Happy Meal Prizes, Round 1
I like toys. A lot. It doesn't matter what it is or how shoddily made it is; I have an insatiable and irrational need to adorn my desk and shelves with stupid crap that serves no practical purpose. Consequently, I have always been a fan of the McDonald's Happy Meal. What can I say? Greasy food and free toys appeal to me. Combine the two, and you can talk me into just about anything except having gay sex, watching gay porn, or playing a game of Monopoly: Gay Edition. I've eaten my share of fast food over the years and a significant portion of it has come from McDonald's. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the food at the Golden Arches isn't exactly great; they are surpassed in both quality and menu variety by Wendy's and Burger King. But McDonald's had an ace up their sleeve that used to always used to keep my coming back for more: they used to have the coolest toys in their Happy Meals. In the 80s and early 90s, McDonald's got all the best toy licenses: Lego, Hot Wheels, Popoids, Super Mario, Muppet Babies, Garfield, even Peter Rabbit. And while McDonald's airtight grip on great licenses has loosened over the last ten years, they still remain the dominant force in kids' meals. When I was little, getting a Happy Meal prize was one of the highlights of my week. I knew that no matter how shitty my week was or how much I pissed off my parents, I was still going to get a new toy on Friday night. So to repay McDonald's for the endless hours of entertainment that they provided to me, this article is dedicated to some of those toys. Specifically, it is dedicated to five of the more memorable Happy Meal toy sets from between 1986 and 1992. Enjoy.
Airport Happy Meal - 1986
The quality of a Happy Meal toy generally depended on who the sponsor was. When McDonald's was promoting a movie, TV show, or toyline, you could usually count on the Happy Meal prize to be pretty good. With the intracompany Happy Meals, you never had that sort of guarantee. To their credit, McDonald's did put out some pretty cool toys, such as the McNugget Buddies and the Food Changeables. However, they also put out some really shitty ones. In fact, many of the company's Happy Meals were not toys at all. Ronald McDonald and his McDonaldland buddies were emblazoned on everything from pencil cases to lunch boxes to the gayest pair of sunglasses ever made. And then there was Airport Happy Meal from 1986.
While the Airport Happy Meal was not one of the worst Happy Meal promotions ever, it was certainly not one of the best. The toys were cheaply made, and it showed. In addition to being monochrome pieces of plastic, you had to assemble the fucking things yourself. Once you got them together, you could put them on a shelf somewhere and look at them. You couldn't play with them, however, because they'd break. At least, that's what happened when *I* tried to play with them. There were five different toys, each available in at least two different colors: the Ronald Seaplane, the Fryguy Flyer, the Grimace Ace, the Birdie Bent Wing Brazer, and the Big Mac Helicopter. But while Ronald, Birdie, Grimace, and the Fry Guys were all staples of McDonald's commercials in the mid 80s, you may be let wondering who the hell Big Mac was. Big Mac was McDonaldland's police chief and he had a Big Mac for a head. Despite being phased out of the ad campaigns in the early 80s, Big Mac managed to make his way onto several toys up through the 80s before fading into complete obscurity. Officer Big Mac has to be pretty upset at the way history has treated him; fellow McDonaldland outcast Mayor McCheese has been out of work for just as long as Big Mac, but everyone still knows who he is.
The Airport Happy Meal is one of the first Happy Meal promotions that I can really vividly remember. I can recall excitedly opening up my Ronald Seaplane and breaking it while trying to put it together. I can remember standing there crying while my mom asked the manager for a new one. And I recall accidentally snapping off one of the propeller blades on my new Seaplane not twenty minutes after my mom had carefully assembled it for me. It totally wasn't my fault either; I was playing a complete innocent game of Ronald Plane Crash Tragedy, a game which was primarily comprised of throwing him at the couch. Also, I recall a later trip to McDonald's where I got Birdie and I made my mom exchange it for Grimace because Birdie sucked and Grimace was my favorite. Actually, the Hamburglar was my favorite, but he wasn't in this toyline.
Runaway Robots - 1987
In 80s and early 90s, McDonalds would often run regional Happy Meals. Sometimes the regional Happy Meals served as tests to see if a promotion was marketable, other times they were used to promote regional attractions such as the now-defunct SeaWorld of Ohio. Growing up in Massachusetts, a state that didn't get its first major theme park until the year 2000, our regional promotions tended to be either market tests or generic promotions. One such promotion we got was the Runaway Robots, issued in February of 1987. Runaway Robots was a set of six colorful robots that used amazing pull and go technology. These guys were the shit.
Each robot had its own name and personality... Jab was the punchy yellow one, Coil was the snakey green one, Flame was the dragony red one, Beak was the proboscissy blue one, Bolt was the drilly purple one, and Skull was the evil black one. Since a standard Happy Meal promotion only runs for four weeks and I was normally only allowed one McDonald's trip per week, I was unable to complete the set before the promotion ended. Between my brother and I, we ended up with up with 2 Coils, 2 Beaks, 2 Skulls, and 4 Bolts and neither one of us was very happy about it. Fortunately, we would eventually obtain full sets of the Runaway Robots. When Easter rolled around that April, we each found a complete set of them in our Easter baskets. Apparently my mom had been able to order them through McDonald's regional corporate office somehow. Not only was it completely awesome to have the entire robot set, but it was a complete surprise. The best part was that I finally had Jab. Jab owns all other Runaway Robots.
Fraggle Rock - 1988
In 1988, McDonald's released on of the best toylines ever: Fraggle Rock cars. God, these things fucking ruled. There was Gobo in a carrot car, Red in a radish car, Mokey in an eggplant car, and Wembley and Boober in a cucumber car. I know you can't really see Boober in the picture above, but he's totally there. I always had the worst luck with the four toy sets. Strictly speaking, there was supposed to be one toy issued per week for four weeks, but it never seemed to work out that way. In my trips to McDonald's during the Fraggle promotion, I didn't get a single Mokey. I did, however, get two Reds. Then when I was over my neighbor's house one day, I noticed that he had three Mokeys sitting on his dresser. Being the opportunist that I was, I offered to trade him a Red for one of his Mokeys. I tried to play things cool, but at that moment in time I wanted that goddam Mokey more than anything. Thankfully, he took the deal. If he hadn't, I probably would have broken one of his My Little Pony dolls. Oh yeah, did I mention one of the boys that I grew up near collected My Little Pony dolls? He sucked.
101 Dalmatians - 1991
One of the keys to the success of the Happy Meal has always been McDonald's longstanding alliance with Disney. There have been a shitload of Disney Happy Meals and most of them were pretty good. When Disney re-released 101 Dalmatians into theaters to make a quick buck in 1991, they teamed up with McDonald's to promote it. The 101 Dalmatians toyline employs classic McDonald's toy logic. First of all, there's four toys, one for each week of the promotion: Cruella De Vil, Lucky, Pongo, and The Colonel & Sergeant Tibbs. Given that the movie was called 101 Dalmations, they probably should have picked more than four characters. I'm not suggesting that they needed to have 101 separate toys (which they actually did in 1996), but I think eight toys would have been a better number. You know, or maybe the could have passed on the sheepdog toy and given us another fucking Dalmatian instead. The toys also suffer from typical proportion issues. Lucky is supposed to be a puppy, but he's almost 75% the size of his father Pongo. Lucky is also roughly 10 times the size of the fucking puppy that Cruella has in her coat pocket. Meanwhile Pongo is bigger than both The Colonel and Cruella. I can understand them wanting to make the Lucky toy big enough to play with, but the sizing on Pongo is rather odd. However, it does allow for all sorts of wacky bestiality adventures.
Batman - 1992
In 1992, McDonald's teamed with Warner Brothers and gave us a Batman Happy Meal to promote Batman Returns. From left to right, there's the Batmobile™, the Penguin™ Umbrella Roto-Roadster, the Batman™ press and go car, and the Catwoman™ Cat Coupe. While the toys themselves were pretty decent, their very existence would eventually produce disastrous results. Apparently, the only exposure to Batman that anyone at McDonald's headquarters had came from the ridiculous live action series from the 1960s starring Adam West. If the executives had ever read a comic book or seen Burton's original Batman film, they would known that Batman is a decidedly PG-13 character. But they didn't. And when uppity parents saw that their kindergartners were getting toys designed to promote a PG-13 movie with featuring electrocution, a sexy leatherclad bombshell, nose-biting, Christopher Walken, and a disembodied arm, they did what uppity parents are wont to do: piss and moan until they irreversibly damage the world. The result was a classic case of bitchside economics. Parents bitched at McDonald's for giving their kids toys based on a movie with dark overtones and gothic landscapes, causing McDonald's to bitch at Warner Brothers about the content of the film. Not wanting to lose an advertising partner, Warner Brothers passed this bitchiness on to Tim Burton. When it came time to do Batman 3, the studio wanted something much more cartoonish than what Burton had in mind. After much frustration, Burton would eventually step down as the director of Batman 3 thus allowing Joel Schumacher to take the helm and make his shitty Batman movies instead. Because of this, the 1992 Batman Happy Meal must take its rightful place alongside the My Lai Massacre as one of history's greatest evils.
Out of the four Batman toys, the Batmobile was easily the best. This may have been due to the fact that it was the only one of the toys based on an actual vehicle, as well as the fact that it had super fun projectile action. It was also the only toy in the Batman set to come with instructions. Strictly speaking, the press and go car should have come with instructions too. If McDonald's is going to assume that I'm too goddam stupid to figure out that the Batmobile can be reassembled, shouldn't they also assume that I wouldn't be able to figure out the press and go car? Also, do you think they could have made that fucking Catwoman car look any more hideous? Whereas the Penguin and Batman cars look as they might have been at home in Burton's Batman Returns, I couldn't possibly imagine Michelle Pfeiffer driving that piece of shit. Hell, I couldn't even see Julie Newmar driving it.
And with that, my Happy Meal prize showcase draws to an end. As this article's title implies, this will be the first of several Happy Meal articles. So when can you expect to see Round 2? Fuck if I know, but probably not for a few months. Unless of course it's 2009 and you're just finding this page now. If that's the case, Round 2 is almost definitely out.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
PRESS BUTTON ON BACK OF BATMOBILE TO LAUNCH BATMISSILE