The Happy Meal was introduced in 1979, the brainchild of an ad exec working for McDonalds and wanting to capitalize on the then-new success of the drive-through window. Early Happy Meals were pretty lame affairs, but they were only 99 cents too. And the toy wasn't actually that bad -- sure, they were just McDonaldland erasers: Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, and the rest all done up sort of in M.U.S.C.L.E. style -- but that in itself kicks all sorts of ass over the crap that Happy Meals would try to foist on kids later.
Over time, the idea grew into not just a kid-magnet, but a goldmine of cross-promotion--the first movie tie-in was with Star Trek: The Movie, and while the movie sort of tanked, the toys did pretty well. That led to a focus on more of the same, and once Disney bought in? Game over. The fact is that it's the tie-in stuff that mostly rocks -- when McDonalds was left to their own devices, the quality of the toys dipped dramatically, and so did the play value. (And as this list will show, even the tie-ins sometimes went wrong.) These, then, are the toys that kids complained about from the back seat.
10) The Plastic Glove Puppet
It sounds obscene, I know. And it sort of was, for those kids subjected to this early Happy Meal "prize," usually given out when a store had run out of their allotment of the real Happy Meal toy. Sure, it had Ronald McDonald printed on it, but is that supposed to make you feel better? Combine the baseline lameness of getting this thing as a "prize" with the apparently dark ages of graphic design, in which characters just look too fucking scary for words.
9) McDonaldland Airport
This is a good example of how Happy Meal toys sort of suck when they're about McDonalds. These things look like they belong in cereal boxes, and even then, they'd be a serious disappointment. Toy quality aside, did anyone ever know anyone who actually liked most of the McDonaldland characters as kids? They were there, and they were fine, and once in a while, you might feel sorry for Grimace or something, but that's more or less where the emotional tie ended. How many kids really wanted a Birdie in a Biplane?
8) Clone Wars
This is a good example of how movie tie-ins can go wrong; by supporting semi-collectible pieces of crap that kids don't care about, and are too stupid-looking to really be popular with older fans. This Clone Wars line was just a stupid idea, with virtually no play value. Giant heads erupting from tiny vehicles -- these are not two great tastes that taste greater. Instead of peanut butter and chocolate, they ended up with something closer to peanut butter and gasoline. As a side note, this also marks the four-hundred and eighty-sixth time that Chewbacca has been completely screwed by the Star Wars franchise. He gets an Imperial Scout Walker? Seriously, give a Wookie a break.
7) E.T. Posters, Round Two
Posters aren't necessarily bad things for kids prizes -- kids like to decorate their room with ridiculous shit just like the rest of us. But a poster that comes in a Happy Meal? Yeah, that sounds like trouble. First, it's going to come all folded up, and second, it's going to sit next to the fries and soak up grease. But all in all, not the worst prize--at least the first time around. See, McDonalds did this promotion twice -- first when E.T. was actually in theaters, which makes sense. And then again three years later, in 1985. When it made no sense at all. Unless you consider that McDonalds probably had a shit-ton of leftover posters in a warehouse someplace.
6) Madame Alexander "OZ" Dolls
Okay, first, I have to officially lodge a protest that there are kids dolls that are produced by a company called "Madame Alexander," who frankly sounds like an old-west whore. That said, the 2008 marriage of Ronald McDonald and Madame Alexander just sounds like some sort of garishly colored fake-baby clown funeral. Most horrifying is that this wave was all based on The Wizard of Oz (exactly why is unclear -- it's not like Oz suddenly became at all relevant in 2008) -- and it hit its nadir in this evil winged monkey baby. First off, this is where cross-marketing goes completely off the rails. Second, this thing is just utterly terrifying. The flying monkeys from Oz have seriously creeped out kids for years; sticking a baby-version in a plastic baggie (looking for all the world like it suffocated and died in there) just ups the horror. Here, have a nightmare with your McNuggets, kid. When we get home, maybe I'll let you watch Saw while I have sex with your Mom.