With a whopping $90.4 million at the box office over the weekend, exuberant critic reviews, and enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations, it’s clear audiences found a lot to love about Pixar’s newest release, Inside Out. And though each of the five quirky emotions that live inside little Riley’s head seem poised to become a major part of pop culture, there’s one character that seems to have nearly eclipsed them all.
We’re talking about Bing Bong, Riley’s adorable childhood imaginary friend, who—spoiler alert!—emerges from hiding in her subconcsious to help Joy and Sadness get back to Headquarters. With Inside Out’s release, the cute elephant-cat-dolphin hybrid that cries tears of hard candy (played by Spin City actor Richard Kind), has become a bonafide social media phenomenon. (Social media posts dedicated to the cuddly BFF with a catchy signature song include missives like “It’s been 8 hours since I saw Inside Out and I’m still thinking about Bing Bong,” “Pour one out for Bing Bong,” and “Shoutout to Bing Bong making grown men cry”.)
So why was Bing Bong kept such a secret before the film opened last week? During months of whirlwind promotion for Inside Out—which included countless press junkets, teaser trailers, red-carpet premieres, talk-show segments, and exhaustive amount of movie merchandising and coverage in publications like EW—there was never a single mention of the porkpie hat-wearing, hot-pink character. So we just had to ask director Pete Docter: Why all the secrecy?
“It was a really smart move on our part, if I can pat ourselves on the back,” says Docter, laughing. “We wanted to make sure he was a surprise to the audience, because as a filmmaker, I hate when you go and watch those trailers and they give away everything. You’re like ‘Okay, well, I guess I don’t have to watch the movie.’”
An additional factor on staying mum, according to Docter, was the fear that his cerebral comedy was in danger of being deemed too high-concept for kids—adding an imaginary friend who helps save the day would have made for a pretty difficult pitch.
“In terms of simplicity and pitching the movie, if you have Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust, and Bing Bong, then you’re kind of scratching your head, going ‘Which emotion is he?” Docter says. “It kind of muddied the sell, if you will. It was just a way of keeping things simple, and keeping things on the concept, and then allowing people to have the surprise along the way.”