I was looking at last year’s entry for September 13 in Triumphs & Tribulations and around this time a year ago, my sister and niece visited us for a couple of weeks. It was heartwarming to spend time with some extensive time with Kennedi. Hearing her say “Hey Uncle AnJuan” in her excited voice when I walked into the door with Ashton after a day of work drove me into a different gear. She was always so happy when I was around her. During their visit last year, I put my longstanding boycott of McDonald’s in America aside and bought her a Happy Meal. When she opened the little box, she was very eager to see the toy. While she was absolutely in awe of the Princess Peach block spinner, I remember being a bit disappointed. From my vantage, it was whack…a far cry from the Happy Meal toys I got when I was her age. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.
How I first came across this moment? I’m pretty sure I came across the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys in 1986 or 1987, at the earliest. I’ll have to ask my mother and father about that. As far as I can remember, my first toy was the Hamburglar in November 1989. My wonderful Grandma Sallie got me a Happy Meal for being a tough boy after getting my foot ran over and that was in the box alongside my hamburger and fries.
What it meant to me then? Getting a Happy Meal toy was a big deal back then in the early 90s. When I played with friends, we compared the toys we had in our respective collections. Sometimes, we even traded toys. I was big into the McRobots series. I once traded a Mayor McCheese pull-back toy racer for the Chicken McNuggets box robot, which I had been hoping to get for at least a year to finish out the collection from the series. In hindsight, that was probably one of the best trades I’ve ever made in my life…both sides ended up with one of the best Happy Meal toys ever.
What it means to me now? The toy that Kennedi got with her Happy Meal last year was a bit of a letdown for me. No offense to Princess Peach as she represents a classic in gaming history as a part of the Super Mario franchise—a future Flashback Friday moment, for sure—but it doesn’t compare to the legacy offerings. The toys offered alongside Happy Meals from the late 80s to the mid-90s are probably the best toys ever offered alongside a kids meal. It was a different vibe if you got one of the McRobots or one of the characters from McDonaldland…especially the Fry Kids or Grimace. I don’t rock with Mickey D’s enough today to buy Happy Meals from them. Getting one for Kennedi was a simple one-off. When Ashton comes of age, I’ll tell him about the boycott, why I won’t buy him a Happy Meal, and why he won’t get the toys that come with them. But I will look to eBay and Etsy and other niche retailers to acquire some of the legacy toys. I do think it would be cool if he had the old stuff so that he can feel what I felt about them.