They are some of the most intriguing collectibles on the market and have engaged collectors since a very young age. Who would have thought that a simple family trip for fast food could turn into a formative emotional experience? Throughout their history, McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys have had a profound influence both in marketing to children and encouraging a healthy interest in collecting.
If you’re thinking that McDonald’s Happy Meal toys have a long, straightforward history, think again – there have been multiple routes towards the Happy Meal. Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño and her husband created the “Ronald Menu” (hamburger, small fries, and Sunday) for their McDonalds restaurants in Guatemala. Under the leadership of Bob Bernstein, the idea of a child-specific pre-packaged meal led to the creation of the Happy Meal. Part of the change included items….with the inclusion of a small toy. After an initial roll-out in Kansas City in 1977, the Happy Meal made its national debut two years later.
Although the Happy Meal started with generic toys (including a McDoodle stencil, a McWrist wallet, small puzzle, top, or McDonaldland-character shaped eraser), later meals included sticker sheets, Atari 2600 game tips trading cards, and Winnie the Pooh storybooks (December). The first movie-themed Happy Meals were released in conjunction with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. As the 1980s rolled in, McDonalds Happy Meal Toys reflected a wide variety of pop culture interests, including Kellogg’s Rise and Shine for Breakfast toys (with free cereal samples), Dungeons & Dragons books and game table; video-game themed toys (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong Jr, and Super Mario Brothers). E.T. candy dispensers with Reese's Pieces; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe action figures, Nintendo Power NES game tips trading cards, and tie-in toys for Kool-Aid, WWF, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
However, things changed after McDonald’s offered the first Disney-themed Happy Meal in 1987, focusing on animated works like Cinderella, The Sword In The Stone, and other animated classics. Based on this collaboration, McDonald’s would offer Disney-themed Happy Meal toys based on movies like The Lion King and 101 Dalmatians. Entering the 1990s, McDonalds Happy Meal Toys continued to grow in popularity with items like Alf comic books, Full House and Home Alone 2 toys, and Nintendo Power Game Boy game tips cards.
Although the success of Happy Meal Toys was fostered by Linda Gegorski starting the McDonald’s Collector’s Club in 1991, McDonald’s had a minor setback 1992 after parental concerns forced them to withdraw Batman Returns related toys. Although toys related to Jurassic Park and its sequel would drive interest in Happy Meal Toys, 1996 would be a key year through McDonald’s introduction of Teenie Beanie Babies. Taking advantage of then-current interest in Beanie Babies, McDonald’s managed to drive enough customer interest that many restaurants ran out of Teenie Beanie Babies. As the 1990s drew to a close, McDonald’s released various other Happy Meal Toys such as action figures based on Nintendo games (Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Star Fox) Halloween-themed M&M toys, Powerpuff Girls-related items, and Pokemon Trading Card Game decks and game table.
Entering the new millennium, McDonald’s continued to release a wide variety of Happy Meal Toys based on various franchises. Kicking off 2001 with Disney’s House of Mouse, McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy selection included Kinder Surprise eggs, Jurassic Park III toys, and NHL Hockey trading cards and figures. Over the next few years, McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys included “SurPrize” and “Holiday Happy Double Surprise items (mostly generic items from McDonald’s inventory) action figures from Powerpuff Girls, Kim Possible, Madam Alexander and Dragon Ball GT; toys from Disney’s Haunted Mansion, Brother Bear, Hotel for Dogs and Qoo; Digimon candy dispensers, Pokemon trading cards and figures, and workout DVDs for kids.
In the past ten years, McDonald’s has continued to release more Happy Meal Toys, and even introduced a new mascot named “Happy”. Although they had the obligatory “Mystery Happy Meal” (with generic McDonald’s toy), McDonald’s released Happy Meal toys from a variety of franchises, including Thomas and Friends, the 2010 Karate Kid remake, Happy and Ronald McDonald action figures and candy dispensers, action figures from Marvel’s Avengers, The Big Bang Theory, SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and Hello Kitty; Digimon capsule toys, and Nutrition for Kids books. With such diversity in its releases, McDonald’s has demonstrated a great knack for appealing to potential collectors through its range of Happy Meal Toys.