Let’s take a look at five old McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes, and see how many tangentially related paragraphs they inspire. You may consider this a surrogate sequel to my article about old fast food bags.
God, I write about a lot of garbage!
Back to the Future Happy Meal!
Wow, a Back to the Future Happy Meal?! Okay, sure, it’s based on the animated series rather than the movies, but this is still pretty Big Time.
(And besides, the seemingly little-loved cartoon series definitely had its charms, not the least of which being an impressive amount of continuity between it and the movies. The show actually remembered and factored in what happened in the films, whereas so many other movie-to-toon adaptations ignored everything but the names and gimmicks.)
The BTTF Happy Meal set included four toys — all of which being character figurines irremovably stuck inside action-packed vehicles. With apologies to Marty, the only one worth tracking down is Doc in the DeLorean… because DeLorean.
As for the Happy Meal box, it’s one of those neat ones that doubles as a playset after a little help from scissors. I loved boxes like that. True action figure playsets were expensive, and kids rarely got new ones outside of birthdays and major religious holidays. During the off season, a Happy Meal box that worked on the same principle as Castle Grayskull was even better than a toy DeLorean.
Makin’ Movies Happy Meal!
It’s rarely happens anymore, but McDonald’s used to be just as big on “self-branded” Happy Meals as they were on the co-promotional ones. In fact, those Happy Meals arguably had the best toys — like little plastic fry containers that transformed into robots, or pull-back cars that let Birdie and the Hamburglar pretend they were DLC characters in a Mario Kart game.
Admittedly, the Makin’ Movies Happy Meal isn’t a very strong example. This was an oddball mix of scaled-down “movie production” stuff, like clapboards and plastic megaphones. (Remember how easy and simple the moviemaking process seemed as a kid? All you needed was a fancy chair, and paraphernalia borrowed from pro-wrestling managers.)
I never minded these “homegrown” Happy Meals. At the time, the various McDonald’s mascots were as thrilling as any cartoon character. I grew up never really understanding those jokes about skipping commercials, since to me they were often the best parts of the shows. I liked the Smurfs, but if I was gonna get up at 7:30 Saturday morning to watch them, they definitely needed Ronald during the intermissions.
Dinosaurs Happy Meal!
Believe it or not, this was one of the best-ever Happy Meal sets. Actually, these Dinosaurs figures were even better than the bigger ones that you had to buy from KB Toys.
Attached to each well-detailed figure was a length of piping, ending in some kind of plastic thingamajig. When you messed around with that thingamajig, the figures moved their articulated parts, seemingly without your help!
Baby Sinclair, to some the show’s most irritating character, was still the clear breakout star. His Happy Meal figure — which shook in such fashion that it’d line up perfectly with 90% of Neil Young’s discography — must have been the chaser.
I have several of the boxes from this Happy Meal set, and while they’re all winners, nothing tops the sight of Baby Sinclair ravenously devouring fictitious cereal while his milk morphs into a speech balloon, as if to suggest that Baby Sinclair’s milk has its own thoughts. (This whole scene doubles as a game, too. You’re supposed to match up the broken cookie halves. Personally, I’d prefer to keep them separate, as there are so just so few cookies shaped like watermelon slices and mushroom caps.
Neopets Happy Meal!
Confession time! I was working at Nickelodeon in 2005, when Viacom bought Neopets — then the world’s leading virtual pet site, with around a bazillion members and oodles of financial potential. While my team had zilch to do with the site, we were still instructed to familiarize ourselves with it, in case we ever needed to do any Neopets-related TV promos or internal tapes. (Ultimately, I did both.)
Well, lo and behold, I ended up becoming so obsessed with Neopets that I was still playing long after leaving Nickelodeon… and even after Viacom sold off the brand. I rarely go on these days, but I still make sure my accounts are safe, and that no jerks autoconverted my UC Faerie Kyrii.
Neopets, one of the stickiest sites for tweens, became the stickiest site for a guy in his twenties. And then in his thirties. For me, it was the great escape, both from real life and from my sorta unusual “web” life. There I dressed pictures of purple dragons in ridiculous clothing, and trained sentient apples to fight mechanized poodles. I have to admit… for a while, I was out of control.
Neopets was something I did in private, so I never paid much attention to the offshoot products. (I believe the Happy Meals came with lightweight plush dolls, acting as gateway drugs to make kids want the bigger retail varieties.) It’s pretty amazing that a goofy “fake pet” website grew popular enough to warrant a Happy Meal… and popular enough to make a giant television network to tell its employees to adopt Cybunnies.
Tiny Toons Happy Meal!
Last up is the official Tiny Toons Happy Meal, featuring some kind of weird car toys that I can’t be bothered to describe more accurately.
I have bittersweet memories of Tiny Toons. I hinted at this in an older article, but the series debuted when I was in the sixth grade. The first year of junior high. I quickly learned that “kid stuff” had a new definition, and that if you didn’t want palms to the forehead, you had to be careful about what you admitted to liking.
Comic books? Those were fine. Toys? No way. Cartoons? Only if they aired in primetime, and especially if any characters made use of the word “ass.” It was a dangerous dance of knowing what to hide and what to cop to.
A show like Tiny Toons, even with its hip ‘90s lingo and references to things only forty-year-olds could’ve known about, was definitely not on the “admit list.” I saw the effects of ignoring this rule live and in person.
I dunno. Maybe I just cared too much about what other people thought? After all, it was around this same time that I had my first panic attack — ironically at McDonald’s — when a group of kids from school wandered in and saw me eating cheeseburgers with my mother, with a stupid Happy Meal box on full display. I can’t remember which Happy Meal, but the dates are lining up pretty perfectly: It may have very well been the Tiny Toons one.
Screw you, Buster Bunny. I wanted Julie to think I was cool.