McDonald’s launched the first Happy Meal in 1979. It was the brainchild of marketer Richard Brams, who had the idea of creating a meal just for kids — one that included a toy. The offerings back then included a McDoodler stencil, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet, a puzzle lock, and a spinning top.
24/7 Tempo compiled a list of Happy Meals, using source material from McDonald’s and pop culture sites, that should make a comeback, primarily for reasons of nostalgia but also because there’s a kid in all of us and the toys are just plain fun.
Since 1979, Happy Meals have come with all kinds of toys, many of them movie tie-ins. There have been numerous Disney Happy Meals, featuring such popular characters as Cinderella, Mickey Mouse, Simba, and Snow White.
Disney ended that promotion partnership in 2006 after 10 years because of management concerns over fast-food links to childhood obesity — these are 45 fast food single items with more than 1,000 calories.
The Teenie Beanie Babies that first appeared in 1997 were so popular they reportedly caused fights at some restaurants.
If you were a kid in the years between 1979 and 2000, Happy Meal toys may still have a special place in your heart. They may even have a place in your investment strategy, as they are sought-after collectibles. Sets are offered on eBay for hundreds of dollars.
1982: Playmobil figures
McDonald’s launched the Playmobil Happy Meal in 1982. It ordered 30 million toys and had given away 10 million when it announced a voluntary recall after just over a week because of a choking hazard. Customers were given a box of McDonald’s cookies, a cone, or a refund in exchange for the toys.
1983: Hot Wheels
McDonald’s gave away regular Hot Wheels mainline models from 1983 to 1990. In 1991, the fast-food company started including its own car designs in Happy Meals for the first time. They came in plastic baggies rather than full blister packs.
McDonald’s launched Play-Doh Happy Meal in 1983. While the exact ingredients in Play-Doh are proprietary, maker Hasbro says that the ingredients are primarily water, salt, and flour, which sounds like a meal in itself, although it also notes that Play-Doh is not a food item.
Astrosniks, also known as Sniks, were fictional characters created by the German company Bullyland in 1975. Astrosniks were licensed to about 50 manufacturers, including McDonald’s, in 1983 and 1984, when they were first included in Happy Meals.
1984: Ronald McDonald Cloth Doll
Ronald McDonald is one of the most recognizable corporate mascots in the world, so it is no surprise that the doll was also a Happy Meal giveaway. The clown character is so well known it has even become part of American culture — there’s a Ronald McDonald cloth doll in the National Museum of American History.
1985: My Little Pony
My Little Pony — a toy line featuring colorful bodies and manes — was launched in 1982. It was included as a Happy Meal toy in 1985 and was produced in the United States up to 1992. It was so popular it spawned an animated film and two television series.
1986: Berenstain Bears
The Berenstain Bears were created by cartoonists Stanley Melvin Berenstain and Janice Marian Grant in 1962. The characters have been featured in books, games, puzzles, software, and clothing, as well as Happy Meal toys.
Changeables, also known as McRobots, were produced by McDonald’s itself and given away in three series in 1987, 1989, and 1990. They were named for their ability to transform into something else — primarily McDonald’s food items.
1987: Muppet Babies
As the name suggests, Muppet Babies were baby versions of the famous characters created by Jim Henson. They came with their own transportation: Baby Kermit on a skateboard; Baby Piggy in a pink car; Baby Gonzo on a tricycle; and Baby Fozzie on a hobby horse.
1988: Bambi Figurines
In 1988, McDonald’s offered poseable toys based on the Bambi characters, including Thumper and Flower, in addition to Bambi himself.
1988: Fraggle Rock
Fraggle Rock was another Jim Henson creation, featuring the Fraggle gang. The Happy Meal set included Gobo, Red, Mokey and Wembley Fraggle in different cars. There were two more toys without cars for children under 3.
1988: McNugget Buddies
McNugget Buddies are another McDonald’s creation — the company offered this line of Happy Meal toy adaptations of Chicken McNuggets characters in different costumes.
1988: Oliver & Company
In 1988, McDonald’s offered four finger puppets based on characters from the Disney movie “Oliver & Company:” Oliver, Dodger, Francis, and Georgette.
1989: Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers
The Disney animated television series “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers” generated a lot of merchandise, including Happy Meal toys. There were four sets.
1989: Fry Kids
The Fry Kids are McDonald’s characters that were used to promote the chain’s fries. They were used in television commercials with a jingle that said, “Keep your eyes on your fries.” They started out as the Fry Guys in the 1970s and were offered with Happy Meals in 1989.
1989: Garfield Vehicles
McDonald’s offered four Garfield toys with Happy Meals in 1989. They came with their own transportation, including a skateboard, a scooter, and a car.
1989: Flounder from ‘The Little Mermaid’
Flounder appeared in the 1989 animated Disney movie “The Little Mermaid.” He was also a Happy Meal toy that year, along with the other characters.
1991: McDino Changeables
This Happy Meal featured a set of eight transforming dinosaur-like toys with names like McDino Cone, Big Mac-O-Saurus Rex, and Quarter Pounder with Cheese-O-Saur. There were also toys that didn’t transform for children under three.
1992: Batman Car Figures
This Happy Meal was somewhat controversial as it was a tie-in with the Tim Burton film “Batman Returns,” which was rated PG-13.
McDonald’s released a set of six Dinosaurs toys, as well as one for children under 3, in 1993. The toys were hinged and had a button that made them move.
1994: Bobby’s World
Bobby’s World, an animated television series, ran from 1990 to 1998 on FOX Kids. It was about the daily life of Bobby Generic, who was voiced by Howie Mandel. Bobby’s transportation was anything but generic — the Happy Meal toys included a spaceship and a submarine.
This Happy Meal toy was part of the Disney Masterpiece Collection, made to commemorate the release of the iconic animated movie.
This Happy Meal was a tie-in with the 1995 Disney animated movie “Pocahontas.” As well as the heroine, the toys included John Smith and his boss and Grandmother Willow.
1995: Simba from ‘The Lion King’
Simba, which is Swahili for lion, is the King of the Pride Lands in Disney’s Lion King franchise. The Lion King Happy Meal reappeared this year in connection with the live action remake of the 1995 movie.
1995: Snow White from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was originally released by Disney in 1938. It was rereleased as part of the Masterpiece Collection in 1994, and the Snow White Happy Meal came the following year.
1995: Tigger from ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’
Tigger is a beloved character originally introduced in “The House at Pooh Corner,” the sequel to “Winnie the Pooh” by A. A. Milne. “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” is a collection of animated shorts from Disney.
1996: Muppet Treasure Island
The Muppet Treasure Island Happy Meal toys were based on characters from the movie of the same name. There was Kermit as Captain Smollett in a pirate ship; Miss Piggy as Benjamina Gunn in a lounge chair; Fozzie Bear as Squire Trelawney in a barrel; and Gonzo in a boat with a paddle wheel.
1998: Lion King Stuffed Toys
Disney’s Lion King franchise has inspired several Happy Meals promotions, including stuffed toys in 1998. Lion King Happy Meals reappeared this year in connection with the live action remake of the 1995 movie.
1999: Furby Toys
In 1999, McDonald’s released McFurby toys based on the Furby electronic friends. There were eight series, each of which contained 10 toys.
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