Toy Story 4 Lowers the Stakes and Ramps Up the Whimsy

Forky is the most prominent of the new characters in Toy Story 4, the latest in the flagship franchise that launched Pixar Animation Studios and eventually won it a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

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Forky is the name of a spork that a kindergartener rescues from the garbage and adorns with pipe-cleaner arms, googly eyes, and popsicle-stick feet. It takes a long time for this dim, flimsy thingamabob to accept his own sentience. He believes he belongs in the trash.

Forky is also a symbol of a company that’s struggling to give its audience something new. Pixar was once associated with original animation, expanding the limits not only of computer renderings (those clouds of dust in Toy Story 2, the animal fur in Monsters Inc., the photorealism of The Good Dinosaur, etc.), but of a more sophisticated emotional palette, too.

But seven of the last 11 Pixar films have been sequels, most a notch or two worse than the original, and all reflecting a parent company that’s more focused on paying off existing properties than dazzling audiences with unfamiliar, audacious ideas.

As the only examples of Pixar sequels that have added richness and depth to the series, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 earned a little faith in a fourth go-around. But Forky? Really? Is a filthy, glued-together spork worthy of the franchise of Woody and Buzz Lightyear?

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