It's been a long time since I've gotten a Happy Meal toy, but back in the day, I collected them like they were going to be worth millions some day. In fact, I recently spotted a Rubbermaid tote down in my parents' basement that has a strip of duct tape stuck to it reading "STACY'S COLLECTABLES" in my childish print. I didn't investigate, but I'm nearly positive it will make me independently wealthy at some point in my lifetime (mm-hmm"¦ considering that the most valuable Happy Meal toy is only worth about $20, probably not).
There have been some interesting toys included in the Happy Meal in its 31-year history "“ here are just a few of them.
1. Circus Wagon Happy Meal. The idea to make a kids' meal originated with one man's franchise, but it was such a hit that the company ended up adopting it (the same thing happened with the Egg McMuffin). The first "toy" that swept McDonald's across America was actually just the Happy Meal box, which was designed to look like a Circus Wagon. Kids were encouraged to collect all six boxes. Interestingly enough, the box included "real" toys as well, ranging from a stencil to McDonald's character erasers. But apparently McDonald's thought the thing kids would be excited about was the greasy cardboard box.
2. Some customers were upset in 1992 when their kids pulled out a cheeseburger, fries, and a figurine of a busty woman wearing a skintight catsuit. Because the Batman Returns was rated PG-13, parents were unhappy that McDonald's was promoting it to kids who were likely well under 13 years of age. McDonald's tried to downplay the incident by saying the toys were related to the then-53-year-old Batman character, not necessarily the semi-violent movie.
3. The 101 Dalmatians promotion was a pretty big deal because it actually featured 101 different toys. Because the toys were packaged in opaque plastic, kids didn't know which Dalmatian they were getting until after the meal was already purchased. I'm sure it was a marketer's dream.
4. Teenie Beanie Babies. Who doesn't remember this craze? Teenie Beanies cost $2 with the purchase of a Happy Meal, but actually paying for the toy didn't do anything to diminish the fad. It wasn't uncommon for a McDonald's to run out of the toy before the promotion was officially over, making a lot of kids (and their collector parents) unhappy.
5. American Idol toys. In 2007, McD's teamed up with the AI people to offer a line of toys that included super stereotyped wannabe Idol figurines, including Country Clay, Soulful Selma and Hippy Harmony. But the one that created a big stir was New Wave Nigel, who came sporting an outfit complete with a flowerpot hat nearly identical to the ones Devo made famous in the "˜80s. And it certainly didn't go unnoticed by Devo—they promptly sued. "They didn't ask us anything," said bassist Gerald Casale. " Plus, we don't like McDonald's, and we don't like American Idol, so we"˜re doubly offended."
6. Ice Age toys. Just last year, talking figurines from the Ice Age movie could be found amongst your child's dinner. That was a problem for at least one parent, who was pretty sure that the toy proclaiming "Everybody loves Sid," was really saying "Everybody loves
7. Madame Alexander dolls. Madame Alexander, a company that makes high-end dolls, has partnered with the Golden Arches on several occasions to offer a series of mini-dolls, including one based on Wizard of Oz characters. The mix of high-end and Happy Meal just seems a little strange to me, but clearly it has been a popular promotion—another one is scheduled for this year.
8. Olympic Beach Balls. Back in the heyday of the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A., McDonald's offered a bunch of Olympic promotional items, including a beach ball and puzzles. World-class athletes paired with greasy burgers and fries? What's the problem?
9. Story of Texas mini books. Occasionally throughout the Happy Meal's history, certain items are offered that are regional-only. These tend to be worth a little more than the nationwide promotions since their distribution was so limited. This includes Story of Texas mini books that were offered in "“ you guessed it, the Lone Star State "“ in 1986.
10. Four activity books from Disney films. Happy Meals had been around for nearly 10 years before Disney and McDonald's spotted this great cross-promotion idea—it wasn't until 1987 that the first Disney toys, four different activity books that featured various Disney movies, appeared in the kid's meal boxes. As I'm sure any child of the "˜80s and early "˜90s remembers, Disney teamed up with Ronald quite often after that. I think most of "STACY'S COLLECTABLES" consists of Disney Happy Meal toys. But those days are over—as of 2007, Disney had pulled out of McDonald's advertising, preferring to associate their characters with healthier ventures.
Do you recall a favorite Happy Meal toy from your childhood? I seem to remember being pretty excited about the Fraggle Rock cars (characters figurines driving veggie cars) and the 101 Dalmatians set, which I came nowhere close to completing. And go take a virtual tour of the Happy Meal Museum!