If there were something kids in the 1970s through to the early 2000s looked forward to, it was the trip to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. The scent of the paper wrappers, the conversations, the laughter…
Beyond stuffing ourselves with gloriously greasy chicken nuggets and piping hot fries—without worrying about calories—we looked forward to what cool trinket we’d find inside the cheerful red and yellow box.
Are you smiling yet? Come relive those memories with us as we explore 10 of the most nostalgic McDonald’s Happy Meal toys ever.
10 Grimace, Hamburglar, & Birdie (1979)
Yes, we know, Ronald McDonald always looked like something from a creepy movie, and that cup on his nose… We were definitely relieved when McDonald’s introduced Grimace, the affable monster, Hamburglar, the burger hoarder, and Birdie, the girly early bird, to take the edge off.
The three popular figurines released in 1979 have made a nostalgic comeback targeting adults in 2022 through a limited edition collaboration with Cactus Plant Flea Market. The Adult Happy Meal (aimed at the ’70s and ’80s, well, and maybe ’90s kids) will also include a new figure-Cactus Buddy.
There is an unmistakable twist to these figurines, though. They now spot two sets of eyes, which is creepy, but nothing new if you’re familiar with McDonald’s Happy Meals. Fans who are eager to relive their childhood have come out in droves to snag these meal boxes before it’s too late.
We’re never too old to enjoy a Happy Meal, especially if it includes some of our beloved but mostly forgotten character toys.
9 Hot Wheels (1983)
Back in the day, toy cars were a favorite. We raced them at home, in the car, and just about every place our parents took us. So you can imagine how awesome it felt getting a brand-new toy car for free, along with a delightful lunch.
McDonald’s partnered with Mattel to offer a collection of 14 quality metal cars in different colors and shapes. You could find ambulances, police cars, and race cars to keep you on the fast lane at the restaurant or in your car as you left the drive-thru.
In later years, McDonald’s conjured their own car designs and distributed those instead. These cars were made of cheaper plastic bodies but were cool nonetheless.
If you remember, Happy Meal toys depended on whether you requested “boy” or “girl” toys. The boys got the Hot Wheels cars meal box, while the girls received the Barbie doll meal box. Of course, that has changed now, and kids can choose whatever toy they like.
8 Ghostbusters (1984)
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood… who you gonna call? Who can forget that catchy Ghostbusters theme song? And to imagine that your next meal included all the RGB TV show characters was blissful.
Behold, Staypuft the sharpener, Slimer pencil topper, Ghostbusters pencil, a ghost-shaped notepad, and pencil pouch were just one part. The boxes contained a bonanza of fun-filled games and activities to fill your day.
My favorite Happy Meal Box had an “Ecto’s Defectos” puzzle on one side, and I needed to name everything wrong with Ecto-1. I’m certain we mostly thought about the ghost settled in the driver’s seat, yet the car also had a flat tire, broken light, and a missing door. No, I didn’t forget the busted bumper.
On the other side of the box, the “Bedtime Surprise” activity was the quickest ever. All you needed to do was match the ghosts (all set to surprise our friends) to their slime trails.
The “Total Confusion” puzzle had these distinct-looking but weirdly shaped ghosts trapped in an Ecto-Containment Unit. Your job was to count them, and if you found all 13, hurray.
Last was the Ghostbusted jigsaw puzzle, where Slimer, unfortunately, broke into little pieces thanks to Egon’s ghost net. Reassembling Slimer meant popping out all his parts which caused major damage to your box, but it was worth it.
Other boxes had different activities to keep you delighted as you dug into your deliciously greasy fries.
7 Transformers/My Little Pony (1985)
So back then, a perfect Happy Meal allowed boys to add a Transformer character to their collection while girls could show off their My Little Pony Charms.
Transformers figurines included Cliffjumper, my favorite Bumblebee, Brawn, and Gears, while Blossom, Butterscotch, the all-too-cute Snuzzle, Minty, purple-haired Blue Belle, and Cotton Candy completed the My Little Pony Charms set. The toys were so popular that they spawned addictive animated series and movies.
Moving into 1996, McDonald’s added five different toys to their Transformers Happy Meal line to aggrandize the Beast Wars cartoon. These characters comprised Beetle, MantaRay, Rhino, Panther, and an under-3 toy.
The franchise distributed two meal cardboard boxes—one featured punch-out cards of Optimus Prime and other heroes, while the other box had punch-outs of Megatron and his villain partners.
My Little Pony’s ’97 collection had kids wowed with turnable heads, brushable tails, and intricate decals. While girls mostly clipped the original toys to their back pockets, the design evolved beautifully to make them even more playable toys.
6 Changeables (1987)
With the Transformer toys being such a hit among kids, McDonald’s decided to create its own version: the Changeables.
So what typically passed for an ice cream cone, fries, burgers, Egg McMuffin, Chicken McNuggets, and hotcakes were robots, dinosaurs, and many other creatures. You just needed to unfold these food items, and voila! You’d be off to whatever world-changing rescue mission you imagined.
The ’87 wave of Changeables didn’t have much of a story going, save for a couple of jokes on the box, but McDonald’s did come up with lore in ’89.
The Munchoids (food thieves) were intent on stealing every Happy Meal from Earth. It became the Changeables’ mission to stop them. So, Fry, the robot, had this idea where the Changeables would shrink down to cross the galaxy and arrive on Earth, where they would duplicate themselves so every kid would have one.
And they did just that.
5 Fraggle Rock Toys (1988)
Muppets aside, the Fraggle Rock series was a winner. For an early ’80s musical fantasy show, it was artistic, silly, downright raucous, and appealed to all ages.
McDonald’s saw the opportunity and jumped right in. This particular meal box contained one of four characters: Gobo in an orange carrot car, Mokey doing her thing in a purple eggplant car, Red in a red radish car (red has always been a thing), and the duo Wembley and Boober in a shared green cucumber car. Weird how Boober was facing the wrong way. He probably lost the toss and was mad about it.
With choking possibilities, kids under 3 received Gobo holding a carrot or Red with a radish in his hand.
I always wondered why the Fraggles drove veggie cars. Perhaps, they were trying to inspire us to eat our vegetables. Or were they predicting a future where we would replace our gasoline-powered cars with eco-friendly vegetable-powered ones…?
4 Super Mario Bros. (1990)
By now, the ’70s and ’80s kids were older, Nintendo video games were the thing, and we were gobbling up every available game, including Super Mario Bros. 3.
We weren’t even done talking about the Super Mario Bros. 3 game when McDonald’s introduced its characters. Our interest in getting these toys was beyond casual; it was absolute—like we had to get those characters.
The original set comprised four characters, well, five if you count the stoic Racoon Mario designed purely for younger kids. Jumping Mario had this spring-loaded doohickey that let him fly while Luigi held on to a starman as he sat on his pull-back cloud car. A bouncing Koopa Paratroopa and somersaulting Little Goomba rounded things off.
We all had a favorite figure, but there really wasn’t a bad one. You just needed to figure out how to work them into your action figure adventures without them jumping off and away.
3 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1995)
McDonald’s has never shied from partnering with popular TV shows or movies, so it was an absolute thrill when they released MMPR Happy Meal toys just as the MMPR movie premiered.
Lunch or dinner now included cool Power Ranger devices like the “Power Siren” and “Alien Detectors.” You could also chance upon the “Power Com,” or if you were lucky, the “PowerMorpher Buckle.”
The actual Power Ranger figurines, complete with Zord merch, were available at McDonald’s, but you purchased them separately. These figurines were pretty well made (even by today’s standards) and resembled their TV counterparts. The perfect collection for kids in the ‘90s.
2 Teenie Beanie Babies (1997)
We remember the Beanie Babies craze more than we do the toys. Or maybe we remember everything and still have our favorite collection tucked somewhere in the back of the closet or the attic.
Those squishy, cuddly, irresistibly adorable bean-filled toys had kids, parents, and grandparents clamoring for one or all of them. It was so bad that fights even broke out at multiple McDonald’s locations.
McDonald’s partnership with Ty Inc. was such that new beanies would be introduced yearly at the former’s locations until 2000.
The 1997 set contained 10 Beanies that included Patti platypus, Chops the lamb (I doubt that name would fly today), Pinky flamingo, Chocolate moose, Snort the bull, Goldie goldfish, Seamore the seal, Speedy turtle, Quacks the duck, and Lizz lizard.
While we all had our favorites, popular Beanies in the 1998 set included Doby dog, Inch Worm, Pinchers Lobster, and Bongo monkey. And 1999 saw Freckles the leopard warm our hearts along with Chip the cat, Strut Rooster, and Nuts squirrel.
If you were still interested in Happy Meal Beanies, you found that the critters were now grouped as “Pet Pals,” “Garden Bunch,” “At the Zoo,” and “Under the Sea.” And let’s not forget Libearty Bear.
So even though the internet screams about the “worthlessness” of these pocket-sized Beanie babies today, we know that they hold an invaluable spot in our hearts.
1 Mini Furbies (1999)
Furby toys were an overnight sensation in the ‘90s, and McDonald’s jumped on the bandwagon by creating Mini Furbies for their Happy Meals.
McDonald’s tweaked the original toys’ design, so their eyes didn’t stare at you creepily. Yup, Mini Furbies blinked and could move their ears. Still, their eyes were gigantically creepy (there’s no moving away from that), and their ears remained batlike. At least the Mini Furbies didn’t talk to you in the middle of the night (unlike their larger cousins), or you would have blasted through the walls in fright.
Perhaps the “horror feel” they inspired in us drew us to them… I wonder if they have been spying on us all this time and will wake up one day and take over the world…
Anyway, the 1999 figures were 80 in total. So if you were a die-hard fan, you probably went in search of all eight series that contained ten mini Furbies each.
In 2000, McDonald’s introduced 12 mini Furby stuffed keychains based on the 1998 Furby toys. Okay, so maybe these didn’t look too shabby, and they had names too if you can recall—Diamondback Snake, Elephant, Cow, Lamb, Giraffe, Tiger, Fox, Raccoon, Monkey, Owl, Tree Frog, and Dinosaur.