My Thoughts on ‘Forky Asks A Question’ and ‘Lamp Life’

Welp, things sure are slow now in the Toy Story fandom!  I started working on this post after Forky Asks A Question wrapped up and Lamp Life premiered, so I might as well share my thoughts about Toy Story’s new content on Disney +, since there isn’t anything else to report…

Forky Asks A Question

Oh, Forky.  When Forky Asks A Question was first announced, I was so excited and optimistic.  A new series!  New shorts!  My mind immediately went to the Toy Story Toons, which were six-minutes of pure awesomeness focusing on the toys’ lives in Bonnie’s room post-Toy Story 3.  As we learned more about Forky’s series, especially from the D23 Expo in the summer, it seemed as if its episodes would be closer to three or four minutes.  That’s okay, still a solid half hour when you add up all ten, comparable to one of the television specials.  Short can still be sweet.

The themes that were announced to be covered sounded full of promise.  Besides, my family and I loved Forky in Toy Story 4, so I was glad to get to spend more time with him.  Based on what we’d heard, I was expecting we’d see a different, relevant toy each episode help Forky figure out the world, maybe with others joining in to contribute, which would provide many opportunities to catch up with old friends.  After all, Tony Hale had promised “tons” of cameos in one of his interviews.  What I wanted most was for these shorts to be like the original Toons, in the sense that they’d give us a glimpse of how the gang was doing following Woody’s departure, and since Jessie’s promotion to Sheriff.  But… that wasn’t quite how things turned out.

I’ll explain where I’m coming from here.  What I find so appealing about the Toy Story series is its ensemble nature – how the toys are all one big goofy family, who drive each other crazy sometimes, but when it comes down to it, they’d do anything for each other.  Besides the romantic relationship of Buzz and Jessie – which everyone knows I adore – there’s also the way the toys all play off of each other, interacting and joking around, which I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years.  Granted, I know there’s not a whole lot you can do with two minutes a pop (plus credits), but after Toy Story 4 left out so much of the classic gang’s dynamics in favor of new characters, when Forky Asks A Question did this as well, it was somewhat of a disappointment.

That being said, once we were a few episodes in and I realized I wasn’t going to be seeing Jessie or Buzz (or Slinky, or Bullseye), and accepted it for what it was, I started to enjoy the series more.  My favorite episodes were those that included some of the more established characters, and provided what to me seemed like a glimpse into everyday life at Bonnie’s.  I really liked the ones with Rex (“What is Time?”) and Trixie (“What is a Computer?”) – Forky playing with Rex was really cute, and Trixie not falling for Forky’s usual friendship spiel made me laugh.  I found myself enjoying the “What is a Pet?” episode with Rib Tickles more than I expected to – it worked well considering it featured a cat, a real pet, even if it does leave questions as to how Rib and her playset made it to Bonnie’s when she didn’t appear to buy anything at Second Chance Antiques.  (And it confirms Bonnie has a cat – which was hinted at in Toy Story 3, with the cat door in the kitchen.)   But probably my favorite episode was the very last, “What is Reading?” with the Peas in a Pod and Mr. Spell.  I don’t need to overanalyze whether it’s a new Mr. Spell or the same one from Andy’s (does it really matter, folks?), it’s just a lot of fun, and the peas are beyond adorable.

There were a couple episodes I wasn’t so crazy about, though.  One was “What is a Leader?” with Dolly.  I have questions.  Why did she become such an evil tyrant since Toy Story 3, and the shorts and specials?  I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t jazzed with her in Toy Story 4, considering that if she hadn’t been so nasty to Woody, he might not have felt the need to leave.   The movie also left me concerned about what kind of situation Andy’s toys have at Bonnie’s now – is it one of constant tension and conflict at the hands of an unreasonable leader (and I use that term lightly; dictator seems more like it)?  Good grief, in her Forky episode, she threatens to ban him from the room just because he’s getting on her nerves!  If I didn’t like Dolly before, I absolutely cannot stand her now.  Sheriff Jessie needs to stage a revolt and take over leadership in Bonnie’s room, for everyone’s good.  With Buzz as her second in command, the toys would be in excellent hands.

And then there was “What is Love?”  I have more questions.  Why did the toddler toys in the closet talk to Forky about love, when there are two established couples in the room?  Of course Buzz and Jessie would have been my first pick, but what about the Potato Heads?  They would have worked, too.  Granted, Mr. P can’t talk (short of being replaced with a new voice actor), but she could have.  Their marriage has been part of the movies since the very beginning, when she was announced at the end as a Christmas present.  Heck, I’d have even taken Trixie and Reptillus, to see if they’re still an item since Toy Story That Time Forgot.  While I have all the respect in the world for the comedic talents who voice those closet characters – I grew up watching old Carol Burnett Show reruns with my Grandma – and understand the appeal of working with them, I feel as if they could have been used for any possible subject.  It’s not that it was badly done or anything – it is funny, and not uncomfortable to watch like the Dolly one – it’s just totally not the direction most fans expected that episode to take.

As interviews have come out, with both Director Bob Peterson and Producer Mark Nielsen, I’ve learned a bit more about the series.  One from Decider confirmed that Peterson only ever intended to use the side characters.

“I could see that Forky was going to be this great breakout character.  I decided to make it a little bit of a different kind of interview show, highlighting Forky’s lunacy, but paired with an individual from Toy Story 4, a side character you may not have heard from a lot.  So I just made a list of all the characters and I looked through and thought, ‘Who would it be fun to pair Forky with?’  And based on that, knowing who that side character was, I then crafted what a great question would be for that.”

My first instinct was that this was a budget consideration, because they certainly didn’t include every toy that had a reduced or nonexistent role in Toy Story 4.  (Mr. Pricklepants’ replacement voice actor in “What is Art?” also brought to mind the possibility of budget constraints.)  With likely a smaller crew and a shorter timeframe to make this series, it seemed to me that the episodes kept things simple by just showing the least number of characters as possible, in an otherwise empty room.  But that just made me wonder, where are the others?  All hanging out in the house on their own?  I understand that animation takes time, and money, and talent, but even just seeing background glimpses of the others situated silently around the room or house, doing their own things in their free time, I think would have made a big difference.

Then in a recent interview with Collider, Peterson did confirm my suspicions that budget played a large role in the how the series was made:

“About a year ago we realized we’d like to get a presence on Disney+ and get something going.  We’d talked about a lot of things and between not having the resources and not having the idea, we realized we weren’t there yet.”

Once he came up with using Forky in a simple Q&A format, things fell into place:

“The thing that excited me was featuring him but also being able to feature a whole load of other Toy Story 4 characters.  Simplify it down and let character come through and make it as much lunacy as Forky could display.”

It goes on to explain that with two feature films coming out within three months of each other in 2020 (Onward and Soul), resources were limited, which most likely led to many of the things I noted.  Besides money – 30 minutes was all they could afford – animators would have been tied up with working on both of the movies.  And I can respect that.  I only hope, considering that Forky Asks A Question has been well-received, that should any future Toy Story projects materialize, there can be more budget allotted for them.  Toy Story is certainly a franchise deserving of it.

Through all the press for Forky Asks A Question, there have been hints to the future – some promising, some not so much.  Most articles still contain a lot of the typical “nothing is in the works” statements.  But at the end of the last Forky episode, we hear him say:

“So I will see you next time, and I’m gonna be asking a lot more questions, because I got a lot of em!”

If that’s not a tease of a second season, I don’t know what is!  At the very least, it’s leaving the door open for more.  I would love to see Forky’s series continue.  And the most hopeful remark I’ve found so far was this, in an interview with Peterson shared by Forbes:

Is there a hope to get some of the more established toys, like Woody and Buzz, into the Forky world?
We’ll have to see.  For me, the particular goal was to to address the characters you don’t see very often, but a lot of people miss Jessie and miss Buzz and we’ll just have to see how this might develop as time goes by.

I’m glad to see that Pixar is aware that Jessie and Buzz were both missed in the new content that has come out since Toy Story 4.  In one article, however, the names of Duke Caboom and Ducky and Bunny were dropped as being worthy of their own Disney+ series.  That kinda scares me – no, it really scares me.  I don’t quite understand why there was so much focus on these new characters in the promotion of Toy Story 4 (unless it was because they were voiced by popular names), and why they’d want to spend their budget on such a limited focus for future projects.  Personally, I don’t really feel any need to find out what the new toys are up to after Toy Story 4; I was fine with how their stories wrapped up in the movie.  If the world of Toy Story is to continue into the future, fans want to know what the characters who built the franchise are doing, those who we all fell in love with 20+ years ago and who made it what it is today.  If secondary characters are there, too, to help tell the story, of course that’s fine – but it shouldn’t be an “instead of” situation.  Please, Pixar, if there are ever to be more shorts, or specials, or even another film, revisit the long-established characters everyone loves best.  All of them.

Lamp Life

Okay, on to Lamp Life.  I’ll confess, I wasn’t anticipating this one as much as the Forky series.  Not that I dislike Bo Peep, I just knew there was no hope of Jessie or Buzz being in it, so it wasn’t as much on my radar.  Still, I was interested in finding out what happened to Bo between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 4, so I had every intention of watching on its debut day on Disney+.

Since I didn’t go into this short with as many hopes riding on it, I think it left me free to enjoy it more.  I was most curious about what happened to Bo before getting to Second Chance Antiques – we already spent so much time in the shop in Toy Story 4 anyway – so I was satisfied with what we learned about her past.  The only bit of information we didn’t get that I would have liked to have had is how she came to change up her outfit.  Was the blue bodice hidden underneath the pink all along, as a sort of vintage-style undergarment with her bloomers?  (Such a garment in 19th century terms would have been called a “combination,” but I won’t delve into my historical fashion nerd side.)  Had the pink been a sort of jacket?  How did she come about sewing her skirt into a cape with that deep indigo-purple lining and giant button?  Is the bow on her head a hair tie she found on the playground, as it appears to be?   Maybe we’ll find out someday – or maybe not.  Nevertheless, the maker in me wants to know her creative process.

I was really happy we got to see Bo with Woody at the beginning and the end of the short, living their best life on the road.   I think it was sweet that she was telling him her story – although I do think it might have been a little bit sweeter if they had been off on their own somewhere, with no sheep, and no Giggle third-wheeling.  Giggle could have been watching the sheep – it could have hearkened back to the line in the first movie – so that Woody and Bo could have had a date night at the carnival, alone.  But that’s just the romantic in me, and because the canon couples of Toy Story are my favorite.  Sometimes I wonder if Pixar is aware how many adults there are who live for the cute little moments between Woody and Bo, and Buzz and Jessie.  We are an army.  And we want the fluff.

Speaking of Jessie, who else saw Bo in that “free” box and immediately thought of Jessie in her own donation box in Toy Story 2?  This just made me realize how much the two girls have in common now, after all Bo has been through.  The ending of Toy Story 4 confirmed that they had in fact been close friends, probably much like Buzz and Woody.  And while in the past Bo was likely very sympathetic to Jessie’s past troubles, can you imagine now, how much she’d understand what Jessie’s been through?  Jessie would also be able to empathize with Bo’s journey.  I don’t point this out to suggest that Pixar made their backstories too much alike – they’re not.  They share the common, significant thread of being discarded and feeling unwanted, but the girls’ exact paths and reactions to them were quite different.  While Jessie’s traumas of being abandoned and then trapped in a box left her more emotionally vulnerable (not finding fault with this, this is why I love her, I can relate), Bo’s vignettes present (at least to me) someone getting more and more fed up with her situation, rather than sad or scarred.  Despite all the “poor Bo” comments I got before this short premiered, I didn’t think her story portrayed a victim who was being treated “unfairly” by the script writers; it instead proved her resilience.  That’s life – your experiences, and your response to them, make you who you are.  This also illustrates how different people can react differently to similar situations, and no one way is wrong or right.    Jessie could have chosen to never belong to anyone again, too, but she ultimately didn’t, and now on her third owner she’s one of the favorite toys in the room.  Bo’s life choices are equally right, for her.  I just wish we could see these two girls come together to properly catch up, now that we know how much they share in addition to their existing friendship.  Woody and Bo seriously need to travel to the Tri-County Area and pay Bonnie’s house a visit.

Soundtracks have been released for both Forky Asks A Question and Lamp Life, by the way!  You can find them on Amazon and iTunes.

Now we’re in a place where there’s no new (confirmed) Toy Story content on the horizon, and I don’t quite know what to do with that.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been in that position!  We may see new shorts on Disney+, or a new movie someday, but we just don’t know what Pixar might have planned – especially with 2020 being the franchise’s 25th anniversary.  Considering the constant hype of 2019, though, I’m okay with a little bit of quiet.  I won’t be disappearing from my blog – I’ll still be keeping an eye out for news, and should there be anything noteworthy to report, I’ll be here.  I may even revisit some throwback subjects.  But for now, I’m gonna enjoy not having a ton of updates to keep up with.  As the fandom quiets back down again, into the lull it was in for so many years between movies, I can get back into enjoying these characters and their world in my own way.  The excitement of something new is, well, exciting, but after the whirlwind of the past year, it’ll be nice for Toy Story to return to being my escape – at least for now.  Because I’d gladly go through all the craziness again, just to spend more on-screen time with my favorite toys!

Images © Disney/Pixar.