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Toy Story 3: The Tragedy of Public Goods Explained to Children

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the Toy Story saga and the 10th anniversary of the release of Toy Story 3, the deepest and most politically charged film in the series, despite being a film supposedly for children.

The premise of this entire saga of computer-generated animated films is that toys come to life when they are not watched by humans, with each one having its own personality and feelings.

Given the popularity of these films, the main toys – owned by a kid called Andy – are universally recognized. Woody the cowboy, Buzz Lightyear the astronaut, Jessie the cowgirl, and many others are part of the memories of millions of people around the world.

Each one of the four films that make up the saga tells us different adventures that these endearing characters have to face, but it is in the third installment where we find a subliminal political message especially remarkable.

In Toy Story 3, Andy is already 17 years old and preparing to go to college, so he must move to another city. The toys have to face the harsh reality that their owner is no longer a child, and although Andy’s intention is to keep them in his attic, because of a misunderstanding with his mother they end up being donated to a local daycare center, Sunnyside.

Upon arrival at Sunnyside they are warmly welcomed by Lotso, a friendly teddy bear who is the leader of the toys at this daycare center. At first, Andy’s toys are enthusiastic about what Lotso tells them: in this daycare they will not be the private property of a particular child who will inevitably grow up, forget them and end up throwing them away. They will be the common property of all the new children who will arrive each year eager to play with them, in a constant flow that will make them loved and cherished forever.

Only Woody, who knows it was a misunderstanding, insists on returning to his rightful owner Andy and tries to convince his friends to escape from Sunnyside, but the rest of the toys have succumbed to the siren songs of Lotso and want to stay in the nursery.

Woody leaves in search of Andy and the other toys believe that they will be very happy in the communist paradise that Lotso has sold them. When the first day of kindergarten finally arrives, they realize that they have been assigned to the area of the youngest and most hyperactive children, who instead of playing quietly with them abuse them to the point of torture. The tragedy of the commons explained to children. 

As they are nobody’s property, no child takes care of them. Meanwhile, Lotso and the rest of the hierarchy enjoy a life of luxury in the noble zone with the older children, from where they control that no toy escapes from Sunnyside.

Toy Story 3, an anti-communist film

At the end of the film, Lotso is unmasked as a resentful person who was abandoned by a child, by the system, and who is thirsty for revenge. He hides all his resentment behind a facade of precious intentions that end up bringing terrible consequences. He promises free hugs for everyone (Lotso comes from lots of hugs) but ends up suffocating everyone. He takes advantage of victimhood to impose his particular vision of how society should be organized, depriving everyone of freedom.


As Barbie tells Lotso near the end: “Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!”. Sunnyside, the daycare center that is truly a prison could well be an allegory for the Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, or East Germany. While Lotso, the apparently good-natured but actually tyrannical teddy bear, would be a representation of “little father Stalin,” Kim Jong Un, Fidel Castro, or any communist leader.

Toy Story 3 is much more than just a children’s movie and is a perfect opportunity to discuss the important issues it raises as a family. It certainly helps to take the ideas of freedom to infinity and beyond!

Ignacio Manuel García Medina, Business Management teacher. Artist and lecturer specialized in Popular Culture for various platforms. Presenter of the program "Pop Libertario" for the Juan de Mariana Institute. Lives in the Canary Islands, Spain // Ignacio M. García Medina es profesor de Gestión de Empresas. Es miembro del Instituto Juan de Mariana y conferenciante especializado en Cultura Popular e ideas de la Libertad.

Social Networks: @ignaciomgm

1 thought on “Toy Story 3: The Tragedy of Public Goods Explained to Children”

  1. Ignacio – I realize this post is not exactly new, but I wanted to tell you that is exactly what I felt when I watch the movie with my 5 year old daughter. She may not get it right now, but I hope that one day it will sink in. Thank you for laying it out succinctly!

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