Summer’s Most Unforgettable Character Was Meant to Be Forgotten

By  · Published on September 21st, 2015

As much as I love Furiosa – as much as I recognize her as a desperate John McClane willing to exhaust her resources in a land without water, cool temperatures or comfort, all for the sake of others – there is another character from the movies of the summer that has stuck with me even more going into the fall. The most unforgettable character from a slate of strong personalities.

It’s Bing Bong.

He’s a beautifully rendered artifact of childhood. He’s the kind of character that maybe only Pixar can bring to life, and in Inside Out he acts both as a hobo hooligan comic relief and a willing savior who earns the strongest round of tears.

What’s most special about the wacky pink, cotton candy elepha-thing is that he’s built into the story specifically to be forgotten by the main character. In order to mature, Riley’s entire mentalscape has to come crashing down, and her beloved friend has to be relegated to the abyss of lost memory. The number of layers at work here is staggering. Not only is Bing Bong well-rounded, he also 1) has a complete character arc that begins with him foraging for an existence (any existence) and ends with him willing to accept not existing if it means saving Riley and her joy 2) acts symbolically as a specific treasure from childhood that most recognize as something we trade at adolescence for whatever “growing up” means and 3) translates a truth about exiting childhood that we typically don’t give a second thought into something inherently sad. Many of us had imaginary friends growing up, many of us forgot them as a matter of course, many of us cried without shame when Bing Bong started to fade away. In that sense, 4) he’s also a surrogate, a collective imaginary friend that we can all share.

It’s also an especially apt time for a character like this – a character that says it’s tragic and okay to lose elements of our childhood even as new versions of them are up for sale on a daily basis. For everything that’s coming back into style (from Ghostbusters to denim skirts), for everything that’s being mined for name recognition, for all of the reheated feelings, this original character in an original film isn’t so much a rebuff of reboot culture as he is a thoughtful reminder of the power of letting go. We miss him, but it’s natural and right that we may never see him again.

Bing Bong helped anchor that message with a silly song and a bold final act. When an expensive toy version of a character we haven’t seen yet from a movie we haven’t seen yet from a franchise that people worship goes on sale, it’s nice to remember Bing Bong, out there somewhere, Dudelike, takin’ it easy for all us sinners in oblivion. His quiet, almost imperceptible lesson of knowing when to say goodbye barely whispered against the juggernaut of eternal nostalgia.

All of that comes wrapped in a fantastically entertaining character voiced by Richard Kind – an underappreciated character actor if there ever were one. Kind imbues Bing Bong with a wild mix of psychotic whimsy, friendly wisdom, heartsinking melancholy and a bravery with distinction. He’s all over the map, and Kind is right at home.

To bring an air of tragic fatalism to all of this, Bing Bong passes without any real recognition from the human focal point of the story. By design, he has to fade away, mourned by Joy and Sadness, but ultimately discarded without any real thought by the little girl experiencing a profoundly personal crisis. Riley has no time or reason to think about Bing Bong even though he deserves a host of statues recognizing his major role in saving her life strewn throughout the theme parks of her mind. He’s a character born to be forgotten, and he’s the most unforgettable character of the summer.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.