Warning: Mild spoilers for Toy Story 4 ahead.
Perhaps you’ve described yourself (or someone else) as a hot mess. Maybe you identify with Oscar the Grouch, who lives in a garbage can.. People love to refer to the world today as a garbage fire. Trash is hot right now, and thanks to Toy Story 4, we self-described garbage folk now have a full-time king: Forky.
Forky comes to exist because Woody and the fellow toys you’ve come to know and love from the first three Toy Story’s are now under the care of a little girl named Bonnie. Bonnie is starting kindergarten, and she’s slow to make friends. When it’s time to do an arts and crafts project during orientation, Bonnie gives a plastic spork pipe cleaner arms (that, thanks to the wizards at Pixar animation, tremble and break your heart), two different-sized googly eyes, wooden Popsicle stick feet, and a clay mouth. She deems him Forky, as kindergartens aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the world’s most superfluous utensil. As Forky himself says — sporks are only good for soup and chili. To Bonnie, Forky is her new toy friend.
Unfortunately, Forky just wants to go back to his place of origin: the trash.
“I’m TRASHHHHHHHHH,” a refrain Forky yells as he hurtles towards the nearest trash can, should be the official meme of 2019. In Forky’s googly eyes, he is literal garbage, and he needs to get back to where it’s warm and cozy. His emotional journey in Toy Story 4 will obviously take him to the realization that he’s no longer trash — he’s a toy! —but he has a long way to go before he can accept his new position in life. At first, no amount of cajoling from Woody can convince the wide-eyed, constantly questioning Forky that he’s served his single-use purpose in life, and now must fulfill his destiny of being tossed into the trash. Woody spends many a sleepless night constantly retrieving Forky from the garbage can.
There’s only one performer who could give life to Forky: Tony Hale, portrayer of two of the most neurotic characters in television comedy history — Buster Bluth on Arrested Development and Gary Walsh on Veep. At a press conference for Toy Story 4 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL, Hale said that when Pixar brought him in to introduce him to the concept of Forky, “They had attached some lines from Buster and Gary, just to kind of give him his essence and his neurosis. And I was like, You know what? Forky and Gary and Buster would be little neurotic Avengers together, just walking around the world.”
“I struggle with anxiety, so it was fun to play a character that was so overwhelmed, because I feel like I’m overwhelmed a lot,” he told Refinery29 later in the day. He’s completely okay with Forky’s instant trash icon status — in fact, his character’s underlying message moves him. “He thought he’s made for trash, [but] he’s made for so much more. He has purpose; he has value. That’s something I would tell anybody.”
Forky might be fond of proclaiming that he’s trash and not a toy (Hale was even wearing a pin that said as much during our interview), but he knows one thing for sure: He’s a spork. Bonnie, being a kindergartner, dubbed him Forky due to the lack of spork advocacy out there. But don’t worry, Hale is here to speak the gospel of this underutilized utensil to the world. When asked to rank utensils, he put spork at the top.
“I do love the best of both worlds with a spork. You never see them [out in the wild], but it’s gonna change. We’re going to be spork evangelists. I’m a fan of the spoon. I like the attack of the fork. We’re talking Sophie’s choice here. That’s why spork is the perfect world.”
Forky quivers when confronted for the first time by all the toys in Bonnie’s room. Nevertheless, Woody realizes how important this new being is to his kid’s life. She’s having trouble adjusting to kindergarten, and if this new friend she created from a bunch of trash is going to help her, then Woody will do whatever he can to get Forky up to speed on the complicated rules of the world (like everyone flopping to the ground when people walk into a room). Forky is wide-eyed and open to learning. He has none of the unconscious biases everyone else walks around with. If he had a theme song, Hale says it would be Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate,” because, well, “He’s got a lot to celebrate.”
He can celebrate being our anxious trash king, to start. In TS4, he teaches everyone that it’s okay to accept who you are (he may not know much, but, per Hale, “He knows that he’s a spork.”), but it’s also okay to learn and grow. And in our hot garbage heap of a world, it’s nice to watch a piece of trash realize he’s anything but.