(The following article is from contributing writer JL Watkins)
Inside Out is the third biggest movie of 2015. And this week, it finally comes home on Bu-ray and DVD. To celebrate the release, we caught up with the voice behind one of this animated adventure's biggest surprises. Yes, we got to talk to Riley's imaginary friend, Bing Bong. Ok, actually, we talked to the man responsible for bringing Bing Bong to life, Mr. Richard Kind.
Inside Out is set in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley's mind, where five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (voice of Bill Hader) heads up safety, Anger (voice of Lewis Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned-both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn't exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else.
When Riley's family relocates to a scary new city, the Emotions are on the job, eager to help guide her through the difficult transition. But when Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, taking some of her core memories with them, Fear, Anger and Disgust are left reluctantly in charge. Joy and Sadness must venture through unfamiliar places. Long Term Memory, Imagination Land, Abstract Thought and Dream Productions, in a desperate effort to get back to Headquarters, and Riley. And it is here that they meet Riley's old imaginary friend Bing Bong, who has been discarded in the deep crevasses of the mind to slowly wither and die. But it's actually Bing Bong who ends up sacrificing himself to save the day!
Richard Kind is an accomplished stage, screen and television presence who continues to redefine the term "character actor." Before landing one of the best roles in Inside Out, he also voiced characters in past Disney Pixar movies such as A Bug's Life and Cars. Now, he takes on one of his own personal favorite roles with Bing Bong. We recently sat down with the cheerful presence that is Richard Kind to get his take on the movie. We also chatted about what went into making Bing Bong such a standout presence in the lexicon of Pixar characters. Here is our conversation.
You've done quite a bit of Pixar voice work before you were brought into help create and voice Bing Bong. Was this an instance where the animators and directors who'd worked with you before just knew you were the perfect voice to bring this imaginary friend to life?
Richard Kind: You've got it exactly how it happened. They wrote the character. They went to John Lasseter, who is very hands on with all the Pixar movies, even though he is the head of Disney Animation. And John knows me. He worked with me on A Bug's Life. They said, 'What do you think?' And John, from what I've heard, said, 'That is a perfect idea!' So that's how they got me. They asked.
Now, I'm quite familiar with all the work you've done in the past. When I sat down to watch this, I didn't see your name associated with Bing Bong. And watching the character, I didn't immediately think of you. Which I thought was cool. And should be taken as a compliment. Sometimes, hearing a particular actor's voice and knowing it is that person takes me out of the experience of the movie.
Richard Kind: I agree with you. I think that too. But I have to tell you, a lot of people don't know my name. Richard Kind. They may know my face. But they don't really know my name, so even if they did see it maybe they wouldn't know. But I have to tell you...The people at Pixar are smarter than more ways than one. When we were doing the voice work, Ronnie Del Carmen, who was one of the producers and writers of the movie, came up to me and said, 'Rich, we're not doing publicity with you. We're just going to be with the five emotions.' All he had to do was say that. But he didn't. He goes, 'We want to keep Bing Bong a surprise.' I swear to god, working with these guys is reward enough, and I didn't need a further explanation. I was a little disappointed when there was so much publicity. And they all went to the Cannes Film Festival, and I'm not there. Okay. But I lived with it. It was fine. Then the movie came out. And the character of Bing Bong was such a surprise. I think it made me a better actor. Because people didn't know about me. I think it's funny. I was even better than people expected, because they didn't know I was going to be there. Pixar was 100% right. Do not, do not advertise me. Don't let me do publicity. And it really was a surprise. And that aspect made it even more so.
Yeah, I saw the movie a few months after it came out in theaters. And still, I didn't know what I was looking at when Bing Bong walked on screen. It was still a surprise that much later. I think he ends up being a lot of fans' most favorite character in the movie.
Richard Kind: Well, I can't say Yah or Nah to that! But he is a wonderful guy. And certainly there is that moment, when they are in that deep valley, in the cave. It is such a beautiful moment. I'm very proud of it. I'm very proud of the whole product.
I don't want to come across as some cold, uncaring, unfeeling person. But I didn't have the same reaction to the movie that some of my friends with kids did. I was surprised by that...
Richard Kind: Tell me what you thought.
I thought the movie was funny, and I had a lot of fun. But I couldn't see what they were all crying about. I didn't cry. I did not feel sad during the movie. But my friends, who have kids, said they did cry. That they became very emotional watching it. We had different takes on the movie.
Richard Kind: Well, um...You didn't have an emotional reaction when Bing Bong sends Joy off and stayed behind to sacrifice himself?
No. I didn't cry. I understood the weight of it. But I also have a very active imagination. I keep all the characters going in my head at all times. I still remember and sometimes think about my imaginary friend. So maybe there is a disconnect there.
Richard Kind: You are one of the blessed people. And I hope you have children. I believe this movie will hit every person in the way that they want it to hit them. And a 7 year old has no idea about the sadness. Except those 7 years who are very feeling. It will hit them. 11, 12, 13...They are going to look at this movie really differently than any 7 year old looks at it. Then you get to a 19 year old, who looks back at themselves when they were 11 or 12 years old, and they're really going to feel something. 'Oh, my god! I miss those days!' Then a 30 year old is going to say, 'I have an 11 year old kid now, and I'm amazed at this movie in a completely different way.' So, I think this movie is so brilliant because so many people will share an emotion with each other, and so many will internalize it and personalize it in ways that have no explanation.
Do you want to hear a really sad story?
Richard Kind: Yes.
My cousin went to see the movie. And towards the end, there was this little boy sitting by himself a couple seats down from her. He just wails out loud at the top of his lungs, 'I miss my mom and dad!' Isn't that horrible?
Richard Kind: Yeah. Here's another funny but sad story. A friend of mine has a really precocious 7 year old. And she was watching the movie. When Bing Bong went away, she goes, 'WHY? Who would make such a movie?'
(Laughs) Oh, man...
Richard Kind: That made me laugh! What can I say? It will hit different people in different ways. That, to me, is really genius.
It's definitely a movie that hits on a lot of levels. Now, I've talked to quite a few voice actors over the years. It always seems like there's two takes on creating a voice for a character. They give the character a backstory, what it likes, its favorite food, its favorite movie, where it grew up. Others just come in and say the lines and go home. Where do you fall between those 2?
Richard Kind: You are being very curt about the second choice. It certainly is not the second choice. Nor is it the first choice. I've read the script. I've seen the scenes. I see what the guy is like. I have made a decision about what I think his attitude is. I can't say this is what he eats, or this is where he went to school. Things like that. But I sort of...You know? I'm not that good of an actor that I'm going to make decisions in that way. I play a part. I make pretend. That's what it is. I play pretend. And I pretended to be an imaginary friend. Well, give me an example of what your imaginary friend is like. What are three of his qualities?
He likes spaghetti, he likes taking baths...
Richard Kind: No, no, no...Give me some qualities of his.
He was very sloppy and that was his name.
Richard Kind: He was sloppy. Great. Imagine what a sloppy person would sound like. He wouldn't have an English accent.
No. He'd probably have a lot of saliva in his mouth.
Richard Kind: Yeah! That's great. So you cover him in that. Give him a slobbery mouth.
So, do you think Bing Bong could be resuscitated or resurrected? I wouldn't imagine that the mind completely loses the memory of that imaginary friend? I imagine that the imaginary friend can always be reawakened.
Richard Kind: I think more creative minds than mine will make that decision. I pray a decision is made. I have no idea whether or not it will happen. And I mean it. I have nooooooooooooo idea! I do have every hope in the world that it will happen. But I can't say Yah or Nay. I will tell you what I would love to do. And I have not spoken to anyone about this. This is just me off the top of my head. I would love to see a cartoon series called Riley and Me, or Riley and Bing Bong, or The Adventures of Riley and Bing Bong. They could have plenty of adventures. And we could see a three or four year old Riley. They could go to different places. They could go to China. They could go to the moon. They could go wherever. I think that would be great. But nope, nope, nope, I have no power or insight into whether or not you will see Bing Bong ever again.