Ah! I can taste it in my mouth while talking about it...the joys of an adult meal undersized for children. The Happy Meal.
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McDonald's would never be the same after the introduction of Happy Meals in the summer of 1979. Of course, the earliest Happy Meal toys were made in 1978, so there was a nice copyright date of 1978 stamped on the toys for children and teens of the 1980s who love all products made from 1978 to 1989. The 1st rate Drive-Thru wars in the 1980s were between McDonald's and Burger King, with the 2nd rate wars being Wendy's versus Hardee's. McDonald's and Hardee's won those wars. All of that changed in the 1990s. The 1st rate of Drive-Thru wars was still between Burger King and McDonald's, but the 2nd rate wars were a challenge for Taco Bell and Wendy's eaters. Burger King won this time and Taco Bell with Gidget the Taco Bell Chihuahua was awarded as the champion of the 2nd rate war.
McDonald's rival Burger King had 'a lot riding on them' [horse racing reference] for the 1990s. The 1990s would be when both Baby Boomers and Generation Xers were nostalgic for the 1970s and Millennials would dethrone Xennials as the center of attention. As a result of that, the Burger King Kids Club was invented in 1989 (during the big baby boom of the late 80s) and introduced in January of 1990.
(Creation of the Characters)
('Totally Rad' First Commercial that was out during the time that Record Breakers cars from 1989 into 1990 was at BK)
(The first and 'explosively wicked' official Burger King Kids Club Commercial to feature the BKKC toys afterward)
The Burger King Kids Club were the 90s version of the new McDonaldLand crew from the 1980s. At first, in January of 1990, there was Kid Vid (tech-savvy kewl kid), Snaps (the photographer), Wheels (the wheelchair-bound kid with huge aspirations), Jaws (the hip dresser), I.Q. (the studier), and Boomer (the sports fan). As time went on, J.D. (the group's dog), Lingo (the art fan), and Jazz (the music lover) were added to the gang. From what I remember, it took a while for Generation XYers like myself to warm up to the Burger King Kids Club in the year 1990, but Generation Yers took a liking to them right away. The McDonaldLand gang was far more iconic than the new Burger King Kids Club in the 20th Century, but the Burger King Kids Club was The McDonaldLand gang for Millennials and some Generation Zers in the 2000s.
The 1990s were going to be tough for Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Generation XYers who grew up with McDonald's before then, but the 1990s were the period when Millennials went through their adolescent stage. Surprisingly enough for generations before them, there were some excellent 90s defining Happy Meal toys. Without further ado, let's get to the bottom of the Happy Meal box for the bagged prize!
And now we travel back to the days of when McDonald's abandoned its styrofoam packages and paper Happy Meal box in favor of eco-conscious wrappers and Happy Meal bags [how 90s of them]. Get ready as this will be one long ride.
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Super Mario Brothers 3
Time of Release: August of 1990
Let me start by saying the year 1990 was the most important year of the 1990s for anybody trying to understand what the 90s were. In the very early 90s, Baby Boomers discovered 'there's a kid in all of us even when we're adults', Generation X was entering the workforce, XYers were showing the way to Millennials, the start of the mid-80s were dated, and late 80s culture was abruptly coming to an end. 1990 would be the final year when the youngest Nintendo Entertainment System owners begged their parents for a sequel game to the Super Mario Brothers game from 1986. Atari 2600 systems were ancient history in 1990 and MAD Magazine opened the very early 1990s with an issue 'smashing' (roasting) Nintendo games. Sadly for NES fans, the SUPER Nintendo, SEGA Genesis, and Sony PlayStation would be the game consoles of choice for Millennials in the 1990s. The year 1990 was different from all the other years of the 90s in that Xennials were still being catered to out of all the other children at the time.
Before August of 1990, Burger King had an arsenal of popular kids meal products like carryover Record Breakers [popular Remote Control cars], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles badges (think Great Big Buttons but in a 3-D model of the best TMNT characters for boys)[very early 90s], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles VHS tapes of episodes from 1989 in time for the 1990 movie [a first for kids meal collectors], and 2 sided Beetlejuice The Animated Series toys [the Beetlejuice cartoon won an Emmy in that year]. After August of 1990, Burger King would have two promotions for the hit new controversial dysfunctional family show The Simpsons. So, for Xennials, Burger King clearly had an edge over McDonald's from the tip beginning of the year 1990. Needless to say, the Super Mario Brothers 3, Muppet Babies, The Jungle Book, Peanuts toys, The Berenstain Bears books, a test run for Barbie figurines and backdrops [the ultimate McDonald's 90s Barbie toys], and Talespin toys were the best offerings from McDonald's in the awkward year 1990. The Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toys were a step above the rest from 1990, but a slight disappointment at the same time for both NES game collectors and Happy Meal toy collectors.
The Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion was a flash in the pan promotion for Xennials and there was an equal amount of characters in the meal as there were for Disney's The Little Mermaid promotion from the year before. Disney's The Little Mermaid Happy Meal toy set was more iconic than the Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion and both sets had four toys in them! The debate over whether four toys were enough for the Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion has been a topic of discussion for many years after 1990. Who knew what was going on with these? Were Baby Boomer toymakers too old to understand the NES phenomenon of 1988? Were these made by early Generation Xers? Most importantly, did Happy Meal toymakers feel that Happy Meals were taking the backseat to video games in early 1990?
The decline of good Happy Meal toys began right here in the year 1990. Where was King Koopa? Princess Toadstool? The Koopalings? Why wasn't there a Zelda 2 The Adventure of Link toys to go alongside these [these were the early 90s, not the mid-80s]? Would these have been better if they were released at the time of The Super Mario Brothers 3 and Captain N The Gamemaster hour on NBC? Should we have gotten LCD handheld games that resembled NES controllers instead of figures?
This set made me so angry shortly after August because of how I took it for granted. I was completely unaware of these SMB3 toys being the last Super Mario Brothers Happy Meal toys in the 90s. In 1990, it had seemed as if the 90s were going to be a waterbed sized time period of opportunity. We were getting much closer to the new Millennium in the 1990s. In hindsight, these SMB3 Happy Meal toys reflect that perfectly. Luigi's initial symbol was unpainted like something you would see on a 21st Century Happy Meal toy. The Raccoon Super Mario (a redo of the 1989 Applause toy), Koopa Paratrooper, Little Goomba, and U3 toy of Raccoon, on the other hand, look as if they could have come out in the 1980s. In other words, these were definitely 90s Happy Meal toys!
As a Nintendo partier, I would have preferred these SMB3 Happy Meal toys to be more like the Hasbro Super Mario Brothers Trophy Figures with Scorecards from the very late 80s or at the very least, The Simpsons Go Camping Burger King Kids Club set. In the second week of August of 1990, it seemed like SMB3 was being distributed two toys per week and 11 years old me got toy number 2 (Luigi) instead of the one I wanted (toy number 1, Super Mario). The Super Mario toy had a spring at the bottom that would help it to topple over an army of Goombas and Luigi would slide the army of Koopa Paratroopers of your desk. I've never known Super Mario to jump on his tushie, but he did for the 1989 Applause SMB2 set and this SMB3 Happy Meal set.
Aside from Bowser and Princess Peach on the placemat for the tray, I was most 'bummed out' by the Happy Meal toy display [that went to the right wall behind the registers] not being for sale. The Super Mario Brothers series deserved a better send-off from McDonald's if there was going to be Nintendo and McDonald's partnership in 1990 like there was. I have a love and hate relationship with this set. The inserts to the SMB3 Happy Meal toys had the great instruction manual art of the actual SMB3 game, but this was the summer of 1990! There should have been mention of the 1990 Nintendo World Championships, GameBoy, the Zelda NES series, Nintendo Power magazine, the Valiant Nintendo comics, the Power Glove, The Wizard on VHS, Club Mario, and the various other Nintendo merchandises in stores from 1989 to early 1991. In short, the SMB3 Happy Meal toys were clever, but not enough for Generation XY at the time to sway us away from Burger King.
Fun Facts: The Super Mario Brothers triumphed over Mickey Mouse as the cartoon favorite of children in early 1990.
The Nintendo and McDonald's partnership has been going strong since 1990.
How these toys were '90s toys': The love of Nintendo, pumps [for the Koopa Paratrooper], reptile fascination [Koopa Paratroopers were flying turtles], and the Save the Environment message are all present with these SMB3 Happy meal toys.
1991 (Year of the Happy Meal Bag)
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Super Looney Tunes
Time of Release: June of 1991
1991 was the year when the 90s were starting to look less like the blurry middle ground between the 1980s when Generation Jones, Generation X, and Generation XY were the target audiences for the new culture and the 1990s when members of Generation X, Generation XY, and Generation Y were exclusively the demographic for the new culture. Earlier in 1991, when Home Alone came to dollar theaters, McDonald's issued Tiny Toon Adventures Flip Cars for the Happy Meal prizes. Tiny Toon Adventures did not catch on with Xennials or Millennials the way Baby Boomers wanted it to in the fall of 1990 when it had made its debut, so every generation alive clung to Looney Tunes [this was two years after voice actor Mel Blanc's passing]. Long story short, was the early 90s — Looney Tunes and DC Superheroes were 'hot' properties.
For this set, there was Petunia Pig as Wonder Woman (the Toy Biz DC Superheroes Wonder Woman was on toy shelves), Tazmanian Devil as The Flash (the TV show aired from fall of '90 into 1991), Bugs Bunny as Superman (the Christopher Reeves movies were slightly dated), Daffy Duck as Batman (in the iconic late 60s Batman uniform), and Bat-Daffy in the Bat-Duckmobile (a play on the then-new 1989 Batmobile) as the U3 toy. Every toy came with a comic book of their origin stories that doubled as a coloring book. These were easily the greatest Happy Meal toys of 1991 out of the Tiny Toon Adventures Flip-Up Cars[semi-hit new 90s cartoon], 101 Dalmatians [too similar to the 1988 Bambi toys], Barbies [how 90s], Hot Wheels, Alvin and the Chipmunks[cool, yet buried in time], Hook toys [Steven Spielberg's Not Batman/second-best bath Happy Meal toys], Gravedale High [Camp Candy with Rick Moranis], and the McDino Changeables [lackluster kiddy version of the late 80s Changeables robots]. Burger King had Crayola crayons [the McDonald's ones were my favorites], Captain Planet and the Planeteers[creepy Captain Planet head flip vehicle], Disney's Beauty and the Beast [step down from McDonald's The Little Mermaid set], Barnyard Commandos [TMNT and Animal Farm inspired property], Inspector Gadget [first ever miniature Inspector Gadget cartoon toys], and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 The Secret of the Ooze posters [the most early 90s TMNT flick out of the first two) that year.
The Looney Tunes characters were non-poseable toys and you could snap the two parts of the superhero uniform on and off. I was disappointed by the lack of a Daffy Duck as the 1989 Batman variant in the summer of 1991, but the U3 toy makes up for that.
From what I remember, Super Bugs was the most advertised Super Looney Tunes toy. Cartoon fans and cartoonists were still mourning the end of Mel Blanc's life. Also, Superman was the hero of the 1950s and many 80s and very early 90s McDonald's restaurants was remodeled into 50s diners. That Doo-Wop era restaurant design for McDonald's drew in lots of members of the Silent Generation and some Baby Boomers. Bat-Daffy and Taz-Flash were relevant to many a Xennial at the time because of the darker tone to the 1989 Batman movie and 1990 The Flash TV series that had us captivated. A Gossamer (red hair thing character) as Swamp Thing would have 'the mother of all' early 90s Happy Meal collectibles out of them all if it were made. 'Ab-so-lute-ly' (early 90s lingo)!
Fun Facts: Disney's Darkwing Duck made his appearance earlier in 1991, two months before the Super Looney Tunes toys were out. The first season of Disney's Darkwing Duck was airing in the morning on The Disney Channel when Super Looney Tunes appeared in Happy Meals.
Daffy Duck is in the Warner Brothers advertisement before Batman is featured on the 1989 Batman VHS.
Back to the Future The Animated Series
Time of Release: April of 1992
Time of Release: July of 1992
As an XYer, I could not choose between the CBS Saturday morning Back to the Future The Animated Series toys from earlier in 1992 and the Batman Returns toys from the summer of 1992. The Doc Brown in the Delorean was the toy that made McDonald's come under fire for the choking hazard not coming in larger and bolder letters for parents of 3 years olds and under in early 1992, but it was 'hype' to every former child of the 1980s like myself and even Generation X moviegoers. The paint application for Doc's Delorean was not as earth stopping as it would have been if it were made in 1989, but the caricature of actor Christopher Lloyd and the name of the car model Delorean on the back of the bag made it worth owning. Personally, I would have liked for Verne's Junkmobile to be replaced with a Biff Tannen vehicle, but this Happy Meal promotion did take place two years after Back to the Future 3 was in theaters. Marty's Hoverboard [that's a Members' Only jacket he's wearing/perfect collectible for BTTF sequel fans], Verne's Junkmobile[for BTTF3 fans], Einstein's Traveling Train [also, for BTTF3 fans], and Doc's Delorean were the only toys in the set (a letdown for collectors of Happy Meal toys of movie villains). The 1990 Beetlejuice The Animated Series Burger King Kids Club set was more in line with what I wanted for the Back to the Future The Animated Series Happy Meal toy set, but fandom for all things Back to the Future was not there like it was for Beetlejuice in the very late 80s and early 90s.
The biggest surprise of 1992 was the Batman Returns Happy Meal toys that were discontinued in the middle of the run for the promotion. 13-year old me let out a sigh of relief at the news. “Sweet! A Batmobile Happy Meal toy” was uttered by me around the time of the sequel doing well at the box office. There were four toys (Batman Press and Go Car [Bat Copter], Batmobile [obviously/the press and reveal minicar part was even on the display], Catwoman Cat Coupe [the biggest character from the movie], and The Penguin Umbrella Roto-Roadster [the only Happy Meal toy pulled from the promotion]). A Jack Nicholson Joker would have beautifully rounded out the set, but these toys were already one of the year's things that made a lot of adults 'go hmmm'. The Batman Returns Collectors Cups with the frisbee tops were on my radar for what felt like most of the summer because they were a vast improvement over the Taco Bell cups which only featured generic 80s Batman on them from 1989.
The Back to the Future The Animated Series and Batman Returns toys are highly notable out of the Tiny Toon Adventures Wacky Rollers [the theme was on Seinfeld that year], Potato Head Kids [the classic character only pint-sized theme didn't work], Yo Yogi [most early 90s Happy Meal toys out of them all], Sports McNugget Buddies [just in time for the '92 Summer Olympics], Michael Jordan Fitness Fun [they actually go with the Dream Team Collectors Cups], Tonka trucks [they returned in the 90s], M Squad (McDonald's spy toys), and Cabbage Patch Kids [Xennial property that became a Millennial property] toys sold in 1992. Once again, Burger King had unforgettable releases for children like Archie cars [50th Anniversary], Capitol Critters [most controversial adult cartoon of the year], Goof Troop [Disney reaching back to the late 80s afternoon cartoon shows for inspiration], Disney's Aladdin [the biggest movie of the year], and Disney Parade [first ever Roger Rabbit fast food toy]. McDonald's took the attention away from Burger King for a while in 1992 until November when Disney's Aladdin was inescapable. The BK Kids Club logo changed in this year as well from the 1989 to 1992 upside-down logo to a child-friendly logo which would hook Millennials into frequenting Burger King restaurants for more than the Kids Club meal. Brilliant move, if I must say so myself!
Interesting Facts: The Batman Returns tie-in was 'on hit' for the new 1990s, even though the movie was a lot darker than the 1989 original.
Former children of the 80s (Xennials) and children of the 90s (Millennials) thought the wheels on Doc's Delorean could pop off after seeing the toy in person. This led to the toys being recalled before April was over.
1993 (Happy Meal Toy Bags Officially Look the Same from Here on Out)
Time of Release: Early 1993
"I'm the baby, gotta love me!" Jim Henson's Dinosaurs was the blend of The Simpsons, Roseanne, and Family Matters [Urkel show] that we didn't know could exist in 1992 and 1993. The Simpsons were definitely, hands down, the most controversial family on TV [son Bart dropped a d-bomb and Homer punished him with his hands] when it made its debut in 1990, but Jim Henson's Dinosaurs were the most outrageous family on TV in 1992. I couldn't wait to see Baby Sinclair say, "Not the Mama", and knock Earl Sinclair over the head with a frying pan. The series was extensively 1992 along with Thelma and Louise being on videocassette for the first time. Six toys were in the $1.99 Happy Meals (Earl Sinclair, Fran Sinclair, Baby Sinclair, Robbie Sinclair, Charlene Sinclair [not a name you hear every day], and Ethyl Phillips [a reverse Mama Winslow of the family]) and an Under 3 toy of Baby Sinclair bursting out of the egg [poor Earl's worst flashback] were given out. These toys all came with a square button that you could 'pump up' (these toys were made in the last year of the early 90s, 1992) and watch the toy move.
The Batman The Animated Series toys from 1993 were a must-have set for 80s and 90s Batman movie fans and BTAS watchers (no Mr. Freeze toy), but the Jim Henson's Dinosaurs were the last Happy Meal toys I remember somewhat loving. A Baby Sinclair toy holding a black skillet would have been perfect for rollerblading, Beverly Hills 90210 watching, and Wayne's World movie quoting mid 90s me. In 1993, I was thrilled to see a Baby Sinclair Happy Meal toy in the commercial for the toys while I was 'bound-and-hagged' (early to mid-90s grunge-speak for staying home on a Friday night). It did not matter to me after a while whether there was a Baby Sinclair toy with a black skillet or blue pot, just as long as there was a Baby Sinclair with a cooking utensil in hand to hit Earl over the head with. I feel awful saying that, but these are two fictional characters I am talking about.
The other Happy Meal toys from 1993 were the Totally Toy Holiday toys [a mixture of Xennial and new Millennial toys], Nickelodeon Game Gadgets [no Ren and Stimpy sadly], Barbie or Hot Wheels [for the third year in a row], Food Fundamentals [scary anthropomorphic lunch items that made people miss the McDino Changeables], Looney Tunes Quack-Up Car Chase [Super Looney Tunes was heaps better], and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [the largest Disney film re-release set out of the whole 1988 to 1993 time frame]. Burger King had The Little Mermaid TV series toys [less memorable knock-off of the superior 1989 Happy Meal toys], BK Kids Club glow in the dark Trolls [glow in the dark was totally 90s], TMNT Bike Gear [no match for the badges from 1990], Save the Animals trading cards [this was the part of the mid 90s that immediately followed the early 90s], Bonkers toys [first "Cool World", now this for Who Framed Roger Rabbit knock-offs], Mickey's Toontown [the naked Chip N Dale are back (Chippendales, if you will)]. McDonald's shaped Millennial girls and boys into 'mall dolls' and 'mall trolls' more so than Burger King in this year with the Dino-Motion Dinosaurs and Batman The Animated Series toys. In hindsight, the Burger King The Simpsons Go Camping and The Simpsons Collectible dolls were infinitely more important to me and Xennials than the '93 Dino-Motion Dinosaurs toys. America, Matt Groening, and The Simpsons write Mike Reese all apparently agreed with me and TV viewers were given one of the darkest TV show endings in 20th-century history [touchy feely mid-90s for you].
Fun Fact: Dino-Motion Earl Sinclair was the only Earl Sinclair collectible to feature in his work clothes.
Dino-Motion Dinosaurs were sold in the year of Barneymania and Jurassic Park the movie. Dinosaurs were everywhere that year.
SEGA Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Time of Release: February to March of 1994
Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario on a diet, was the video game character of the mid-1990s. The first video game from 1991 was on most holiday season lists from 1992 to 1993 for Xennials and Millennials took a shine to Sonic the Hedgehog shortly after discovering The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog syndicated series and Sonic the Hedgehog The Animated Series on ABC Saturday mornings. The Super Mario Brothers series for the arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System and even Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo was far more influential than Sonic the Hedgehog who made his first-ever appearance in the early 1991 arcade game, Rad Mobile, as a car ornament that's a little distracting. Still, a rush of nostalgia and adrenaline comes to Xennials and Millennials whenever Green Hill Act 1 comes on a screen.
Sonic the Hedgehog was not Super Mario by any stretch of the imagination, but the 1994 Sonic the Hedgehog Happy Meal toys had a better layout than the 1990 Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toys. There was Tails [female Luigi or kid Luigi], Dr. Robotinik [Human King Koopa], Sonic [the 90s version of Super Mario], and Knuckles [Wario from the Super Mario GameBoy series] as the toys for ages 4 and up and a rare print of Sonic the Hedgehog on a yellow hacky sack-like ball for 3 and under [how grungy mid-90s of McDonald's]. No video game kids meal toy assortment has ever come close to the enormity of the Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toys [wish McDonald's would re-release them so badly], but these were next in line. The mid-90s, in general, were about Generation Xers and Generation XYers missing the 80s to mid-1991. 'The Yuppie 90s' (1990-mid 90s) was the best of the 90s for every other generation but Millennials who were 'coming up' at the time. I'm sorry to Sonic fans, but these Sonic Happy Meal prizes could not compare to the Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal prizes like Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for the Genesis couldn't against Super Mario Brothers 3 for the NES [NintenDO what Genesis can't].
The Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Happy Meal toys were obviously the standouts amongst Animaniacs [biggest second attempt of the 90s/ born from Tiny Toon Adventures], Bobby's World [Comic Relief USA Howie Mandel harks back to his childhood/surprisingly, no glove trick here], The Flintstones movie [a 1991 The Addams Family wannabe], Magic School Bus [another Millennial show PBS replaced Mathnet for], Mickey and Friends Epcot Center [if only Chip and Dale came in their Rescue Rangers outfits...], Cabbage Patch or Tonka [second time around approach], Barbie or Hot Wheels [staple of 90s Happy Meals for Millennials], Earth Days [the 'Save the Rainforest' trend of the late 80s and the early 90s was dying here], Ronald McDonald Celebrates Birthday Happy Meal [the last ever Muppet Babies Happy Meal toys], and Halloween pails [couldn't touch the 1986 originals with a yardstick]. Burger King 'went postal' with Disney's Lion King toys [best non-McDonald's Disney Renaissance fast food toys and tie-in], SkyBox Lion King Trading Cards (Lion King was the thing), Z-BOTs Milk Caps [generic POGS before they were known as POGS], Disney's Aladdin Hidden Treasures for the then-new TV series [poor follow-up to the late 1992 toys], Disney Afternoon Beach Toys [the only US kids meal toys to feature Darkwing Duck], and Z-Bots toys [Transformers Micromasters meet The Trash Bag Bunch]. Burger King 'took home the trophy' with Disney's Lion King promotion for this middle mid-90s year, but the Happy Meal Sonic the Hedgehog toy blasting off against Dr. Robotinik and Knuckles battles were intense in '94.
Fun Facts: Dr. Robotinik was modeled after The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog series Dr. Robotinik and not the actual Dr. Robotinik from Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Both Dr. Robotinik [Dr. Eggman with the egg-shaped head] and Sonic Happy Meal toys were changed into 3-D sculpts of the Japanese designs of the characters for a line of Happy Meal toys that replaced Tails with Grimace, the '80s and '90s McDonaldLand character.
The Tails toy was recalled in fear of Millennials hitting themselves in the head with the Tails flyer off of the launcher base. Also, Tails was not carried as part of the Canada Happy Meal promotion in late 1994. A second Tails toy was made as a spinner on a base similar to the one seen in the Marble Garden Zone for the 1995 UK Happy Meal release.
This promotion was a more advanced carbon copy of the Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion, but more advertising was done for the Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion. The Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Happy Meal promotion had both boxes and bags with Sonic on them, but the Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toys had a placemat with all four toys displayed on it, inserts explaining the characters you were getting with official SMB3 game and manual illustration art, and indelible daytime and night-time commercials. Many argue that the Super Mario Brothers 3 promotion was the finest Happy Meal promotion of the whole 1990s time period to this day.
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers the Movie
Towards the end of the mid-90s, both Xennials and Millennials enjoyed watching Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the then-new show, after school and on Saturday mornings. Rangermania of 1994 was immensely different from Turtlemania of 1990 in that the TV show and Bandai toyline were popular all at once and not a movie, TV show, comic book series, Playmates Toys toyline like with TMNT. Well, Saban Entertainment decided to produce a film for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in hopes of it staying at the box office as long as the first TMNT movie [highest grossing independent comic book movie of all time] did. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers flopped at the box office due to the Green Ranger saga being 100 times better than the White Ranger years of the show and movie.
McDonald's held a Happy Meal promotion and meal deal promotion for the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers with the belief that they would beat out the Burger King TMNT promotions of the year 1990. The BK Kids Club TMNT badges, BK Kids Club VHS tapes and the non-BK Kids Club related Plastic Collector Cups from the summer of 1990 [true 20th-century TMNT fast food collectibles] were some of the very best fast food collectibles of the 1990s and the McDonald's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers the Movie promotional items failed to top them in 1995. The meal deal promotion of the six Power Rangers and their new movie Zords even made many Millennials turn their heads to the actual Happy Meal MMPR The Movie toys in 1995. I'm not sure whose idea it was to make role-playing toys for the Happy Meal promotion and figures and vehicles to be sold with a meal, but role-playing toys last mattered to Millennials in 1993 when the Home Alone 2 TalkBoy was the most wanted toy of the holiday season. Children of the 90s loved the 8-inch Power Rangers action figures and 6-inch Auto Morphin' Power Rangers toys more than the Space Aliens in both of those scales, Megazords, and role-playing toys.
There were four toys for this nearly forgotten toy promotion [Power Com (locket-like watch with Alpha 5 inside), Powermorpher Buckle(without the Power Gun and Sword), Power Siren (a black noisemaker with the MMPR The Movie logo on it), and Alien Detector (a look-alike Foot Clan Communicator with Ivan Ooze, Lord Zedd, and Rita Repulsa movie stock images inside)] and a Power Flute (not the Dragonzord Dagger) as the under 3 toy. Aside from the second Animaniacs set, the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Happy Meal toys were the phenomenal Happy Meal set of the year. The major Happy Meal toys of 1995 were Amazing Wildlife (the 90s went to WWF (World Wildlife Fund, that is)), Hot Wheels Attack Pack or Polly Pocket (Polly Pocket is 90s as it gets), Barbie or Hot Wheels, Busy World of Richard Scarry (was anyone else expecting a horror theme to this), Disneyland 40th Anniversary Viewers (with the first and only adult Simba Happy Meal toy in the mid 90s/only Roger Rabbit and Benny Happy Meal toys in history so far), Muppet Workshop (The Muppets were 80s to us at this point), Spiderman The Animated Series (Marvel's attempt at a Batman The Animated Series treatment for Spiderman), and Totally Toy Holiday again (more Polly Pocket Happy Meal toys because it's the 90s). Burger King had the 90s kids' meal toys that every Millennial knows of in that year with Pixar's Toy Story toys (movie of the year), Disney's Pocahontas (Disney Rennaissance kids' meal promotions had come a long way since 1989), two Disney's Gargoyles sets (seriousness of 1989 Batman meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Kids Club Drink Coolers (eh), Lion King Pop-Up Finger Puppets (Burger King made a killing off of Lion King memorabilia near the end of the mid-90s), and A Goofy Movie (no toy of Bobby played by 90s neo-Hippy Pauly Shore). The Toy Story BK Kids Club toys and hand puppet dolls (Woody became Kermit the Frog for Millennials in '95) at the end of the year quickly made the 'Mighty Morphin' Power Summer' at McDonald's vague to most Millennials in 1995.
Fun Fact: The late 1994 Mystery Coin Packs (McDonald's acting on the new milk cap trend in the US) were the first-ever McDonald's Power Ranger promotion, while the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers the Movie device role-playing toys were the first-ever Power Rangers Happy Meal toys. The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers figures and Zords that were originally part of a meal deal were included in Happy Meals shortly after these. The Red Ranger from the MMPR The Movie meal promotion was included as part of the 40th Anniversary of the Happy Meal earlier this month (Frozen 2 is the current Happy Meal promotion).
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Time of Release: November of 1996
In the year 1989, the Air Jordan clothing line was launched by Nike and became a huge success from the fall of 1989 into the early 1990s. Within the early 90s, the first Nike Hare Jordan commercial featuring celebrity athlete Michael Jordan and Warner Brothers character Bugs Bunny was born. Three 90s Hare Jordan commercials were produced, but the first one that aired during Super Bowl XXVI in 1992 was highly impressive and entertaining for its time. The popularity of the commercials and sneaker line in the early to mid-90s prompted Warner Brothers Pictures to produce a motion picture with NBA stars Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradley, and Muggsy Bogues and the Looney Tunes characters in it in 1995 [extensively 90s]. Space Jam was number one at the box office for its first week, but Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians fared better as it was ground shaking that Disney could make a live-action version of a Disney classic [The 101 Dalmatians movie of 1996 was like The Beauty and the Beast live-action film of 2017 to us in the 90s].
McDonald’s felt Space Jam would generate strong income and be one of the most talked-about films of the year for Millennials, so a set of 8 Happy Meal toys [Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Tweety, Lola Bunny (big deal in the 90s), Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Nerdlucks, and Monstar (evil aliens, again, it was the 90s] and a set of 6 plush dolls [Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Taz, Lola Bunny, Nerdlucks, and Blanko the Monstar]. You could put together the puzzle-like pieces to the bottoms of the Happy Meal you figurines and roll the whole set all at once to see the Looney Tunes and space alien characters in motion. These were really 90s Happy Meal toys in that the Tune Squad jersey logos were not painted in any way. The Space Jam Happy Meal toys were not ‘monet’ (mid to late 90s slang for deceptively attractive/from the movie Clueless), but they were unique in that you could almost form an entire basketball court with the complete set of toys. I was not buying Happy Meal toys anymore as a 16-year-old, but I imagine these display well with the Michael Jordan Fitness Fun stopwatch, frisbee, and basketball from 1992. The focus for the Space Jam set had to be on the Looney Tunes characters since Looney Tunes characters were a part of the Warner Brothers and McDonald's partnership that started in 1989. The Playmates Toys Space Jam action figures sold at Woolworth's that year did a much better job at driving the point behind the movie than the Space Jam Happy Meal toys, but the Happy Meal toys were the most inventive Happy Meal toys of the time.
Runner ups for interesting 1996 Happy Meal toy sets were the actual 101 dalmatian toys for the live-action 101 Dalmatian toys [talk about a Happy Meal toy promotion], Babe [animal version of the 1989 movie Look Who's Talking], Barbie or Hot Wheels, Eric Carle Finger Puppets [for artsy Happy Meal toy lovers], Aladdin and the King of Thieves [toys for the last direct-to-video Aladdin movie], The Little Pet Shop or Transformers Beast Wars toys [what happened to Care Bears and G1 Transformers], Marvel Superheroes [Marvel owned the 90s], Muppet Treasure Land [Another The Muppet Christmas Carol, but with pirates], VR Troopers [not the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers], and Halloween McNugget Buddies [more McNugget Buddies with hair on their heads], and the Walt Dinsey Home Video Masterpiece Collection [Disney's Aladdin from 1992 and Disney's Pochahontas are now Happy Meal toys]. In 1996, Burger King had Toy Story toys again [for the now legendary VHS release], Timon and Pumbaa TV show toys [let's leave it the 1994 Lion King movie], Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame [not based off of America's favorite early to mid 90s football team], two Disney's Oliver and Company sets [I prefer the 1988 McDonald's puppets to these], Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame Pop-Up Finger Puppets [Disney's Lion King it was not], Pocahontas Hide 'N Seek Finger Puppets [see Hunchback comment], and Cartoon Network Scooby Doo toys [the best Scooby-Doo toys of the 90s]. Burger King was the clear winner for 1996 with the second set of Toy Story toys and Talking Toy Story dolls [not Tickle Me Elmo, but close].
Fun Fact: The Bugs Bunny toy was re-released with a darker basketball court base for The 40th Anniversary of Happy Meal earlier this month.
The same idea for the Space Jam Happy Meal toys was used for the 1996 Snoopy All-Stars Happy Meal set in Hong Kong.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
The Little Mermaid Re-Release
Time of Release: November to December 1997
In 1997, Disney's The Little Mermaid, the Disney Renaissance film that started it all in the 80s, was 8 years old, so Disney tried to grab Millennials in 1997 as they did in 1989 with Xennials and failed. The 90s were moving further away from the 80s and more towards the 2000s in 1997, so everyone's taste had changed. The Happy Meal toy set for 1997 The Little Mermaid re-release was short of being the 4 tub 1989 Happy Meal toy set but more expansive than the 1989 Happy Meal toys. This time around there was an inflatable Ursula with Flotsam and Jetsam the eels, Flounder, Scuttle the Seagull, Ariel holding a seahorse [remodel of the classic 1989 toy], Eric the Prince, Max the Dog, Glut the Shark, and Sebastian [large size] and gold variants of the toys that looked as if they had come out of a treasure chest. In 1997, Millennials could roll Glut the Shark on your bedroom floor or bathtub and have him chase a swimming Flounder. There was also an opportunity to have Max the dog follow Eric rowing his floating brown boat on top of bathwater. Sadly, Ariel could not sit behind Eric in the boat as the 1989 original Ariel could sit in the yellow sailboat with Eric and Sebastian from 1989. The 1997 Prince Eric figurine was mounted to the brown boat, so Millennial girls in 1997 could not take out Eric and have Eric marry Ariel like in the movie.
This 1997 Happy Meal set was loads of fun because you could reenact different scenes from the 1989 movie. Millennial girls could have Ariel holding a conversation with Ursula while they were floating above the bathwater, Scuttle the Seagull could fraternize with Sebastian and Flounder, Flounder could outswim Glut the Shark, and Ariel could watch Prince Eric rowing his boat towards her. By no means was the play value of the 1997 Happy Meal toys as unlimited as the 1989 Happy Meal set. I liked the idea of sticking suction cup Ursula under the bathwater and the above water union of Flounder, Ariel, and Eric holding an in-scale Sebastian. The 1989 Happy Meal toys, with the exception of Ursula, all had warm shades, so it was tough to beat them in terms of Happy Meal prizes. Whether you loved or hated them, the 1997 The Little Mermaid Happy Meal toys were outstanding for late 90s Happy Meal toys [there was an ally for Prince Eric and Ursula in this set] and extremely well-made shelf toys.
Happy Meal sets in 1997 consisted of a smorgasbord of properties for both Millennial boys and girls. There were more Barbie or Hot Wheels cars [both Toy Hall of Fame inductees], Disney's Hercules [you got a god and a case], Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame[Fighting Leprechaun mascot not included], Disney's The Jungle Book [not the 1990 set, but there were free Wonka NERDS candy], Disney's Mighty Ducks The Animated Series Pucks [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as ducks do hockey/a way to use the mascot Wildwing], Nickelodeon Tangle Toys [Millennials loved Nickelodeon in the mid to late 90s], BeetleBorgs Metallix [like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, but with Xennials instead of Xers], Sky Dancers or Micro Machines [these Micro Machines were not in scale with the ones from the late 80s and early 90s], Disney's Sleeping Beauty [a redux of the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs toys from '93], Teenie Beanie Babies [the 90s version of trolls], and the Walt Disney Home Video Masterpiece Collection again [the first-ever Happy Meal toy of Woody from Toy Story was in this set]. McDonald's stole the year away from Burger King which had M&Ms toys [they're still around today], M&M minis toys [bring back M&M minis), Anastasia [Don Bluth's The Little Mermaid], Superman The Animated Series [not Lois and Clark], Universal Monsters [six years too late], Cartoon Network Racing Cars [not Wacky Races cars], Land Before Time [Pizza Hut puppets from 1998 were sooo much better], and BK Kids Club Planet Control [the Kids Club gang goes Apollo 13] in 1997. In short, the TY Beanie Babies from McDonald's were the fast food toys of the year.
Fun Fact: The newly sculpted 1997 Ariel had a smaller head and worse paint applications than the 1989 original Ariel, but both Ariels held a yellow seahorse in their arms.
Tamagotchi Keychain TOYZ
In the year 1997, something special happened, Millennials found their footing in the 1990s. Millennials were the Nickelodeon Rugrats watching, early Pixar film moviegoers, and parents to Bandai's Tamagotchis [alien animals] in the way that my generation, Xennials, were the 3o minute toy commercial watching, Amblin Entertainment film going, and Nintendo playing generation. Tamagotchis were the smartphones and Apple Watches for children in the late 90s and early 2000s. The makers of Tamagotchis prepped Millennial girls into becoming Millennial mothers and independent pet owners in the late 2000s and today. Millennial girls and some Millennial boys [but mostly girls] had to feed their Tamagotchis, wake it up, give it medicine, clean up behind it, and play with. The Tamagotchi would die temporarily if you did not do all of those things correctly or disappear entirely if you got water on it [it was half Mogwai].
Tamagotchi started the Millennial digital toy craze and the Robo-Chi pets set in the very early 2000s brought an end to it. Tamagotchis were made by the Hong Kong company Bandai which was known then as the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers toymaker. Bandai was like Playmates Toys [TMNT action figure makers], another Hong Kong company, for my generation. The 8 Tamagotchi Keychain TOYZ toys put both Tamagotchi and Bandai further 'on the map'. The Tamagotchi Keychain TOYZ were 'da bomb' to Millennials as they could snap the upper part of the egg to the bottom, flip the top of an egg to reveal a Tamagotchi creature inside, get a Tamagotchi creature with a keyring and detached egg, change one creature into a different one in the egg, or press the middle of the egg and watch as it flashes a light. Tamagotchis were the Nintendo Entertainment System for Millennials and McDonald's gave Millennials even more names for them with this Happy Meal set like Growagotchi, Puppagotchi, Createagotchi, Secretgotchi, Clearagotchi, Gameagotchi, Flashagotchi, and Glowagotchi [Wal-Mart exclusive].
These Tamagotchi Happy Meal toys did not come in fancy packaging as the actual Tamagotchis did, but it was undoubtedly the 'knock-out' fast food toy promotion of 1998 that helped Happy Meals to survive the 90s. The less notable McDonald's Happy Meal toys from 1998 were the 101 Dalmatians The Animated Series toys [Disney got Dalamatian carried away in the 90s], Disney's Animal Kingdom [whatever happened to the Animal Kingdom], Hercules Sports toys [clever], Disney's The Legend of Mulan [the first Disney Renaissance Happy Meal toys to remind people of the BK Kids Club Disney film stuff], My Little Pony or Transformers Beast Wars toys [Transformers really ran its course in the 90s], Disney's The Lion King 2 Simba's Pride stuffed dolls [not this time], Disney's Peter Pan [the 90s were definitely a child's time], and Teenie Beanie Babies again [Beaniemania was slowly dying out at the end of the 90s]. Burger King was running with less steam in 1998. BK had Mr. Potato Head (post-Toy Story fame], Rugrats [a biggie for Millennials], Kids Club Bug Riders [Honey, I Shrunk the Kids toys], Men In Black The Animated Series [first ever Will Smith fast food toy sans mustache, if I'm not mistaken], Dreamworks Small Soldiers [failed Gremlins second attempt with toys], Nickel-O-Zone [it had a Burger King toy of a G.I. Joe ARAH toy from the 80s], Steven Spielberg Presents Toonsylvania [one of the first failed Animaniacs second attempts], and The Rugrats Movie [Nickelodeon's crack at trying to generate the worldwide box office gross that TMNT the movie had in 1990]. The Tamagotchi Keychain TOYZ were hands down one of the more iconic Happy Meal toys of the 90s. The blue light-up Tamagotchi on a different keyring was brought back as part of the 40th Anniversary Happy Meal toy promotion earlier this month, so there is no denying the power of Tamagotchi in the late 90s up through today.
Fun Fact: The Mal-Mart (McDonald's in Wal-Mart) Glowagotchi (pink egg with glow in the dark Tamatchi keychain) is ultra-rare.
Basically, in the 90s, Happy Meal toys became what we know Happy Meal toys to be today [small trinkets and Halloween pails]. By the year 1999, the first-ever Happy Meal promotion, the McWrist Wallets (wrist watch like wallets), from 1979 were old. No one in the 2000s could imagine receiving their steaming hot food in a neon green Ship Shape Happy Meal container like Xennials did in 1985. Small gimmicky toys were the wave of the future from 1989 onward, but there was a much stronger difference between the ones from 1989 and the ones from each year of the 90s. Some children of the 2000s [Generation Z] would agree with me when I said the Happy Meal toys from the 90s were a bit better than the toys from the 2000s and 2010s. Like with the time period, Happy Meal toys were wedged in between the 1980s way of doing things and the digital century way of doing things. Overall, '90s McDonald's with its non-styrofoam packaging, McLean Deluxe, McJordan meal, McKids video games, Triple Burger, Chicken Fajitas, McStuffins, McRib return, Triple-Double Burger, McHot Dog, The Arch Deluxe, Big-N-Tasty burger, Mulan Szechuan Sauce, Happy Meal boxes with the next promotion on the exterior part of the bottom, and McFlurry was less progressive than '80s McDonald's and even '00s McDonald's, but a good time for McDonald's Experimenters [Mulan Szechuan Sauce was brought back last year].
Most of the 90s and 2000s up to 2008 were the time for fans of Burger King Kid's Meal Packs [as they were known as when I was a child]. As much as I love Happy Meal toys sold from 1987 to 1992, the Super Mario Brothers 3 toys were the 'median' [math word] Happy Meal toys between the 1980s and today. The Super Mario Brothers 3 toys are my number one Happy Meal toys, even though I have a love and hate relationship with them to this day. Perhaps, it was the innocence of seeing the early 90s video game heroes at McDonald's or it was the bias I had for Disney's The Little Mermaid set as a male and a pre-teen. I have no idea, but it was 'so bad' (early 90s lingo) to re-create World 1-1 from Super Mario Brothers 3 with your Mario or Luigi toys. From a Xennial's perspective, the Super Mario Brothers 3 toys were the absolute peak of Happy Meal toys. Regardless of how many Super Mario sets McDonald's has released throughout this century, none of them were as lovable or 'early SMB fun-like' as the 1990 set. I could go on forever about the Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toys, but I'll save you. I surmise that Millennials speak about the Tamagotchi and Furby Happy Meal toys in the same way that I can't get over the SMB3 Happy Meal set, but you must agree that the SMB3 Happy Meal toys set the stage for the Tamagotchi, Furby, Robo-Chi Pets, and LCD handheld games made long after it.
Burger King may have beat out McDonald's in 1990 with the TMNT badges, TMNT videos, Beetlejuice The Animated Series toys, and Simpsons toys, but there were many degrees to the significance of the Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meals toys. At the end of the day, McDonald's was a distinguished fast food toy factory to Xennials from 1979 to early 1991 and those were the best years of the Happy Meal. The Early to Core Millennial Happy Meal age occurred in late 1991 and lasted until sometime in 2000 or 2001. McDonald's Happy Meal toys have been 'hit or miss' since 2002, but they have gotten better since 2008 at the same time. The current Happy Meal toys are to Disney's Frozen 2 and the next ones will be for Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker, so it makes me happy to know that McDonald's Happy Meal toymakers are on the right track again. A Super Mario Brothers 3 Happy Meal toy was not part of the recent 40th Anniversary of Happy Meals like it should have been because of how well the SMB3 toys sold in 1990. As awesome as SMB3 Happy Meal toys that came with bits of the SMB3 Happy Meal toy display would have been, I can say with confidence that there will never be a well-needed Happy Meal toy like Toy number one (Super Mario) of the SMB3 Happy Meal set ever again. Depending on who you ask, some pre-teens, teens, and children of the 90s will say that McDonald's shined through against Burger King in the 1990s with the SMB3, Tiny Toon Adventures Flip-Up Cars, the first Barbie or Hot Wheels, Batman Returns, Batman The Animated Series, Nickelodeon Happy Meal, the first Animaniacs, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, both Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers The Movie, Spiderman The Animated Series, Disney Masterpiece Collection, Space Jam, TY Beanie Babies, and Tamagotchi Keychain TOYZ sets. The SMB3 Happy Meal toy set obviously takes the cake as the '90s Happy Meal line that filled our heads with a sense of wonder.
I'm sorry about the lack of pictures for this article, Retro Junkers, but my computer could not get to the 2 of 2 stages for the transcoding process. I will re-upload this article sometime in the future with pictures of everything from the toys to the inserts that came with some toys.
Please let me know what your favorite 90s Happy Meal toy sets or toys are in the comments section. Also, what were your opinions on the sets released? Do you feel there should have been a Super Mario World Happy Meal set in 1991? You can even let me know what you thought of everything McDonald's in the 1990s.
I wish you all pleasant surprises and infinite happiness! Until next time, Retro Junkers! I'm off faster than Doc's Delorean from '92! Thanks for joining me for this installment of Happy Meal toy talk!