In a curio cabinet in my room, better suited for china figurines or silver serving dishes, sit three sets of plastic Barbie miniatures. While it may seem an odd – almost tacky – juxtaposition, these Barbies were a memorable part of my childhood. They were given out as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys around July/August each year. The fact that these Barbies were available during the summer meant that they often coincided with family road trips. Not only did we stop at McDonald’s for meals, but for snacks and rest stops. Sometimes, we just bought the Barbies without getting the Happy Meal to go with them. I was determined to collect them all.
All of the McDonald’s Barbies were based on actual Barbie dolls. The Happy Meal toys were a promotion for Mattel. Whenever Barbie toys were offered in Happy Meals, there was also a Hot Wheels option for boys. While Barbies were included in Happy Meals during the latter part of the ’90s and even (I believe) the early 2000s, I wanted to take a look back at the first three years of Barbie Happy Meal toys – the ‘golden years’ so to speak, that I remember best.
McDonald’s Barbies debuted in the summer of 1991. The variety of Barbies set a precedent for the next several years. Some Barbies wore short dresses, bathing suits, or casual clothes, while others wore fancy long dresses (one of which was a bride). There were always a few Barbie friends and/or non-white Barbies included in the mix to represent diversity. The Barbies’ clothes were obviously reflective of the styles of the era. The 1991 styles look like what we might think of now as typical of the 1980s. All American Barbie wears a side ponytail, slouchy socks, and high-top Reeboks. Lights and Lace Barbie wears a short pink ruffled dress, like something Madonna or Cyndi Lauper would have worn. Other Barbies from 1991 include Costume Ball Barbie, Happy Birthday Barbie, Hawaiian Fun Barbie, Wedding Day Midge, Ice Capades Barbie, and My First Barbie.
The 1991 figures were all plastic and about four inches tall. They did not bend or move. The 1992 figures remained the same, with some exceptions. Rollerblade Barbie (remember when rollerblading was so popular?) had tiny wheels on the base so that the figurine could roll. My First Ballerina Barbie was connected to a circular base so that she could spin. Snap ‘N Play Barbie had a short pink-and-lavender plastic dress that came off to reveal an orange tank top and blue miniskirt. Other Barbies that came out during the summer of 1992 included Sparkle Eyes Barbie, Rappin’ Rockin’ Barbie, Sun Sensation Barbie, Rose Bride Barbie, and Birthday Surprise Barbie.
The summer of 1993 marked a change of pace. In the commercial, a little girl walked up to the counter at McDonald’s and asked for a “totally cool friend” with real hair that she could style. “No problem!” exclaimed the server, and gave her a Happy Meal Barbie. That year, all eight McDonald’s Barbies really did have hair that you could style. Otherwise, the Barbies did not bend or move. The hair was the only thing that made them more like real Barbie dolls and less like figurines. The 1993 Barbies included: My First Ballerina Barbie, Hollywood Hair Barbie, Paint ‘N Dazzle Barbie, Western Stampin’ Barbie, Twinkle Lights Barbie, Romantic Bride Barbie, Birthday Party Barbie, and Secret Hearts Barbie.
While I did my best to collect all of the Barbies during the month that they were available, I wasn’t always able to do so. Some of my Barbies were acquired later at yard sales or consignment shops. Whatever the case, it made me happy to complete a set. It was a very satisfying feeling. Now, even though I no longer go to McDonalds, I still feel happy when I look at the curio cabinet in my room.