In the late 1970’s, a McDonald’s franchisee in Guatemala introduced the “Menu Ronald”, a child-oriented meal option that offered a hamburger, small fries and small sundae to help mothers feed their children more effectively. The idea caught the attention of company executives in the United States and, soon, the McDonald’s Happy Meal was born.
The Happy Meal has come to be a signature component of the McDonald’s empire, widely and easily recognizable for it’s familiar boxed appearance and its ever-coveted toy reward. Often used in collaboration with a marketing tie-in to help promote an upcoming movie or a product partnership, young Happy Meal purchasers have been treated to cool offerings like Beanie Babies, Hot Wheels cars and even Barbie dolls. The toy has been an effective, engaging, kid-pleasing part of the Happy Meal experience since 1979, providing an incentive to finish the rest of the meal.
In their infancy, at a time when the Happy Meal cost just 99 cents, the lameness of the toys befit the price of the meal. Initially, Happy Meal toy offerings were simply McDonald’s-based erasers, made to look like Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburglar and the rest of the group. Since then, the toys have evolved and grown more ambitious, with a since-disbanded 20-year partnership with Disney sparking a new focus on cool toys that kids might actually enjoy.
But not every Happy Meal toy quite hits the mark. Over the past 36 years of toy offerings, there have been plenty of duds along the way. As a general rule, Happy Meal toys have typically been at their best when tied in with a movie, TV show, game or any other form of marketing vehicle. Conversely, they struggle when McDonald’s is left to their own devices to determine what kids want. Without a tie-in, the toys seemed to be more poorly constructed, less interesting to kids and boast less play value.
On rare occasions, Happy Meal toy offerings have been nothing short of disastrous. In 2007, a Chicago area McDonald’s, ironically located just half an hour from the chain’s global headquarters, generated headlines when an eight-year-old girl found a bag of marijuana, along with a pipe and lighter, in her Happy Meal. Apparently a (soon-to-be ex) McDonald’s employee had deemed a stack of Happy Meal boxes near the drive-thru window to be a good storage space for his stash.
Fortunately, that was a one-off incident and not part of any controversial new McDonald’s marketing campaign. Instead, most of these 10 worst Happy Meal toys earn their place on the list thanks to poor design or quality, uninspired creativity or just a certain level of outright creepiness. While not as bad as drugs, it’s safe to say that these items probably weren’t put in front of young focus groups before being introduced, or else they likely wouldn’t have made it out of the development stage. Here are 10 toys that parents surely heard no shortage of complaints about on the way home from the golden arch