one I specifically recall is the boy who freaks out when she speaks to him. I think his head was all boys. The parents are also manned by single-sexed emotions. So is Riley gay? Bisexual? Will she grow into single-gender emotions? Is her emotional make-up relevant to her sexuality at all?

It’s a lot to ask about an animated family film… but I would bet that they know the answer in Emeryville.

But back to Bing Bong…

His pure love is as powerful as any evil in any Disney movie ever, I feel. He is motivated by one thing and one thing only… Riley’s happiness. He is sure about everything, as young love is. When he realizes he is going to disappear, he takes a moment, and he comes up with a positive.

Parents, much as I wish it were otherwise (maybe… maybe I don’t really), can love their children with the deepest well of love… but we are also still human. We have our needs and desires that often, in small ways and sometimes large, override our pure interest in our children. If we didn’t, we would all be playing on the playground for hour after hour, watching that silly TV show, building, dressing up, etc.

Bing Bong also fits with the big theme of Inside Out, which is that as we mature, our ability (need, even) to deal with more complex emotional constructs grows. And with that, our ability to bring Bing Bong to life for ourselves as our ultimate playmate, fades. As the Bible says, we put away childish things.

But we miss them. we miss them so much. We miss them every day. Sometimes, we wish we could go back to that kind of innocence… that lack of responsibility… the lack of guile.

Bing Bong must die so that Riley can grow up.

Her next imaginary friend will look like a boy-band member or Ellen Page or whomever… and that ideal will still be made of cotton candy and things Riley loves, even if they look more normal on the outside. She will imagine them to be sweeter and smarter and kinder and more of everything that she imagines will bring her joy.

5 Responses to “About Bing Bong”

  1. Lane Myers says:

    Hey David, I’m on the same page as you with regard to Bing Bong. But leaving the theater my 11 year old daughter enter to know 1) Why were Riley’s emotions a mix of males and females and 2) Why did everyone else’s emotions apart from Riley’s resemble their humans much more closely (dad’s with the mustache, the goth girl with the goth hair, etc).

    My hypothesis on 1) is that because Riley hasn’t hit the puberty button yet, little kids can tend to be more androgynous, thus she still had male and female emotions — albeit 3-2 in favor of females. I had no answer on 2) other than it was a filmmaker choice to show the simplest embodiment of each respective emotion.

    Also curious to me was the choice to have Anger seemingly in charge of dad and Sadness in charge for mom? Interesting…

  2. Mark Wheaton says:

    Yeah, there’s a whole thesis to be written about Anger being in charge of the dad, Sadness in for mom. That was pretty interesting. Also, really like the idea that pre-puberty emotions are more androgynous but imagine it was more of a style choice. That said, looking forward to picking up whatever “Art of” book hits to get further into the process and see more stuff!

    Regarding Bing Bong, I totally agree with your assessment of the character, David, and very well said above. Had no idea anyone thought it was the parents, but they’re crazy.

    Also, as a father myself seeing this on Father’s Day with my daughter and son, the big stab in the chest for me was the dad inadvertently destroying Goofball Island. When that day comes for me and my kids, fuuuuuuck.

  3. I don’t understand the backlash on ‘Inside Out’.

  4. Pj says:

    Too much analysis for an ancillary character whose only job was to move the plot along and garner cheap emotions.

  5. Brooke says:

    I am sure Riley had both genders from a marketing standpoint vs a story standpoint. Can’t green light a film with all female characters!!!!

    It was pointed out several times that Riley was their happy girl sso it makes sense she was the one in the family powered by Joy.

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