When does a spork become sentient? Inside the existential “Toy Story 4” teaser

I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.
I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.
Image: Disney
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At what point does a spork become a toy?

Buried within the playful 80-second teaser trailer for Toy Story 4 is this existential question, along with others worthy of Descartes and Kierkegaard: Are utensils always capable of sentience, or only when someone adds googly eyes to them? Does a spork understand its role in the universe? Does anyone?

Disney Pixar released the first look at the long-awaited Toy Story sequel today, and while it doesn’t reveal much (we see the toys we know and love—Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and crew—dancing in a circle to Judy Collins singing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”), it does introduce a new character: Forky the spork.

“I don’t belong here!” Forky (voiced by Veep actor Tony Hale), a spork with a face and pipe-cleaner arms, exclaims in the new trailer. “I’m not a toy!”

Or is he?

Toy Story 4 picks up sometime after the previous film, which hit theaters in 2010 and showed Andy’s lovable group of toys transfer into the possession of the toddler Bonnie. The official synopsis says Bonnie adds a “reluctant new toy called ‘Forky’ to her room,” sparking a road trip for the group as Woody helps him understand “how big the world can be for a toy.” That’s a lot to put on the plate of someone who’s having an existential crisis.

“The world of Toy Story is built upon the idea that everything in the world has a purpose,” the film’s director Josh Cooley told E! News. “A toy’s purpose is to be there for its child. But what about toys that are made out of other objects? Forky is a toy that Bonnie made out of a disposable spork, so he’s facing a crisis. He wants to fulfill his purpose as a spork, but now has a new toy purpose thrust upon him.”

The addition of Forky makes us question everything we thought we knew about how the Toy Story universe works. Reddit is already deep into the philosophical quandaries the trailer poses: “I’m just wondering at what point that spork became alive. Was it the addition of eyes? A face? Or is life breathed into such an object at the exact point in time that a child envisions it as a toy?” asks user BlackPenGuy.

“A more important question— is this process reversible?” retorts user Th3_Admiral. “If you add a face to a spork to create a toy and it becomes sentient, what happens when you wash the face off and throw it back in the box of other sporks? Does the toy mind ‘die’ and return to just being a spork, or does it live a life of misery as it sits buried in a garbage dump for thousands of years, fully aware but unable to interact with anything around it?”

Truly the existential question of our time. And it’s not totally outrageous to think about—a philosophical view called panpsychism, which posits that every single particle in existence has at least some form of consciousness, is gaining credibility. Perhaps a spork is always conscious, but it’s not until we throw some googly eyes on it do we notice it.

Toy Story 4 will come out June 21, 2019. Only then will we have answers to these pressing matters of utensil awareness.

This post was corrected to indicate that Judy Collins is heard in the trailer singing Joni Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now.”