Once, when I was home sick from school and bored, my mom entertained me by taking a cotton ball, wrapping it with a tissue so that it had a big floof sticking up on top, and drawing a face on it with a Sharpie. I made one too, and thus were born Sick-a and Sick-o, ponytailed friends who were put on the shelf until the next stuffy nose came along and I demanded their company again. Almost two decades and several moves later, Sick-a and Sick-o are long gone, and I had forgotten about them completely until I saw Toy Story 4, in which Bonnie creates her own makeshift friend at preschool out of a spork, a pipe cleaner, and other odds and ends found in a trash can.
Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, is a tottering, talking existential crisis who is bewildered by his newfound sentience and wants only to return to the trash. He’s also a prime opportunity for Disney to sell a massive quantity of merchandise, which so far includes a Funko figure, a key chain, various plushies, a spoon rest, a nightmare-inducing costume, and a talking action figure who bemoans the agony of being alive on command. There’s even a “build-your-own” version that kids can dress up with various accessories. Peddling toys is part of what Disney does, of course, but there’s something uncomfortably cynical—and yet ingenious—about making money off a character that is supposedly the product of a child’s imagination, thrown together from literal garbage.
With that in mind, I set out to see if I could buck commercialism and genuinely build my own Forky. In the spirit of Forky himself, I started in the trash. Unfortunately, the wastebaskets in Slate’s Brooklyn office are not nearly as craft-friendly as the ones in Bonnie’s preschool, so as I pawed through the bins of my colleagues like a raccoon, I found only paper and the occasional snack-bar wrapper. This meant I was going to have to spend some money recreating Forky after all—quite a bit of money, actually, since it turns out most craft stores will not sell you a single pipe cleaner and a pair of mismatched googly eyes.
While you can find plastic spoons and forks aplenty at just about any eating establishment, it’s harder to find a spork, and my local supermarket was similarly spork-less. Driven by desperation to Amazon, I quickly found that the most economical way to get sporks delivered within a reasonable time frame and at a reasonable price was to buy in bulk. I removed one spork from the package and deposited the other 999 in the office kitchen. I ordered modeling clay, too, in 24 colors, since it was cheap, and decided to forgo the rainbow sticker on Forky’s foot in favor of just making a teeny rainbow out of the clay.
Speaking of Forky’s feet, I briefly considered substituting coffee stirrers for popsicle sticks, but they were too thin and didn’t look right, so I bought Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars, which have wider sticks than other brands. I ate one and rinsed the stick, and then I ate another, because they’re pretty good. We already had glue in the mailroom, so I decided that glitter glue, which Bonnie uses to attach Forky’s eyes in the movie, was an unnecessary luxury. It was time to start building.
Making the unibrow out of clay was simple enough, though the mouth proved trickier, since I had to push down to attach it to the spork, flattening the lips slightly. (Instead of attempting a smile, I opted for a distressed expression, because that is both easier and captures the true essence of Forky.) Without crayons, I tinted his cheeks by scribbling on my finger with red pen and smearing the ink. A hunk of white clay serves as the base on which Forky stands, the two halves of the popsicle stick jutting out in front. The rainbow required the most precision of all, and ultimately, a colleague lent a hand rolling out each individual strand of colorful clay. All in all, it set me back $40 and an hour, with a lot of that time spent waiting for the glue on various pieces to dry.
Was it worth it? Don’t get me wrong, I love my pointy son, but if you don’t already have an arsenal of craft supplies on hand, it’s actually cheaper and less time-consuming to just to buy one of Disney’s products. Painstakingly recreating an existing character was certainly more limiting than just making up one of my own out of components I already had. Forky was fun to assemble, though, and the process made me nostalgic for a time when anything with a face could be a friend and I could take an hour in the middle of the day to stick googly eyes on inanimate objects. Maybe, over the coming weeks, I’ll make him a friend or two or three or 999.