Memories of a McDonalds Happy Meal

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I have fond memories of the McDonald’s Happy Meals of my English childhood. Once upon a time, the nearest Mcdonald’s was in the middle of town, and a rare treat. But then a retail center was built, along with an Aldi, a shoe store, and a shiny new McDonald’s. Every Wednesday my grandmother would come for the day, and, if it was a particularly good toy month, we would all have Happy Meals for dinner. This meant that this only child would get four McDonald’s toys every week. This was especially important during the resurgence in popularity of the 101 Dalmatians movie. Between the regular Happy Meals and the trips to toy fairs with my dad’s collectibles business, I managed to amass 87 of the beloved pups, including the coveted turtle, though alas not the umbrella.

Image: Sarah Pinault

McDonald’s toys were a staple in our house. I loved and collected them. My dad loved and sold them at toy fairs across the country. Many of my childhood toys were abandoned, but the Dalmatians have stayed with me, through college, marriage, and a 3,000 mile move to a new country. Now they belong to my children, who use them as bath toys or extras in the movie trailers they like to create on their school iPads. They think it hilarious that we ate so many Happy Meals.

The toys these days don’t seem as good as the ones we had in the ’80s and early ’90s, but then I feel everything I remember is tainted by a good whitewash of nostalgia these days. Every so often they still manage to hit a home run, however, and right now they are knocking it out of the park combining two of our family’s loves: board games and putting cute faces on inanimate objects.

While my kids loved their stuffed characters from Soul last month, it is the Hasbro promotion that has stolen their hearts. We missed the Hasbro promotion of 2018, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to miss this one, especially with such glorious games on offer. The current promotion includes Hungry Hungry Hippos, Operation, Monopoly, Battleship, Trouble, Twister, and Connect Four.

Image: Mcdonalds

My Happy Meal game is not strong in this country, however. Back in the UK my family and I had it down to a fine art. Which toys were appearing in which week. Which day they switched to the next line. Even which McDonald’s was lackadaisical with its approach, where you might sneak next week’s toy in advance, make a switch, or even simply ask for two! Over here I am at the whim of the fast-food gods.

Generally, we have been going to our nearest location, but they are highly inconsistent with their toys. More often than not we find ourselves not with the latest and greatest, but with a stuffed toy from Finding Dory. At last count, we have had seven of Dory alone. After successfully obtaining the Monopoly toy a few weeks back, we have settled on the mall-adjacent location as our best plan of attack. A mere few minutes further than our regular location, we believe that the high traffic of the location caused by proximity to the mall will cause it to be the most consistent, up to date, and well-stocked of the southern Maine locations. Our first trip as a group yielded Hungry Hungry Hippos, our second The Game of Life. On our third visit we decided to try something out and ordered seven Happy Meals for my three children, we ended up with seven Operation toys. This actually works out well for us, since we immediately lost three of them.

Image: Sarah Pinault

Now I begin to stretch the bartering muscles I inherited from my mother. Can we have three different toys please? Can we have something other than Hungry Hungry Hippos? What toys do you currently have? Can we switch this toy for something else, please? Thus far we have been unsuccessful, and have been told that each location only carries one toy at a time. While part of me knows (or wishes) this to be a fallacy, the fast-food gods, for now, seem to be against me. Perhaps once this promotion is over we will return to our prior location and find we are given excess Hasbro toys instead of those from Finding Dory.

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