Forky is the most prominent of the new characters in Toy Story 4, the newest in the flagship franchise that Pixar Animation Studios has launched and finally won a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. Forky is the name of a spork that saves a kindergartener from the garbage and adorns it with pipe cleaning arms, googly eyes and popsicle stick feet. It takes a long time for this vague, thin thing to accept his own feeling. He believes he belongs to the garbage.
Forky is also a symbol of a company struggling to offer its audience something new. Pixar was once associated with original animations and expanded the boundaries of not just the computer view (that dust clouds in it Toy Story 2, the animal fur Monsters Inc., the photorealism of The good dinosaur, etc.), but also from a more refined emotional palette. But seven of the last 11 Pixar films are follow-up films, most of which are a step or even worse than the original, and all reflect a parent company that is more focused on paying for existing properties than a blinding audience with unknown, bold ideas. As the only examples of Pixar sequels that have made the series richer and deeper, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 earned a little faith in a fourth restart. But forky? Really? Is a filthy, glued-together spork worthy of the Woody and Buzz Lightyear franchise?
And yet Forky (Tony Hale) is quite brilliant, precisely because he is so counter-intuitive. The makers of Toy Story 4 could never hope to create a character as beloved and mythologically charged as Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear, who each have full backstories and three films with a psychological dimension. To go the other way with Forky – to make him a coarse, pea-brained, semi-suicidal lump of plastic – sends the message that the stakes may be lower in this Toy story iteration, but the willfulness and absurdity will be reinforced. There is some quality material here about the virtues of getting lost, and some Forky-specific insights into children's attachment to their own unapproved, non-produced, non-commercial creations. But Toy Story 4 seems satisfied with his forkiness, and that lack of pretension is usually an asset.
It does not go all the way back to the familiarity of the Toys Story formula, however, with its back and forth switching between Rube Goldberg action setpieces and aggressive snatches of the heartstrings. The opening series, for example, is pure boilerplate, flashing back to a time when the toy owner Andy was still a boy and Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang were gathered together to get a quirky remote control to rescue. driven car from an evening shower. All that hectic action sets a scene in which Woody sets aside Bo Peep (Annie Potts), sets aside the sheep-like doll that he adores, and thinks of a future in which he is also shipped in a cardboard box to unknown destinations . It is a heartbreaking moment for him, but it also refers to a moment when releasing Andy could create an equally satisfying phase in his life.
In the present, however, Andy & # 39; s toy collection is left to Bonnie, the kindergartner who makes Forky on her first day of orientation, and quickly downgrades Woody to the closet. When Bonnie and her parents pile in an RV for a mini vacation before school starts, Forky chooses to throw herself out of an open window, and the ever-loyal Woody does the noble thing and goes after him. Woody does his best to rehabilitate Forky and convince this gluey Gumby of his own worth, but the wispy thing soon gets more trouble with an ominous set of characters, including an unloved 1950-pull-string doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and a group of creepy belly speaker dolls.
Toy Story 4 also adds more salable characters to the collection, including Bunny and Ducky, two plush carnival prizes expressed by the comic duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, and Duke Caboom, a Canadian daring voiced by Keanu Reeves, whose patriotism is matched only by his consistent disability as a stuntman. Duke & # 39; s previous owner was a boy who was disappointed by the failure of the toy to deliver on the promise of his TV commercial, and the melancholy lingers with him, just as it does with all Toy story characters who struggle with abandonment. As much as the Toy story series is about friendship and adventure, it is also about aging and loss, that inevitable turning of the page.
Because the second and third Toy story films have previously brought the audience to this bittersweet place, Toy Story 4 every now and then it feels superfluous to settle in a verse-chorus verse formula in which sequences of group exploits are followed by biting existential reflection. Although inadequate from its predecessors, the film is generally more confident and inventive than any of theToy story Pixar sequences.
And it allows Woody to grow in at least one crucial respect. Instead of being stung repeatedly by loving and losing one child after another, he begins to see the value of independence, which is not only part of being an adult, but also exceeding a relationship with a best-before date. With this third sequel to Toy story, Pixar has left pushing its own expiration date in the series. But those little spork teeth don't stick together much longer. It's time to get lost.