Whether we are going on a six-hour road trip or driving 15 minutes to pick up Daddy from work, one thing is inevitable: my 4-year-old daughter Alice is going to find a thing to accompany her. Sometimes it's a tiny, glittery Hatchimal the size of my thumb. Sometimes it's a giant stuffed flamingo that could pass as a passenger in the HOV lane. And sometimes it's a tiny rock she's found in the driveway. But no matter what, that little toy or item is important. So important, in fact, that I've had to go out to the car at 10:30 p.m. when she wakes up crying about how she's lost that little pile of stick-on sequins she had on her way home from school.
And Toy Story 4 doesn't just acknowledge the importance of those objects — it brings them to life. In previous installments of the series, the creators proved just how much a toy can mean to a kid. It's what fans love best about the series and the characters — it's why they all feel real. But Toy Story 4 takes it a step further with Forky, the newest member of the gang, highlighting why he, a craft project, is so crucial to a child. The story takes a kid's attachment to any toy, whether they've just found it at a carnival or made it themselves, and shows the audience what it really means.
Woody is there to save the day, grabbing her random items from the trash so that she can make the newest character in the gang, Forky.
When Alice was a toddler, she had seven stuffed animals that had to be in bed with her every night. There was an Elmo, a Grover, Sully from Monsters, Inc., Woody from Toy Story, a panda, and both Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It was a process to get them all in bed. My husband would have to kiss each one goodnight, and if one was missing, Alice absolutely noticed. Every morning, when we pulled her out of her crib, she brought all six little friends along with her. It was quite the walk down the hall at 7 a.m.
And it was pretty taxing, honestly. As much as I loved her sweet little personality and obsession with her stuffies, it was a giant pain to have an entire separate bag for overnight trips to keep all of her animals in. If she took one of them in the car for a ride, one of us always had to make sure it was brought back in, lest she delay bedtime by another 15 minutes whining for Elmo or Grover. There was no convincing her that another toy would work in its place — those six had to be there, and if they were in the washer or dryer or simply hiding under the crib, my husband and I were on a mission to get them back before bedtime.
Toy Story 4 picks up from Toy Story 3 with Bonnie, the little girl who inherited Andy's toys, preparing for her first foray into kindergarten. And her parents — along with Woody — know the struggle of a kid attaching to a random object well. (Warning: plot details from Toy Story 4 ahead.)
On one of the scariest days, in one of the loneliest moments, this plastic utensil becomes her lifeline.
In classic Pixar fashion, it didn't take long for my still-preparing-to-send-my-kid-to-kindergarten self to spiral into an emotional orbit as the opening scenes depict a terrified Bonnie heading off to kindergarten orientation. As she settles into the room, she's left alone at a table with no art supplies, and my mama heart broke wide open. But, as usual, Woody is there to save the day, grabbing her random items from the trash so that she can make the newest character in the gang, Forky, a plastic spork with fuzzy pipe cleaner arms and slightly off-putting googly eyes that look in two different directions. He believes he is trash (because he kind of is), and spends the first half of the movie trying to dive back to where he thinks he belongs. His waddle on popsicle stick feet is exactly how you'd imagine a plastic spork on skis to move, and his voice shouting, "TRASH? TRASH!" is made even more iconic by the fact that his mouth never stays in place.
But in that moment of creation this plastic spork becomes more than just a craft project — he is now Bonnie's anchor. On one of the scariest days, in one of the loneliest moments, this plastic utensil becomes her lifeline. He is there for her when she felt like no one else was, and the rest of the movie makes that connection even deeper, with Woody making it his primary job to save Forky at every turn so Bonnie will be OK.
A plastic spork dug out of the trash — it's the most random of random objects, but as The Velveteen Rabbit and Toy Story and every other saga of a child and their possessions has shown us, everything is worthy when loved by a kid. That love and that connection is why we go digging under sofas for a set of plastic car keys that our kid is suddenly obsessed with. It's why Bonnie's toys try to replicate a Forky with a metal spoon when her new friend is lost. It's why Bonnie's parents tear their RV apart looking for this plastic spork dug from the trash.
Bonnie needs it. In her moments of fear and uneasiness and trepidation, she has Forky.
Toys and random objects are more than just items that clutter our homes.
This lesson is hammered in even more near the end of the movie, when Gabby Gabby, a vintage talking doll, finds the home she's always wanted: in the arms of a lost little girl. The child is hiding at the carnival, crying behind the rides and utterly alone, when she finds Gabby Gabby. But the doll isn't just a band-aid — Gabby Gabby gives the little girl the courage to step out of the shadows, to dry her eyes and find help. Gabby is the anchor, allowing the child to step out of her fear and worries and find her parents.
Toys and random objects are more than just items that clutter our homes and give us 10 minutes of peace so we can pee without an audience. Often, they are the bravery our kids need. They are a slice of home in an unfamiliar area. They are the unsuspecting comfort on the first day of school or when a kid's scared. And sometimes, they are just the tiny item my kid needs in her pocket for a car ride.
It doesn't matter that a spork isn't a toy or that a doll a little girl has randomly found has no sentimental value — it's about being there for a kid. Just like Woody always says.