On a recent visit to McDonald's I spied a Hello Kitty toy in a Happy Meal, and I was almost inspired to order a kid's meal myself. The McDonald's Happy Meal was by far the most brilliant marketing idea to ever light up the golden arches -- luring kids, and their parents' disposable incomes, into the stores. Everybody loves Happy Meals -- unless they are cranks who don't love anything -- for the little cheeseburgers, tiny boxes of McNuggets, diminutive jugs of milk and plastic bags of apple slices, but most of all for the toys at the bottom. And there have been some memorable, nostalgic and downright adorable Happy Meal toys over the years.
Here are the five most McAwesome Happy Meal toys: I wish I had them today.
5. The McChangeables 1989 was a pretty good year for Transformers -- or Go-Bots if you were poor -- and McD's was there with the cross-marketing (and not paying for copyrights), designing its own menu items to transform into....well, I was never really sure what they were supposed to be, but the transforming part was the important thing. To this day, I regret that I could never get my hands on the transforming ice cream cone toy, and I ended up with like seven Big Macs, four fries and two cheeseburgers. The neighbor kid next door had an ice cream cone toy -- and he made sure to keep it in his little sights at all times because I would have poached it if he hadn't.
4. McLunch Boxes These crappy, cheap, sticker-décor-capable lunch boxes were all the rage with munchkins in 1987 -- for about ten minutes. Parents and kids alike quickly discovered that the handles were always loose, there was no heat/cold lunch insulation, and if you actually used them more than a couple of times to actually take lunch to school, they broke. So '80s kids, myself included, used them for Crayon and/or pencil boxes, at least until the stickers got dirty and fell off, and all the fun went with them.
3. McPoison bracelets Okay, technically these were pre-official Happy Meal toys, and technically they weren't named "McPoison bracelets," but I managed to get a red one thanks to my older cousin, and my very favorite thing to do with it was fill the little plastic compartment with dry Kool-Aid powder, tell my little brother it was poison, and listen to him scream in horror as I would pretend to put it in his food. This was the absolute height of fun, at least until my folks figured out I was scaring the shit out of my sibling because he refused to eat, and I got whupped -- and got the bracelet permanently confiscated.
2. McHalloween buckets 1985 was a good year for Happy Meal toys, especially at Halloween, because nothing made you cooler than sporting the official McDonald's candy-grab bucket. I took it out for a test-drive on Halloween, quickly figured out that it was neat-looking but functionally useless, and used it just to hold my best candy pickings -- the mini candy bars and taffy bites -- while relying on my old Strawberry Shortcake pillow case for major collecting. As I look back on it, McDonald's should have just put McDonaldland pillow cases in the Happy Meals, but it's possible that would have sent a strange, unwelcome message to kids and parents alike -- remember, this was the era of hospital x-raying Halloween candy.
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1. McStar Trek I like to call this one "the Happy Meal toy(s) that got away." Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture came out in 1979, the same year that Happy Meals were officially introduced. And McDonald's went where no hamburger fast-food chain had gone before: movie marketing tie-ins. The Trekkie-themed Happy Meal was the first, but I didn't get one of these because at the time I was too young to eat solid foods. In fact, I didn't discover Star Trek until Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and I've been a Captain Picard fan ever since. But the seriously neat thing about this vintage set is that with every single Happy Meal, you got several toys: a nifty plastic communicator ring, a bracelet, a space map, stickers and even a comic strip on the box. I could probably acquire one now, because people on eBay do sell them, but for what they're asking I could buy William Shatner.