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Count Chocula debuted in 1971, many years before I was born. I never knew a world without him, and I’m thankful for that. With his chocolate brown cape and cereal bits shaped like Pac-Man ghosts, I honestly can’t remember a Halloween season that Count Chocula didn’t add to.
While formerly available all year, General Mills finally pigeonholed Count Chocula as an autumn-only deal. (Some may debate the truth of that, but all can agree that most stores only sell it near Halloween.)
With Franken and Boo Berry (no relation) at his side, the trio of “monster cereals” has been the one single constant of my spooky celebrations.
Now that the Count is only around for a limited time, General Mills doesn’t have to try as hard to get our attention. Just seeing Count Chocula again, in any form, is enough.
Of course, that wasn’t always the case.
When Count Chocula was available all year, the cereal didn’t seem that special. It was easy to take for granted. To survive in the notoriously competitive breakfast arena, General Mills needed to pull out all the stops. It hit the point where Count Chocula couldn’t just “be Count Chocula,” anymore. If we the hungry public were to stay loyal, the Count had to keep evolving.
At no time was this more apparent than the 1990s, when it seemed like Count Chocula changed his look and gimmick on a monthly basis. With competition approaching from all sides, the Count fought back with new freebies, new marshmallows, and perhaps most importantly, progressively wackier box designs.
Barring the great expense of grafting neon strobe lights onto the boxes, General Mills couldn’t have done more to keep Count Chocula relevant.
Below: A look at how Count Chocula redressed himself through the ‘90s. I’ve amassed eight boxes from that most perilous decade, and though this doesn’t cover everything the Count did to keep his cowl above water, it’ll give you a good impression of just how far he was willing to go…or sink.
Gimmick: Chocolaty “Lightning Bolt” Marshmallows!
At this stage, things were still pretty rosy for Count Chocula. His act may have gotten a little stale, but it wasn’t as if he was in any danger of execution.
You might think this explains why the “twist” was so lightweight, but really, in 1992, a little went a long way. Cereals “messing with themselves” was so much rarer, and adding bolt-shaped marshmallows truly was that big of a deal.
This is by far the most “vintage looking” of all of the boxes featured here, from an era when Count Chocula still hedged his bets on mostly-white boxes. 1992 may have also been the last time Count Chocula looked like a comic book drawing. From the next box on, he was a wild-eyed cartoon character, ready to be radical.
Gimmick: Arachnid Takeover!
What a difference a year makes! Seeing the Count go to these lengths was more of an exception than a rule, but this was still way over the top.
Count Chocula himself was nearly a non-factor, allowing some giant, oddly matronly spider to take center stage. (The matronly thing was just a trick of the eye. Look closer. Spiders with orange punky hair and weird bibs are rarely female, let alone mothers.)
It’s a total arachnid takeover, and the front of the box was just the start of it. The side panel lists a bunch of spider facts (e.g., Nephila spiders make super strong webs), while the freebie was a sweet package of fruity gummi spiders!
Since they tossed in spider gummies but left the marshmallows unmolested, I take that as General Mills’ admission that a spider’s eight legs are impossible to represent in tiny marshmallow form. Counting that and the Nephila factoid, I learned two things today!
Gimmick: Howlin’ Good Marshmallows!
Maybe I’m being too obvious, but this is my favorite of the ‘90s boxes. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all. With the entire box covered in a holographic laminae, it just feels like such an enormous production.
Believing that he gave 1993’s giant spider too much prominence, the Count was only willing to split top billing this time. Joining him is a goofy wolf. This situation really called for a werewolf, but after the Frute Brute fiasco of ’83, I can understand why General Mills was so hesitant.
Though Count Chocula was still being made year-round, it seems clear that this was a Halloween edition. I’m totally in love with the box’s moonlit castle motif. I will soon find out if it’s suitable for framing.
The shiny box was the obvious attraction, but you can’t sell that shit in a TV commercial. To boost awareness, General Mills also added “Howlin’ Good Marshmallows,” which included tiny moons and absolutely bizarre representations of wolves. You know you’re in trouble when even the marshmallow illustration on the front of the box looks nothing like a wolf. If this cereal hadn’t come out three decades too early, I’d swear it was a Nosepass.
Gimmick: Glow-In-The-Dark Crayons!
Free inside specially marked boxes – like this one – kids could receive a glow-in-the-dark crayon. The entire box design reflected that freebie. You don’t render castle towers in lemon yellow unless you’re trying to fit a theme.
The lightning bolt marshmallows introduced in 1992 had become a Count Chocula staple by this point, but for one time only, General Mills made them yellow. You know, to match the castle tower. Which matches the crayon. Just call him Count Coordination. Actually, don’t. It’s lame.
Dyeing the marshmallows helped them to stand out, but it also made it much easier to see that their shapes could more accurately be compared to Philips-head screws.
Hey, Chocula. Here’s a new shape for you: Foghorn.
Since I’m mostly judging these on box art alone, I’m down with this one. I’ve always been a sucker for stormy skies in red and purple. I don’t know what that’s about. Maybe my real father was Cronos.