Kids Meal toys are controversial. Several restaurants have suspended the practice, and McDonald’s was sued over its Happy Meal toys several years ago, with the plaintiff alleging that the practice of including toys was predatory.
It’s pretty obvious to anybody that thinks about it for a minute or two that the critics are correct, but that doesn’t make the prospect of getting a fun toy with your meal any less exciting for a little kid. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, we were regular visitors to McDonald’s during our childhoods, and we collected a lot of toys. These are some of my favorite promotions.
There were several iterations of the McNugget buddies, because McDonald’s went to this well many times, beginning in 1988. The appeal is obvious; they’re similar to Mr. Potato Head, providing a blank canvas to customize. My favorite set, and the one I remember best, is the first Halloween set from 1993. Despite the head not staying on well, Frankstein’s monster was my favorite.
McNugget Buddies even made their way into the commercials, sporting Ronald McDonald hair and raising all sorts of disturbing questions regarding their paternity.
Fraggle Rock was a wonderful show that didn’t reach nearly enough people because it was on HBO in the 1980s, but these Fraggle Rock toys reached just about everybody in 1988. I was lucky enough to 1) have an aunt with HBO who taped episodes for us and, 2) have a family that went to McDonald’s A LOT.
The Fraggle Rock cars represented another type of toy that McDonald’s went to over and over again: taking a television or film property and sticking them in a vehicle. The Fraggle set might be the best example of this, because at least the vehicles make sense. Fraggles love vegetables, so shape the cars into vegetables. Totally logical. Then stick the vegetable toys in a Happy Meal. Now we’re bordering on irony. Well played, McDonald’s, you son of a bitch.
Dream Team Cups
The formation of the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team was one of the most exciting sports related events of my childhood. The talent assembled dwarfed even NBA All Star teams, since those didn’t feature Christian Laettner. Seriously though, seeing Magic, Bird, Jordan, Barkley Stockton, Malone, and more on the same team was mind-blowing to a young sports fan. I even loved the addition of Laettner because I was a Duke fan at the time. All of this led to being majorly stoked about the Dream Team cups available at McDonald’s. This was an example of McDonald’s doing the best possible version of a lure for collectors. There were so many cups to pick up that you had to keep going back. Somehow none of my Dream Team cups survived into adulthood, while my Batman Returns cup, complete with frisbee lid, sits on my entertainment center.
Oliver and Company Ornament
The one area where my parents saved nearly everything from our childhood is Christmas ornaments. They still have the Sesame Street set, handmade ornaments, and movie and TV tie-ins that we’ve been putting up on the tree for as long as I can remember. One of those tie-in sets that still finds its way onto the tree every year is Oliver and Dodger from Oliver and Company. Oliver and Company came out in November 1988, and McDonald’s followed its release with plush Christmas ornaments. My Grandma Kay took my sisters Melissa and Sarah and me to see it in the theater, which I still remembers vividly. At that point we were pot invested in Oliver and Company, so of course we had to pick up the McDonald’s ornaments when they were released in December. To this day, they remain two of my favorite ornaments, and I hesitate to tell my mom because she’ll end up sending them to me like she did the entire set of Rodney and Friends when I asked her for one or two. Oliver and Dodger belong on the tree in Ohio. If I really want them, there’s always eBay.
Looney Tunes DC
There’s no real reasoning behind this one. It was just a fun idea. McDonald’s released these in 1991, and they were rad. I especially liked Daffy as Batman, which I wonder if they did because Darkwing is essentially Batman, so Duck=Batman. I was about to scold McDonald’s for including Porky in drag instead of promoting a female character, but the Internet revealed it’s actually Petunia, Porky’s girlfriend, so it is McDonald’s that is progressive and I am revealed once again as a fool.
As with the McNugget buddies, I think that Happy Meal toys are at their best when they include a removable costume component. It’s like getting two toys in one.
Batman Forever Glass Mugs
This is the most recent release on this list, having been released in the summer of 1995. The thing that always struck me about these mugs, and the reason I included them, is that they felt sort of fancy. Unlike all of the McDonald’s collector cups I had encountered previously, these were made of glass. You were getting something substantial, not to mention they had fairly intricate looking images etched into them. I was impressed enough by these that I introduced the Batman carved one into the cupboard and it became an everyday mug at least until I left for college.
The movie these mugs represent holds up okay as well. It’s honestly not bad! I’ll always hold the 1989 and 1992 versions of Batman out as the best of my lifetime, including the Nolans and the current Affleck incarnation, but Batman Forever was a lot of fun. It’s kitschy like Batman and Robin, but unlike that dreadful fourth installment, the characters are fun and likable.
Those are my picks for the best McDonald’s toys and tie-ins. What do you think? Did any of your favorites not make the list?