Matt Originally posted on 1/16/03.
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The McDonald's Cartoon
Holy crap, it's a cartoon Grimace! Holy crap, it's a cartoon Birdie! Holy crap, this toon blew.
The McDonald's Happy Meals were always a little hit or miss - sometimes kids would receive toys they liked even better than normal, store-bought figures. Other times, you'd get a plastic comb with Birdie's face imprinted on it. Still, there's no denying the importance of these toys. Children loved their greasy cheeseburgers, but cow meat simply isn't enough to make them beg Mommy and Daddy to make the pilgrimage to McDonaldland. A cool toy, on the other hand - now there's a reason to whine and cry like there's no tomorrow.
With that, it's the mid-80s, at the height of Prime and Megatron's popularity with their silly little Transformers show. McDonald's wanted summa dat action. But either because of Hasbro-resistance or a tight wallet, they didn't feel like actually making a deal to market TF toys with their Happy Meals. This wouldn't defer their cause, though. If they couldn't have real Autobots and Decepticons, they'd create fake ones using fry containers and hot cakes instead of semi-trucks and seeker jets. If they couldn't use the Transformers name, they'd grab a really dynamic thesaurus and coin the term 'Changeables.' If they couldn't get Starscream to help promote the new Happy Meal, they'd just film Grimace playing with an oversized fake Optimus Prime toy and hope for the best. Here's how the action unfolded...
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I've always pegged Grimace as the Ed McMahon to Ronald McDonald's Carson. He's terribly uninteresting and flaccid on his own, but that just serves to make Ronald appear fifty times more entertaining than a clown who likes milkshakes actually is. Grimace has few redeeming qualities - the one mark he's left on the world is supplying a universal voice people employ when trying to imitate a fat person. Come on, we've all done it. Think back to the last time you imitated somebody fat. Try to remember the voice you used. See? It's GRIMACE. It's been Grimace all along and you didn't even make the connection. I guess we've got to thank the big purple testicle for that, but on all other levels he's just a big lump of fuzzy crap who isn't even important enough to represent one of McDonald's popular foods.
If you're not good enough to even serve as a spokesperson for fast food pies, it's a pretty sad commentary on your standing in society. Still, Ronald seems to enjoy his company. Ronald also enjoys the company of giant birds wearing flight goggles, and also enjoys having conversations with his Chicken McNuggets before eating them. Screw that, he's a big freak just like Grimace. His only saving grace is that he's a little less reminiscent of a huge fluorescent pile of orangutan shit.
But he's got a new toy!!
Ronald thinks Grimace is just toting around a normal, everyday toy car. Not so! As Grimace demonstrates, the car magically transforms into a robot. The conversation is sure to leave out that crucial 'transform' word, because the last thing a cheeseburger restaurant needs is a lawsuit from a toy company. That aside, it's obviously meant to be one of those finagled Transformers, so if nothing else, at least Grimace had some taste.
The toy is pretty lacking, though. Look at it. It's more like a robot that hides inside a car than a robot that turns into one - I think Grimace got all his Christmas presents from a closeout store. As one final side note, I just wanted to mention that Grimace has surprisingly trim and shapely legs for a creature so enormously overweight. I guess cheeseburgers go straight to the ass and never further south. He's one lucky purple monster.
Ronald says that he can turn into something just like Grimace's toy car can. Our friendly gumdrop is skeptical, and asks for proof. Then Ronald turns around and walks into a McDonald's restaurant. See, he turned into McDonald's! OH HO HO HO HO HO MERRRRRY CHRISTMAS! Grimace giggles because that's what he's paid to do, but this was obviously a bad joke. And that's coming from me so you know it's really a bad joke. These commercials would've been so much more effective if Ronald played it straight. Show him sitting behind a desk, pointing to graphs detailing how much better McD's fries are than Burger King's. Just because he's dressed like a clown doesn't mean he needs to act like one all the time. After all, doesn't this guy collect money for kids with cancer? He's obviously got a little bit of the ol' maudlin in there somewhere.
By the way, this isn't the Ronald McDonald you see on the commercials these days - they seem to rotate new ones in every seven years or so. I'm not sure why that is; the only reason I can think of is how insane a person must get dressing like Ronald McDonald for a decade straight. I mean, there's gotta be some level of lunacy that comes with that. I can't wear orange shoelaces without feeling downright goofy - can you imagine going through life wearing cold cream all over your face and a red fright wig? Poor Ronald. Poor, insane Ronald. Anyway, here's the Happy Meal...
As far as Happy Meal toys go, there were few cooler than the Changeables. McDonald's really put their best efforts into these, and obviously, they weren't available anywhere else. The idea was simple - each type of McDonald's food was represented by a small plastic toy. The toys could then be manipulated to transform (there's that word again) into a colorful robot beast. The robots aren't too interesting, but the actual food figurines were incredible. They replicated the real thing quite well, almost to the point where some of them look like real miniature pancakes and soda. Yes, I'm overstating things. I just don't care.
The things were so neat, these Changeables are actually one of the only toys I've managed to keep with me since childhood. My favorite is the 'Hot Cakes' figure, who turns into some kind of purple android without legs. The thing is so realistic, it's got at least 50 chewmarks on it. Unfortunately, I only remember making around 20 of those chewmarks, so I'm kinda wary whenever I have the urge to pick it up without rubber gloves.
There were eight figures in all - everything from the McNuggets to the Big Mac was represented. The commercial mentions that two new ones were available every week, which is interesting since they take much longer with the toy rotations in today's McDonald's restaurants. I think that mostly has to do with the alarming amount of idiots like myself who'd actually go buy Happy Meals thinking that the toys will someday be valuable - nowadays, they try to string you along for as long as possible. Of course, almost no Happy Meal toy is valuable, even dating back to the much older ones.
Several years ago, McD's ran a promotion which gave away licensed, but smaller versions of Beanie Babies dolls. People went absolutely insane trying to collect these freebies - it got to the point where there were several news stories about the restaurants having to fire greedy employees who tried stealing boxes of the toys. Everyone and their grandmother swore that these Beanie Babies would end up being worth hundreds, but even today, few fetch more than a dollar. I'm not sure if there's a point to this little story, but if I had to dig deep and find one, it'd be this: don't expect to get rich hoarding Happy Meal toys. You won't get rich. Just fat.Really fat if you're the type who likes to super-size.
See? The robots kinda sucked. They aren't without some merits, though. When I was young - really young - there was one minor thing I couldn't stand about my Transformers toys. I could not, absolutely could not transform them. Sure, it's easy now. But when you're four-years-old and you've got fingers smaller than a post-op transsexual's dick in Week Two, they can be a menace. At least these Changeables were easy to transform. You just had to pull their heads out, and viola! Finished! It was the youth equivalent of completing a really intricate puzzle, but a little more fun since you got to manhandle plastic French fries.
Speaking of fries...
"Caution: May Contain Small Parts." Eh? What the hell - either it does or it doesn't! Make up your minds, indecisive goat-meat peddlers.
In truth, McDonald's really cornered the market as far as free toy giveaways go. No other fast food chain came close to their level of quality or attention to detail. Burger King, their main competitor, was more likely to give away paper crowns at this point. And I've got nothing against paper crowns, but those things can't hold a candle to a toy soda container that turns into Robocop.
Up above is a picture of all the Changeables in their robot forms - I particularly like the ice cream cone guy. But that's an opinion of bias because I really like ice cream. All in all, this was an admittedly terrific promotion that many people remember to this day. The Changeables, believe it or not, are still fairly easy to locate. Try eBay, or under the couch cushions of a family who hasn't bought new furniture for the past 15 years. Gotta give McDonald's some credit with this one, it was aces.
Don't take my word for it - click the picture below to download and watch the original ad spot. It's thirty seconds of Grimace and plastic hamburger toys. It's Heaven on Earth. Cough.
By the way, while they skirted copyright law with the Changeables, McDonald's would go on to team up with Hasbro for not one, but two different Happy Meal sets over the years. The first was for the discontinued but terrific Beast Wars series. The second came much more recently, for the stupid Transformers: Armada cartoon. Click here to read more about that one. As for the Changeables, a second series was released sometime later. Only this time, the food turned into dinosaurs instead of robots. Now you know the awful truth. Enjoy. Stay thin.