McDonald’s Changeables may very well be the best Happy Meal toys of all time. At the very least, they’re tied with those old Halloween pails.
Between 1987 and 1990, McDonald’s released three sets of Changeables — aka McRobots — for a grand total of 22 unique action figures, plus a few more if we’re counting the non-transformable “Under 3” toys.
We were wild for them as kids, and adulthood has done little to diminish our collective affinity. While it’s accepted that most Happy Meal toys will cut a few corners, Changeables seemed downright retail-ready. These figures were sturdy, well-detailed and just so damn imaginative.
As you’ll gather by watching that absolutely kickass commercial, Changeables were conceived as a sort of Transformers ripoff, but in some ways, they actually outclassed them.
It was thrilling to see robots turn into cars and jets, sure, but a robot that transformed into a pack of Chicken McNuggets? If you were a kid in the late ‘80s, that shit was relatable.
The figures were glorious back then, but they hit even harder now, thanks to them doubling as reminders of the cool ways McDonald’s used to package their food.
See, by late 1990, McDonald’s had begun phasing out their long-used foam containers. Since this was done to reduce the chain’s environmental waste, there’s no denying that it was an admirable move — and one that we should all support. On the other hand, a Big Mac seemed so much less like a Big Mac without its beige gift box!
As mentioned, McDonald’s offered three sets of Changeables. If you have one or two lying around and have never been able to ID them, I’m here to help!
All of the robots shown above are from the first series, which came out in 1987. Sadly, as best as I can tell, McDonald’s never gave these inaugural figures neat robot names.
1) Chicken McNuggets Robot.
2) Big Mac Robot.
3) Milkshake Robot.
4) Egg McMuffin Robot.
5) Large Fries Robot.
6) Quarter Pounder Robot.
In food mode, I’d have to call the Chicken McNuggets my favorite. In robot mode, the Milkshake may be the winner — if only for his dramatic height.
Of course, what really sets the first series apart is its inclusion of an Egg McMuffin. Neither of the subsequent series had that one, I suppose because Egg McMuffins were never much of a “kid food.”
The second series came out in 1989. Amazingly, even with eight figures, McDonald’s only reused two of the molds from the original set. (And even then, the figures were repainted to look a little “fuller.”)
Best of all, it was at this point that McDonald’s started giving the robots actual names. Collectors rarely discriminate when it comes to Changeables, but on balance, the second series is the fan favorite.
1) Ice Cream / “Turbo Cone”
2) Soft Drink / “Krypto Cup”
3) Quarter Pounder / “Gallacta Pounder”
4) Hotcakes / “Robo-Cakes”
5) Cheeseburger / “C2”
6) Large Fries / “Fry Force”
7) Big Mac / “Macro Mac”
8) Small Fries / “Fry Bot”
For my money, the Hotcakes and Quarter Pounder are tied for #1 in food mode. In robot mode, the diminutive cheeseburger is arguably the one that most resembles a real Autobot. (As much as a robot composed of meat could resemble an Autobot, anyway. Optimus Prime Beef?)
The final series came out in 1990. This time, everything turned into dinosaurs instead of robots. (Then again, it might be more accurate to say that everything turned into dinosaur robots. Yeah, let’s go with that.)
In general, the “McDino” set doesn’t seem to stir up quite as much nostalgia as the others, but the truth is that they’re largely better figures.
1) Milkshake / “Tri-Shake-Atops”
2) Big Mac / “Big Mac-O-Saurus Rex”
3) Ice Cream / “McDino Cone”
4) Happy Meal Box / “Happy Meal-O-Don”
5) Quarter Pounder / “Quarter Pounder With Cheese-O-Saur”
6) Large Fries / “Fry-Ceratops”
7) Chicken McNuggets / “McNuggets-O-Saurus”
8) Hotcakes / “Hot Cakes-O-Dactyl”
Here, it’s hard to pick a favorite — they all stand out in their own unique ways. If pressed, I guess I’d go with the Chicken McNuggets. It’s adorable to see a box of fried chicken turn into a goofy green dinosaur, albeit in a fever dream sort of way.
Yes, I also own one of the original restaurant displays. This was a birthday gift from my friend Bill, who apparently knows me way better than my family. (The photo isn’t blurry, by the way: That big fry robot is actually a lenticular image!)
If you weren’t around for the McDonald’s Changeables, all you see are oddball toys. The thing to remember is that these came out when Happy Meals were still huge events. Getting a Happy Meal toy wasn’t just a nice byproduct of eating at McDonald’s: It was the whole draw. Back then, it was like a trip to Toys “R” Us with bonus cheeseburgers.
As such, we treated each Changeable with as much reverence as we did a new G.I. Joe or Ninja Turtles figure. For the first day, they were shiny new things to keep in our pockets. When we held them, we felt good. They were like healing quartz crystals, but better because they were actually french fries that turned into robots.
And hey, even when the hype faded, they became permanent fixtures of our little bedroom action figure arenas. Not many Happy Meal toys could do that, but man, Macro Mac? He was right at home with Boba Fett and Man-At-Arms.
Really miss the days when McDonald’s looked to themselves for Happy Meal inspiration. Changeables were the best!