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The untold truth of Forky

By now, you'd think the folks at Pixar would've told every story there is to tell in the secret world of talking toys. We laughed in the first Toy Story, we cried in Toy Story 2, and we were deeply disturbed by the existential crises in Toy Story 3. So when we started watching Toy Story 4, you can understand why we may have had our arms folded. What could there be left for Pixar to show us that we haven't already seen before?

We got our answer when Bonnie grabbed a plastic spork, some pipe cleaners, and googly eyes, and created her own handmade toy, an adorable monstrosity she named Forky. He's innocent, he's neurotic, and like all of us, he can't fully comprehend the ramifications of his own existence. We're pleasantly shocked to report that in this fourth film, Forky made us laugh louder, cry harder, and be more existentially disturbed than ever.

Since first watching the movie, we've been ruminating over the many strange questions about the underlying mechanics of the Toy Story franchise that are raised by Forky's very existence. And it turns out there's a heaping forkful of fascinating behind-the-scenes stories around Forky's creation, and many of our burning questions do indeed have answers. This is the untold truth of Forky.

Forky started as a joke

Forky is such a dramatically different kind of character from anything we've ever seen in a Toy Story movie. His mannerisms and speech patterns are twitchy, his storyline is genuinely disturbing, and he always looks like he's about to fall apart. As you watch the film, you can't help but ask, "Where the fork does a character like this even come from?"

Well, in an interview with Geeks of Doom, director Josh Cooley said, "We were joking about how our kids would take the Christmas present, and how they would play with the box before they play with the actual toys. So we were going: 'Well, does that mean the box comes to life? How does that work?'" Inspired, Toy Story 4's creative team decided Bonnie should actually make a toy out of trash so they could explore all those weird possibilities. As Cooley put it, the invention of Forky was a "bizarre experiment and ... too funny not to try it." 

Much like Bonnie, the mind behinds Toy Story 4 were just messing around when they made Forky, having a little fun. But also like Bonnie, they had no idea what they were really creating.

Forky's original name wasn't exactly family friendly

One of the most puzzling things about Forky is his name. After all, Forky isn't a fork. He's a spork. So why is he named Forky? Why not Sporky? Well, there is indeed an answer to that pressing question, and the story of how Forky got his name is a good one. 

In an interview with Collider, when asked why he named his spork character "Forky," director Josh Cooley answered, "Well, you know, we were coming up with a bunch of different names for him, and I showed a picture of him to my son. I think he was probably four at the time, and I go, 'Hey buddy, what do you think the name of this character is?' He looks at it, and he goes, 'Hmm, Fork Face.' And I'm like, 'That's hilarious. We cannot use it.'" 

However, the suggestion got Cooley to thinking. His son was about the same age as Bonnie in the film, and just like his own kid, most 4-year-olds probably don't know what a spork is. And since "Fork Face" was off the table, Cooley decided that a kid would most likely name this new toy "Forky." And yeah, we understand why that original name would've been a no-go for a kids' movie, but to us, he will always be "Fork Face."

What makes a toy a toy?

Usually, Pixar movies take place in a fantastical setting, but trying to iron out all the details and ramifications of exactly how the setting works isn't the point. If you start going down that path, you quickly end up in a mire of weird questions. (We're looking at you, Cars.) However, thanks to Forky, people can't stop pondering things like how toys come to life and what separates a toy from a non-toy. To quote Trixie the dinosaur, we have "all the questions."

When Josh Cooley and producer Jonas Rivera were asked how Forky gains sentience, Cooley responded, "There are things that are alive in the world that we just never answer the question for, but I kind of feel like it's a little bit of a midichlorian question of, like — explain why that happens." In other words, sometimes the technical answer to a mystical question just ruins all the fun.

However, River did dive a little deeper into the question, saying that Forky's newfound existence has a lot to do with Bonnie writing her name on his wooden feet. Cooley then agreed, saying, "Well, that's a big part of it. That's kind of ... it seals the deal."

Even if the filmmakers are somewhat reluctant to nail things down too much, the existence of Forky provides an interesting datapoint. We don't know the why yet, but when you add in some throwaway lines from previous films — which imply that even garden gnomes and Christmas decorations have sentience — the rules of Toy Story seem to be that, even if it's a stretch, most things could be considered toys. And if they're considered toys, then they are indeed alive. 

Does Forky have a death wish?

For most of Toy Story 4, Forky has a hard time accepting the fact that he's a toy. He insists that he's just a disposable plastic spork that needs to be thrown away. Although it's played for comedy, it's possible to read Forky's quest to throw himself in the trash in a much darker way. Does Forky want to die?

When asked about this, producer Jonas Rivera said, "We never thought of it like he wanted to die. ... [The trash is] just like bed to him, that's home. I think it's just his purpose."

Josh Cooley added, "That's what Toy Story is built upon, is that everything has a purpose. So a toy's purpose is to be there for their child. A cup's purpose is to hold water. So, being that he's a spork — so, soup, salad, chili — he's a single-use. Now he has a whole new purpose."

In addition to answering our question about why Forky feels like he belongs in the garbage, these comments also may have given us our answer as to when a toy becomes a toy. It doesn't matter what an object looks like or if it comes from a store. What matters is its purpose, not in terms of design, but in terms of how it's perceived by the humans around it. As soon as one person holds up an object and thinks "toy," that object is a toy.

​What really brought Forky to life was Tony Hale

If you thought Forky's voice sounded familiar but couldn't place it, well, he's portrayed by the masterful comedic actor Tony Hale, probably best known as Buster Bluth on Arrested Development. In fact, when trying to find a voice and mannerisms for Forky, the team at Pixar animated the character to clips of Hale acting in Arrested Development and Veep. Apparently, it was a perfect fit, and that's how they pitched the comedian on the character.

And when asked about how easy it was for Hale to embody Forky, he told Variety, "Pixar described him saying he's got a neurotic energy, and I was like, 'Check. I'm in.' I very much resonated with Forky because he's so overwhelmed by everything. I feel like I'm just as overwhelmed being part of this film franchise. He comes in and is like, 'Why am I here?' And I'm asking the same questions. ... Him and I are one in the same."

Forky is such a strange character that he could've easily veered into being grating or downright creepy, but Tony Hale managed to find the perfect note to hit, giving us a character who's likable, weird, and profoundly human. You know, except for the part where he's a spork.

Forky isn't trash, and neither are you

Beyond being just an entertaining character, Forky also has a lesson to teach audiences of all ages. When asked whether or not he found something relatable in Forky's desire to throw himself away, Tony Hale told Variety, "I've had those moments. ... Forky, his sole goal in life was to help people eat chili and hit the trash, that's his lifeline. Woody comes along and says, 'No, you have a greater purpose. You have more value than that.' That's pretty meta. Anybody might have moments where they think they have this one-way route to trash, or someone has treated them that way. I love telling people, no you have a much bigger value than that."

It might not have been the original intent of the filmmakers to create a character who represented depression, but Forky's story is probably quite relatable to those who struggle with the disorder. It can be comfortable to tell yourself that you're trash. It lets you off the hook from having to get the help you need, but that sort of thinking is deeply unhealthy and always incorrect. You are meant for more, and you can get better. Forky's friends didn't let him throw himself away, and if you don't have someone to pull you out of the garbage, just know that you are not trash.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Forky isn't trash, but his toys certainly are

Just as the character of Forky was learning that he wasn't trash, Disney executives were learning that a series of toys made in Forky's likeness were better suited for the dumpster than they were for a child's bedroom.

On July 8th, 2019, Disney announced through the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that they were initiating a voluntary recall of their 11" plush Forky dolls. Apparently, there was a defect in the design of the toy which led to Forky's googly eyes becoming easily detached. Disney identified these wayward googlies as a potential choking hazard, though they also stated in this report that no incidents of injury had been reported.

The House of Mouse also said that customers could return the toys to any Disney Store or Disney resort retail location for a full refund. Given that over 80,000 of these things have already been shipped out, Disney is going to fork over a ton of dough before they can put this embarrassment behind them.

Forky is getting his own show

We don't know yet whether or not there's going to be a Toy Story 5. Pixar currently doesn't have any plans for it, but then again, a few years ago, they didn't have any plans for Toy Story 4. In the meantime, if you can't get enough Forky, fear not, because he's getting his very own spinoff.

Disney is currently producing a series of ten short films about Forky called Forky Asks a Question. In an interview with Collider, Tony Hale says that each episode will be about five to ten minutes long, and that each installment "starts with Forky asking a question of all these things that I, as an adult, should know and I didn't know ... and then these Toy Story characters come in and just kind of help him explore the question. ... It's questions that everyone might want to ask, but they're too embarrassed to ask."

Based on that description, it sounds like this series is going to have an educational bent, but if we know Forky, it's probably also going to be both heartwarmingly sweet and gut-bustingly funny. Forky Asks a Question will be premiering later in 2019 on Disney+, and we can't wait to see it.