The theme of the film is best summed up in the film's last line of dialogue as spoken by Sullivan, ""There's a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that's all some people have? It isn't much, but it's better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan."
The scene where the prisoners are taken to watch the Disney cartoon Playful Pluto takes place in a Southern African-American church; the film notably treats the African-American characters there with a level of respect unusual in films of the period. The Secretary of the NAACP, Walter White, wrote to Sturges:
I want to congratulate and thank you for the church sequence in Sullivan's Travels. This is one of the most moving scenes I have seen in a moving picture for a long time. But I am particularly grateful to you, as are a number of my friends, both white and colored, for the dignified and decent treatment of Negroes in this scene. I was in Hollywood recently and am to return there soon for conferences with production heads, writers, directors, and actors and actresses in an effort to induce broader and more decent picturization of the Negro instead of limiting him to menial or comic roles. The sequence in Sullivan's Travels is a step in that direction and I want you to know how grateful we are.