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There are a few things that we can say define a generation. For baby boomers, perhaps it was the Vietnam War, Woodstock, or the moon landing. For Gen X, maybe it was the fall of the Berlin Wall or the rise of MTV.
For millennials, it was Forky.
The lovable (and mildly unsettling) spork from Pixar’s Toy Story 4 (voiced by Tony Hale, and which you can watch now on Disney+) had a way of bluntly speaking his mind and, in a way, saying all the things millennials have known to be true in their hearts since they were born. This little utensil, more than any other Disney character, became our muse, our essence, our Patronus.
Not to say that all millennials think they’re secretly trash, but it’s a pretty common meme. The same goes for the classic millennial brand of self-deprecating, and even depressive humor. We are just like Forky: anxious, sad, and fighting identity and existential crises with as much ironic humor as we can muster.
Of course, people have pretty skewed ideas of what ages define a “millennial,” so allow us to clear it up. According to the Pew Research Center, “millennials are defined as anyone born between 1981 and 1996.” So, yes, there are millennials in their late 30s. There are also millennials just barely in their mid-20s. It is a wildly expansive generation, so there’s no way to pinpoint what the millennial experience is though Pew considers events like September 11th, and the Mortgage Crisis as some key moments.
In general, Millennials are known for a dry, nihilistic sense of humor as well as various forms of anxiety, much like our mascot, Forky. We get to see him change and grow emotionally throughout the film like he’s our panicky, little garbage baby (aw!) much like millennials have grown up largely in the public eye using endless forms of media, from YouTube to Facebook. It’s no wonder why we can relate to Forky’s journey.
Here’s why Forky perfectly fits in with the millennial generation.
He’s deeply existential
Forky’s number one personality trait is that he is filled with so many questions about his existence. Much like other millennials out there, he is plagued by thoughts such as, “Who am I?,” “Why am I here?,” and “Where is the trash?” He spends most of the movie grappling with these questions just like millennials spend most of their lives doing the exact same thing. According to Forbes, Millennials, as a generation, face both an existential and an identity crisis that will shape the rest of their lives — much like Forky.
According to Shrink Tank, Forky’s behaviors are pretty classic markers of Imposter Syndrome, which is a thought pattern that brings feelings of inadequacy despite actual success. It is basically the Millennial condition. Just take a quick search for “imposter syndrome” on Twitter, and you’ll find a deluge of 20 to 30-somethings who don’t think they deserve the thing they are absolutely qualified for. Then, there’s Forky. Forky is not just a humble spork, but a beloved toy. He continually rejects this vaunted status by proclaiming, “I’m TRAAASSSHH!,” even though Bonnie basically thinks he’s the best. Perhaps it’s the pressure of bringing a child happiness that’s getting to him. Or maybe it’s just the overwhelming nature of having a consciousness. Like, how does it even work in the Toy Story Universe? Is it just “a child’s love”? Then why do the lost/broken/rejected toys also have consciousness? We’re with Forky; this is confusing.
He’s anxious (and maybe a little depressed)
According to a report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, major depression amongst millennials is particularly on the rise, and it’s a serious health issue for all people dealing with this disease. Maybe the Toy Story creators didn’t set out to make Forky an analog for mental health issues, but you can’t deny he’s dealing with a bevy of general anxiety or depression symptoms. He’s nihilistic, doesn’t take pleasure in everyday things (like playing with Bonnie), and he acts impulsively (jumping out of RV windows), to name a few. Frankly, his negative self-talk (i.e. calling himself trash) is also a symptom of anxiety and depression as well as imposter syndrome. Perhaps the most comforting part of Toy Story 4, for millennials dealing with these problems, is that Forky’s story has a joyful, happy ending. Hope is a very powerful thing.
He has a strange idea of self-care
Self-care is definitely a millennial obsession that other generations don’t seem to have, according to NPR. There’s the kind of self-care that involves turning off your phone for a weekend or taking a nice bubble bath. For Forky, it’s trash. In the movie, Woody asks Forky to explain his big obsession with trash, and Forky’s answer might as well be every millennial’s experience with their chosen self-care method: “It’s warm. It’s cozy. And safe. Like somebody’s whispering in your ear, ‘everything’s gonna be okay’,” Forky says. How many times have millennials had to describe sheet masks in this way to people in other generations? Or, to some extent, going to therapy? Sure, Forky’s self-care is not something everyone would choose, but it works for him. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Forky wants to do his own thing. He has dreams of being used for “soup, salad, maybe chili.” Millennials can relate to this sentiment as a generation (not entirely unlike the generations that came before them, to be honest) who want to march to the beat of their own drums. Stories of millennials “killing” businesses, or even societal norms, that were much beloved by baby boomers are constantly making headlines, from millennials choosing not to get married (i.e. “killing” marriage) to not wanting to support problematic industries (i.e. “killing” the diamond industry). But Forky’s not there to “kill” toys just because he doesn’t want to be one (at first, anyway). But, in a way, he’s a threat to their existence. The toys’ whole world is about being playthings for a child, so it may have been a shock to see someone enter their world who challenges that norm. And Forky’s identity crisis is really rooted in being forced into a role that he wasn’t born for, as well as fighting against that idea. Luckily, he and the toys [SPOILER ALERT] find a nicer, new existence at the end that makes room for both traditional toys and toys made from utensils and art supplies.
He’s at odds with the older generation…of toys
It’s possible to see a bigger generational struggle between Woody and Forky that is very much like the one that continually rages between baby boomers and millennials, according to Vulture. Woody is the experienced toy, formerly the head honcho of the entire toy community, which is basically Andy’s bedroom. At the beginning of Toy Story 4, he finds himself increasingly being replaced by other (read: younger) toys and being left in the closet after years of service to his children. Not to “OK, Boomer” Woody here, but there are a lot of people who understand this feeling. The movie really clinches it when Forky comes to life as Bonnie’s new favorite toy. He’s basically a newborn baby who knows nothing about the world, but Forky is still the subject of Bonnie’s total obsession. Kind of like how the world obsesses over Millennials but completely ignores Gen X and Gen Z.
But Woody doesn’t get angry and bitter with Forky. He stays true to his calling as a toy and realizes that this is a fact of life – all toys get replaced eventually. So, instead, he tries to guide Forky into his new life as a toy which is way harder than he ever imagined it to be. Forky, who is unaware of the blissful safety and heavenly existence the toys enjoyed in Andy’s and Bonnie’s rooms, immediately rejects Woody’s ideals in favor of something a little different – trash. We never said this was a perfect metaphor, but it’s certainly indicative of the times. Thankfully, these two toys from two “generations” learn to understand each other. In fact, Forky manages to bluntly tell Woody what Woody might have suspected about himself all along: “Woody, I know what your problem is: You’re just like me. Trash!”
He doesn’t have all the answers…and he’s okay with admitting it
Forky, despite being entirely new to the world, seems to have some interesting insights. He understands his own life cycle as a spork and can even relate his experience as a piece of trash to Woody’s experience as a toy that will (eventually) get given or thrown away, as mentioned above. Even though Forky’s highly existential nature may throw him into a panic at times, he seems comfortable with the idea that he doesn’t have all the answers at the end of the movie. Though he’s older and wiser, much like older millennials born in the mid and late ’80s, he’s learned a few things in his short life, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t thrown by a random question from a younger trash toy, Knifey, during the end credits.
He approaches Knifey saying, “I will explain everything,” in reference to adjusting to her new life as a toy. She asks, “How am I alive?” A fair question, and one that many people have asked for centuries.
Forky, being an honest spork, responds, “I don’t know,” with the clarity, and calm that only the wisest philosophers and monks could possibly achieve. The millennial generation spans so many years that it can’t possibly be summed up in one kind of experience, much like Forky, the older millennial, and Knifey, the younger millennial (or, perhaps even Gen Z). As strange as it is to think about, we can liken Forky to a quintessential millennial in his 30s (we swear, they exist).
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