Tag Archives: mcdonalds

Toy Story 4 Happy Meal RV

 

happy meal boxThe Happy Meal toy is one of the lowest common denominators of toys. It’s somewhere above that of a vending machine toy, but maybe not quite as good as the toys at the local pharmacy. It’s the kind of toy that a child is happy to have in the moment, and then a day later it’s at the bottom of a toy box or forgotten in the car. And that is essentially by design. The toy is just a means of attraction, like a cereal box toy, and also is a means of promotion. It gets the attention of a child via a commercial or restaurant signage which in turn gets said child to beg their parents to buy them some delicious, but also terrible, food in order to get this temporary must-have item. And it works, probably too well, which is why the state of California actually banned McDonald’s from including a toy with its Happy Meal (you have to buy the toy separately for a meaningless amount of money) because the feeling was that fast food was a leading contributor to childhood obesity.

Like a lot of things, credit for the Happy Meal is given to some rich white guy, but the idea originated elsewhere. Its roots can be traced to Guatemala where restaurant operator Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño first came up with the concept of creating a meal for kids making it easy for parents to just walk in and order an item for their children. McDonald’s liked the idea so much, that it basically adopted the concept worldwide and thus the Happy Meal was born. It debuted in 1977 and Bob Bernstein is recognized by the company as the creator of the product. It went national in ’79, and that year the first big marketing tie-in was utilized in the form of Star Trek:  The Motion Picture. Kids who received a Happy Meal during this promotion would receive a piece of a comic book strip. In order to see the full story, they had to keep coming back and buying more.

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I may have lost you, but I’ll never forget you, McNugget-O-Saurus.

This concept of having to buy repeated Happy Meals for a larger experience is not one utilized by the company very often. Usually, a Happy Meal is just connected to an external property and cheap toys are made based on that property to promote a movie, TV show, or something else. Occasionally, there is no real outside promotion and McDonald’s just promotes itself. In fact, some of the most well-remembered Happy Meal toys fall into this category. I know when I was a kid, a personal favorite of mine were the transforming meal item toys. Originally, there were food items that transformed into robots. There was no connection to the Transformers officially, but I’m sure that’s where the influence came from. Later the robots were replaced with dinosaurs leading to one of my all-time favorite Happy Meal toys:  The McNugget-O-Saurus! Another popular promotion were the Halloween trick-or-treat pails featuring a pumpkin, ghost, and witch. These pails would reappear several times, and the best version featured a removable piece in the center of the lid to pass the candy through, though all knew these pails were far too small for actual trick-or-treating.

And that’s not to say that the external promotional items weren’t memorable as well. A lot of the times they were just simple, cheap, toys with an action feature that was often repeated. Other times though there was a gimmick that worked a bit better. For some reason, I have strong memories of some Tiny Toons cars that featured a domed portion that contained an action when the car was pushed. I had Buster and in his dome was a mini basketball court and the ball would shoot in the air and sometimes go through the little plastic hoop inside. I don’t know why I remember this particular toy. I know I got it when my mom took me and me alone to McDonald’s, a rarity as often my sister would be included. She must have been at a sleep over or something and my mom wanted to treat me. We got it at my favorite McDonald’s too, a blue-roofed restaurant somewhere near Gloucester, VA that also had a classic car in the dining room (I want to guess it was a Chevy, but can’t recall). We only lived there a short while, and my guess is that McDonald’s is gone and replaced with one of the newer models which is a shame. Another promotion I remember is coincidentally another Warner one that featured a Loony Tunes figurine with snap-on DC super hero costumes. I had the Bugs as Superman and I liked it so much I nearly bought a set a year ago off of eBay, but thought better of it.

I have some positive memories of Happy Meal toys, but like most kids turned adults, I don’t physically own any of those toys. They were disposable, and while I liked them in the moment, I soon forgot about them. I have even fewer memories of competitors Burger King and Wendy’s. They followed suit with kids meals as well, Burger King even had the Burger King Kid’s Club in the 90s with its own cast of characters. I remember BK was the first to land the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles license, but their toys were terrible. When Disney and McDonald’s had a break-up, BK was also there to swoop in leading to some worthwhile attractions. They were actually separate from their kid’s meal though and included things like puppets. I remember two versions based on Toy Story in particular.

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I’m just glad my kids are young enough to not realize they want all 10.

Which brings us to today’s post, Toy Story 4 Happy Meal toys. Ever since Disney and McDonald’s kissed and made up in 2018, the franchise has rolled out several Happy Meal promotions based on a Disney property. They even just went back-to-back with Toy Story 4 and now The Lion King and earlier this year had toys based on The Avengers. As a parent of small kids, I am often asked to go to McDonald’s because, like most kids, they love Happy Meals. McDonald’s is often tempting because it’s cheap, tastes good, and my kids will actually eat it. Most parents likely know the frustration of making a meal only for a picky eater to just poke at it and play with it. Dinner time is not fun, and feeding a kid something they’ll actually eat is often quite tempting. McDonald’s has improved its Happy Meals to a point, but they’re still pretty unhealthy. As such, I rarely give in with my kids maybe averaging one trip per month, but it’s harder when the toys are so attractive.

I have a Disney family. We all love Disney and Pixar too and Toy Story 4 in particular. When I saw the toys I didn’t think much of them, but then I saw what they could do. Individually, they’re unremarkable. Some are even terrible. Most feature a figurine of one of the film’s characters and a base with an action feature of some kind. The first one we received was Forky while we were on a road trip. Forky’s figurine is a good enough likeness that it’s cute, and his base features a dumpster and he’s supposed to get launched into it. I never saw my kid pull it off as he often missed. And poor Forky’s paint application was so cheap that it started to scratch off. Others, like Trixie and Rex, lack a figurine and just imitate a carnival ride and is quite dull. Ducky and Bunny at least feature a roulette wheel that’s a game. It’s a boring game, but at least it does something. By far, the most fun are Buzz and newcomer Duke Kaboom. Buzz just gets launched straight into the air, which is pretty common for a Happy Meal toy, but it’s at least common for a reason. Duke is similar, only he gets launched horizontally off a ramp. The only odd thing about him is that the wheels on his motorcycle aren’t actual wheels. He just glides. Woody and Bo Peep both feature a dull action, but at least the figurines look nice.

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Along the way, I ended up with an assortment of doubles.

All in all, there are ten toys to collect and if you manage to collect them all, like that original Star Trek promotion, you can experience something more. The base pieces from each toy combine to re-create the RV Bonnie and her family travel in during the film. This concept has always intrigued me and as a kid it was also something that felt out of reach. As an adult though I’ve taken advantage of it as a build-a-figure attraction with toy lines like Marvel Legends and even Futurama. It’s a brilliant concept as it can lead to people purchasing a character they may not want, but will help them complete a figure they do want. As a Happy Meal toy, it’s even more frustrating as who goes to McDonald’s enough times in a month to get 10 toys? Plus, each restaurant receives a different allotment of toys so even if you were to walk in intending to just buy the toys outright you’d likely end up disappointed. When I took my kids, all they had was Forky, which was good for my son since that was the one he wanted, but it deprived us of a second piece as my daughter received the same.

We ended up seeing Toy Story 4 two weeks after that visit, which meant another McDonald’s trip. There my kids received separate toys – score! One more visit at the end of the promotion lead to a fourth toy. That was more than enough Happy Meals and an extended McDonald’s break is now needed, but as a toy collector I couldn’t look at these four now discarded toys and not want to see the end goal realized.

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Individually, the toys suck, but at least the figurines look okay. Left to right:  Forky, Bo Peep, Gabby Gabby.

To eBay I went! There I found several listings for complete sets and individual toys. Most sellers wanted somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 bucks for a set of 10. No thanks. Individually, most were also trying to mark these things up as high as 10 bucks a figure, some yet to factor in shipping! I initially abandoned my pursuit, but on occasion I would get curious and do another search. With the promotion nearly over I was hoping that some who tried to collect a set by simply going to the restaurant would have failed and given up by putting what they had on eBay. I ended up being proved right as I found an auction for 7 distinct pieces, plus numerous doubles. Since there was a secondary promotion with these figures in the form of a contest you had to enter, that may have also contributed to people buying up a bunch of these things in hopes of winning a trip to Disney World or something. Whatever the reason, this person had a bunch of toys and I ended up paying about 10 bucks for the whole lot.

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Don’t forget Woody and Buzz. I do appreciate that the designers seemed to settle on a certain look for these toys they all adhere to. It’s similar to the Disney Infinity look.

The problem with doing so was that I was a figure short. Bo Peep was the one toy that between my own visits and this stranger on eBay’s lot that managed to elude me. I couldn’t let myself come up a figure short, and I paid an eBay price for her. I’m not proud, but in the end at least I didn’t pay 40 bucks to assemble this thing, because had I done so I would have been extremely disappointed.

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Are we sure this thing isn’t a torture device for poor Jessie? At least she’s smiling.

Now, I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular, but I did hope to end up with an interesting visual display to mark the release of Toy Story 4, one that would hopefully prove relatively unique down the road. Most of the toys come with stickers that can be applied. There’s some freedom afforded here as some include window decals that feature a character, and some that are empty. I chose to omit the creepy puppet character, because he’s  both creepy and because he never set foot on the RV in the movie. The outer wheels of the RV are just decals with the real wheels actually found underneath the RV. It can roll, it’s just unconventional in how it does so. The pieces all connect rather easily, the only tricky one is the front piece (#2) that connects the top and bottom. That part is a bit frustrating, but manageable. Forky’s launcher serves as the ladder and can be affixed to the rear of the RV. There are pegs on the top to place figurines, and Jessie’s posts are designed to go in-between piece #2 and the body of the RV.

 

The end result is a mildly attractive piece, but also one that’s a touch fragile. If I turned this over to my kids it would probably fall apart constantly. Or, they would want to take it apart to make use of the individual toys, even though they mostly suck. That’s why I’m glad that eBay lot contained numerous doubles. They have plenty of toys to play with, and Dad has his display piece. The RV would look a lot better with more color. It’s all one, uniform, shade of light gray with only the stickers to really break things up. I generally hate stickers on toys, but I wish McDonald’s had included more to add more color. I suppose I could paint it if I felt that strongly about it, but I’m too scared I would end up with something I disliked ever more if I went that route.

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“Hey dudes, lets turn this thing into a party wagon!”

Not including the Happy Meals I bought my kids, I ended up spending a little over 20 bucks to assemble this thing. If I saw it in a store for 20 bucks would I buy it? Maybe. Probably not for myself, but if my kid wanted it as a present I’d probably be okay at that amount. And then I’d also probably think it’s overpriced depending on how much enjoyment my kid got out of it. It felt like a unique thing to have though, and I do adore my Disney related knick knacks. Now I just need to find a place for it. It’s pretty big, probably around 8″ long, so that won’t be an easy task. I don’t expect this thing to appreciate much though, especially given that prices for that set of Loony Tunes as superheroes I mentioned earlier were pretty reasonable. It should still retain its neatness though, even if one day it just winds up being some toy I hand off to a random kid visiting my house once my own kids age out of traditional toys. Hopefully, McDonald’s has no plans for similar releases as I don’t want to be tempted again by another build-a-set series.


Christmas Commercialism

hqdefaultChristmas and commercialism; the two go hand-in-hand. For what is Christmas without it? Just another day off. Oh, and apparently there’s some religious thing going on too, or something. Cynical? Sure, but this is the world we live in and have lived in for decades. It’s been almost fifty years since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on television lambasting the commercial aspect of Christmas. Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure the Hallmark Store down the street had an entire section of its shelves devoted to Peanuts Christmas memorabilia this year. Don’t bite the hand, Chuck.

I’ve made lots of posts about Christmas films and television specials, so why not a post about Christmas commercials? I’m not going to kid anyone and say my life has been enriched by any commercials, but I do get a little uptick in my mood when Christmas commercials show up on television. Sure, the vast majority of them will be annoying and overplayed come the 25th but a select few are able to buck that trend. And while I’d never rank a good Christmas commercial alongside a good holiday special, it does surprise me sometimes when I realize how many of these things still remain in my brain years later. It helps that I spent a huge chunk of my childhood re-watching the same VHS tape full of television specials and commercials each holiday season (and adulthood, since I have it on right now).

Advertisements are supposed to pitch a product, naturally, and convince those who view it to go out and purchase said product. Considering the biggest custom surrounding Christmas is giving gifts, it makes a lot of sense why it’s become such a giant commercial. And since it also tends to invoke warm, happy, feelings, it makes sense for all advertisers to try and tap into that. If an advertiser can successfully create an emotional attachment to its product then that’s going to go a long way towards making that product stick out when it comes time for shopping. Let’s take a look at a few that stand out as being pretty “Christmassy” from past years (apologies for when the youtube links inevitably break, if you’re reading this long after it was originally posted).

Oreo

Who comes down the chimney to deliver presents on Christmas Eve? Santa. And what do kids leave as a “thank you” for Santa? Cookies. It makes quite a bit of sense for cookie makers to come out and tap into that for a commercial, so that’s what Nabisco did with this Oreo cookie commercial from the 1980’s. Another seemingly full-proof advertising strategy is to craft a catchy jingle. That sort of thing likely predates radio and television by decades, if not centuries. Just take a minute and think about how many commercial jingles you can recall easily. I bet tons of people in New England can still remember the New England Telephone commercial jingle, and that company has been dead for decades. Oreo had a catchy jingle for a long time (and maybe they still do) that drew attention to the habit of dunking the cookie in milk and drawing parallels to being a child. It’s a pretty effective ploy. It was also an adaptable jingle as words could be substituted to change things up and have it relate to something else, like Christmas. In this commercial we have little Alex trying to stay up on Christmas Eve to catch Santa. Of course, he can’t keep his eyes open and when Santa comes down that chimney he’s delighted to find a plate of Oreos. Before Alex can wake, Santa is gone but he left a little note. It’s a cute commercial, and it’s likely the jingle that makes it stick out for me.

McDonald’s – “Star Wish”

Fast food doesn’t exactly bring about the holiday spirit, but considering fast food retailers often include toys in their kid’s meals, it makes sense for one to show up here. This commercial from McDonald’s though is fairly unique. It’s not pitching an actual product such as a food item or Happy Meal toy. It’s basically just a short little Christmas story that serves as a video Christmas card of sorts. Today with all of the negative press surrounding fast food and how unhealthy it is, it seems like a strategy that might be worth revisiting. In 1987 though, I don’t think the stigma was as strong. Instead this is probably McDonald’s wanting to push its characters that appeal to kids to create further good will with them. The short stars Ronald McDonald, Birdy, and Grimace, all characters that I believe have been deemphasized by the corporation in recent years. Society has basically decided it’s kind of shitty for fast food retailers to push their unhealthy food on children so these characters may be foreign to today’s kids (I would think they still know who Ronald McDonald is, but I’m not positive), but in the 80’s and early 90’s they were quite prevalent on television. The short features Birdy and Grimace looking for a gift for Ronald, and happen to stumble upon a falling star. They put the obviously alive little bugger in a box (since he came from space he probably doesn’t require oxygen to live, so we can excuse the lack of air holes, I suppose) and give him to Ronald. Ronald sees this amazing thing in a box and rightly decides he shouldn’t enslave it so they send him home. The star, who exists as a hand-drawn animated character, actually interacts pretty well with the real characters in the commercial and the set is far too good than it has any right being. McDonald’s spent some money.

Fruity Pebbles

I don’t know why, but it seems many advertisers decided the best way to market cereal was to have one character possess the cereal and another desperately seek it. There were the kids trying to get Lucky Charms, the Trixx rabbit, and the Cookie Crisp crook, to name a few. Another was Barney Rubble of Flintstones fame always trying to get Fred’s Fruity and Coco Pebbles cereal. It’s kind of bizarre as there’s really nothing about the Barney character that suggests he should obsess over cereal. It’s also kind of funny that the Flintstones are used to market food items and vitamins long after their day in the sun has set. This Christmas commercial stands out for me. I don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with Barney actually getting to have some Fruity Pebbles. I can’t think of a time when the Trixx rabbit actually got to enjoy a bowl of Trixx. I think most kids always wanted these characters to just get some cereal. And in the case of Fruity Pebbles, maybe Barney would finally see that what he’s been chasing is actually pretty terrible and he could move on with his life. So even though this commercial is memorable for me, it never made me want to eat this cereal since I knew it was awful. Who knows, though? Maybe I saw it so often each year that it convinced me to beg my mom to pick up a box just so I could be reminded that I didn’t actually enjoy it. I also find it alarming how effective a job this commercial did at staying with me as I can recite the damn thing word for word. Brainwashing at its finest.

 

It’s Christmas Eve, so this likely ends the Christmas posts of 2014. I hope you enjoyed them.

Merry Christmas!


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