Toy Story 4 explores what it means to be alive

You’ve got a friend in me: The first Toy Story was released in 1995, almost 25 years ago.

Why are we alive? This is the surprisingly existential question posed by a new character in Toy Story 4, released today. The new film tells the story of a plastic spork that comes to life.

“I am not a toy,” insists a spork named Forky in the trailer for Pixar’s Toy Story 4. “I was made for soup, salad, maybe chilli, and then the trash.” And, yet, instead of this brief fate, a little girl gives Forky a face and pipecleaner arms. Thus, he gains consciousness.

The rest of the film is spent grappling with the existential consequences for Forky, Woody and the other toys. “Why am I alive?” asks Forky.

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

Forky is far from being the first character to ponder deep questions about consciousness and the meaning of life — but he may be the first to go there in a children’s movie.

Ancient Chinese and Buddhist philosophy once argued that we are all part of a shared consciousness.

In the 17th Century, Descartes saw consciousness as the thoughts belonging to each individual. It was these thoughts that convinced him of the reality of our existence (summarised in his most famous words: “I think, therefore, I am”).

Today, neuroscientists look to brain activity for signs of consciousness.

In Toy Story, however, consciousness is connected to an object’s purpose. Toys are alive but “some kids play with the box more than the present inside,” explains Cooley to Disney Twenty-Three magazine. “Is that box alive? Is that cup alive? We thought that was so weird and funny.”

Once we are alive, what is our purpose? For Woody, it is to make children happy. He spends much of the film trying to convince Forky that it is worth living for this.

Philosophers have debated the purpose of life for as long as they have debated consciousness. For Plato, it was the pursuit of the highest form of knowledge. For Aristotle, it was the highest good. Friedrich Nietzsche and other nihilist thinkers argued that life had no meaning at all. Humanists argue that each person must find their own purpose, as long as it contributes to the common good.

To infinity and beyond?

So, why are we alive? Do you agree with Woody — that life is about doing good and making others happy? Perhaps we get the most meaning out of life when we set our own egos aside, and try to make the world a better place for everyone.

Or do you agree with Forky and the humanists — that we each have our own individual purpose, and we will be happiest when we find and fulfill it? Instead of spending our whole lives trying to make other people happy, we must spend our lives being true to ourselves.

You Decide

  1. Should more children’s films tackle deep questions about life?
  2. Why are we here?


  1. Write a short scene from an imaginary Toy Story movie, set in your own childhood bedroom. Do you remember your favourite toys? What would they say about your younger self?
  2. Research another philosopher’s answer to the question on the meaning of life. Write a paragraph summarising their thoughts.

Some People Say...

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The first Toy Story was released in 1995 and directed by John Lasseter. Its two sequels were released in 1999 and 2010, respectively. They followed the life cycle of toys as their owners grow up, finally ending when Woody and his friends are passed on to a young neighbour, Bonnie, and the cycle starts again. This is where Toy Story 4 picks up. The film has already made $1 billion worldwide.
What do we not know?
Whether Toy Story 4 will be as successful as its predecessors, although it is likely. Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory (both sequels) are the two other Pixar films to make over $1 billion in the last three years. We also do not know whether this is truly the last chapter in the Toy Story franchise.

Word Watch

Toy Story 4
Out in cinemas today. The previous Toy Story movie earned $1 billion worldwide.
The state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings. However, philosophers have debated its exact nature for thousands of years.
An ancient Eastern religion. Unlike most Western religions, Buddhism does not focus on worshipping a god.
René Descartes was born in 1596 in France. He is often called the Father of Modern Philosophy.
An ancient Greek philosopher and the founder of the Academy (one of the world’s first institutes of higher learning) in Athens.
Plato’s student, who began to develop his own school of philosophy after Plato’s death.
A school of philosophy which denies any inherent meaning in life.
Humanism is a non-religious belief in science, reason, and concern for other human beings. By coincidence, today is World Humanist Day (chosen to fall on the summer solstice).

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