Milking It: Cocoa Puffs Combos

Cocoa Puffs Combos General Mills Rating: Two and a half spoons out of four

Cereal description: Whole corn grain and corn meal inflated into uniform orbs -- half of them a pleasant light brown that visually says "chocolate," the rest a light tan hue that, well, doesn't. Vanilla is so vanilla, isn't it?

Box description: Sonny the Cuckoo Bird is front and center, as he should be. Would that there were more cereal mascots who deserve to be institutionalized. He holds two oversized cereal pieces in his left hand -- and make no mistake; it's a hand, not a wing -- while pointing at this bounty with the sort o' feathery index finger of his right. The logo, with "COMBOS" spelled out in pinkish-red capital letters, hovers over a bowl bursting with milk and a pair of formal descriptions, both of which concede that the product within has been "artificially flavored." (Shocking! I figured it would taste just like it'd had been plucked off a tree.) No fun on the side panels: Both contain tedious nutrition information designed to reassure parents and bore the crap out of their kids. On the back, meanwhile, is a ridiculously complicated maze through a cocoa city, complete with code letters to help breakfasters triangulate things like a chocolate cow. In the lower right, Sonny presses his hands (yes, damn it, they're hands) to his head in bafflement and dismay. You may have the same reaction.

Taste: Over the years, Cocoa Puffs' level of chocolateness has varied -- often super rich (those are the good times), but occasionally dialed down. Unfortunately, the Combos combination leans in the latter direction. Perhaps its makers were afraid that upping the chocolate quotient would overwhelm the vanilla -- a fine idea, if you ask me. But as the recently reviewed Pops Chocolate Peanut Butter proves, juxtapositions work best when the contrast is strong. Not so here. Combos isn't terrible -- it's hard to completely screw up Cocoa Puffs -- but it's a notably mild munch. There's nothing to get excited about here, and that's a shame. Otherwise, you might as well eat something good for you.

Conclusion: Instead of going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs Combos, Sonny would more likely just shrug. And that wouldn't make a very good slogan. -- Michael Roberts

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