It started with an essay. Well, more like an “essay.”

Over at The Allspark, Defunct said a few words about recent McDonald’s Happy Meal offerings, namely Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Myself, not without any lack of memories of good times(taste disputed) at McDonald’s, added a few words of my own.

Ah, Happy Meal toys. Many a fond memory. Though, Wendy’s has produced some fine materials there, too.

I remember some early favorites, like Muppet Babies. They were these figures of Gonzo, Fozzy, Kermit, and Piggy that had vehicles they could switch with each other, and the Happy Meal boxes came with dress-up “imagination” props and scenery, so you could take Fozzy and his wheeled horse, put some knight armor and decorations on it, and have it ride around a castle.

A couple of years later, they followed that one up with a similar Garfield line, that had Garfield in different outfits with different vehicles. And I think they were even compatible with the Muppet Baby ones. It was good to have an actual Garfield toy that wasn’t plush or part of some greeting card promotion.

Another fave was based on the CBS Back To The Future cartoon. Even if the toon wasn’t as good as the movies… hey, BTTF toys! Marty on his hoverboard(meh), Einstein in a sparkly-plastic time-train(Ok, I guess), Jules and Verne in a God-Knows-What(which was actually pretty damn cool), and the true prize: Doc Brown in the Delorean time machine. Better than that, it was friction-powered, and when you got it going, the transparent time-stuff on the back of the car had sparks shooting through it. Yeah, it lacked flight mode, but what kid wouldn’t just pretend and zoom it around in the air with the wheels down, anyway?

The big one for me came with Super Mario Bros. 3. I went abso-hugging-lutely nuts when I first saw the commercial for it. My family was on vacation, too, so that made things easier than normal for the time, too; no “we have food at home” excuse, at least for that first week.

There were four main toys: Racoon Mario with spring-loaded jumping action, pull-back Luigi on a cloud and clutching a star, a flipping Little Goomba, and a hopping Koopa Paratroopa.

So not only were there these honest-to-goodness toys on Mario, but they were easy to obtain, too. It was something that mystified me about Mario and the whole Nintendo craze back then: all that merchandising, but no real action figures. The closest they really had were these figurines, which served the purpose well enough, I suppose, but you know.

(True story: with the Mario 3 toon on TV as a kid, I wanted toys bad enough to make these little paper cut-outs of the main cast and some enemies, as well as Koopa’s castle and a Doomship, stapled them onto some thin cardboard, and acted out adventures.)

Racoon Mario was alright. In actuality, I had recently gotten another Mario spring toy just like it, only with the colors swapped(Mario used to have red overalls, you know) and no Racoon gear. I also had a green Koopa Paratroopa like it. If you’ve seen the little figurine(I don’t mean the Hasbro trophies) of Mario stomping a green Koopa Troopa, the Paratroopa looked like that, but with wings).

Luigi was ok, pull-back-and-go toys have never been quite my thing. The ones I wanted most were Little Goomba(I got at least two) and the Koopa Paratroopa. Those were different. And better yet, they acted as regular toys free of their gimmicks, if you so chose. While Mario had a springboard coming out of his butt, and Luigi was permanently stuck on his cloud, Goomba’s spring was internal, and Koopa Paratroopa’s air-pump was removable.

Of course, on my first visit, I got a nice surprise. In trying to find out if they had any of the other toys(Mario is what I got), I found out there was a fifth, UNadvertised toy: a Racoon Mario finger puppet, which became my main Mario “inaction” figure. Every now and again, I might pull out springy Mario for the heck of it, but this, ironically, was my main Mario. It was HE who fought the Koopas and Goombas most of the time.

I wish I could’ve gotten the backdrop for the McD’s display, and some of the promotional stuff they had hanging around. Love that stuff. Maybe someday.

You can imagine my disappointment when there was no Super Mario World Happy Meal, or Super Mario Land 2. But, there was something else which came along in its eventual stead: Sonic the Hedgehog 3.

So wow, not only did we have Sonic arrive, but same game number as well. It produced some neat toys: a running Sonic who launched from a burst of orange plastic flame, a flying helicoptor Tails, a wind-up racing Robotnik in his Eggmobile(AoStH version), and Knuckles, who spun around as you pushed him with his dust-cloud base.

Don’t think I ever got Tails, but Sonic was decent. I didn’t get the others until sometime later at Goodwill, Robotnik was cool, but my favorite was Knuckles.

A neat one I enjoyed was the DC/Looney Tunes Happy Meals. Looney Tunes figures that had snap-on DC Comics costumes. Bugs was Superman, Daffy was Batman, Taz was The Flash, and Petunia Pig as Wonder Woman.

Back in the day, there was also a pretty cool Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie deal going. While the Happy Meal had some neat little doo-dads, like a morpher with the new Power Coins and such, sold seperately were Ranger figures with Ninjazord Vehicles. The only one I went out of my way to get was the White Ranger, though I got some other pieces through eBay toy lots years later. Still, a White Ranger toy I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for, that was cool.

Speaking of cool, something some people don’t know about these toys is that often, McDonald’s or whoever will sell them alone, though the price varies by location, usually from a dollar to a buck fifty to two dollars. Me, I’d just buy one meal to get the food, drink, and toy for cheap, and buy whatever else was available seperate.

This has come in handy, such as with the Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue toys. 6 Ranger figures in 6 Zord cases that could combine to make a big-ass Megazord. It wasn’t from the show, but cool all the same. Plus, Rail Rescues that had the individual vehicles inside, and could connect to form a long-ass train.

And I’m sure everyone here remembers the TransFormers: Armada Happy Meal(to say nothing of McDonald’s own robots). Unable to get work(wasn’t legally allowed to work in Canada yet), I was at least able to get some cheap TransFormers love with these.

The Autobots were ok, and sort of employed early-on the idea of Autobots combining that would be brought to bear in Energon. But the Decepticons had the cool toys. They just looked better in both modes than the Autobots, and combined to make a big vehicle, something not done as much, it seems. Even if the vehicle was something of a train-wreck, it was still a far cry better than the Autobot Spirit Squad Pyramid of Doom.

I think my favorite was Starscream, as he was not only a Jumpstarter(my first TF ever was Twin Twist), but he had just the kind of look I needed to base my characters’ ship off of in a MegaMan Legends RPG.

Anyone remember the Inspector Gadget movie? I never got to see it, but I got all the Happy Meal toys… must’ve been like a dozen(8, actually). They each were a different gadget that did different things, like maybe squirt water of have a magnifying glass… I don’t remember, exactly. What I DO remember, however, is that you could put them all together to make a big-ass Inspector Gadget figure, sort of reminiscient of the old Gadget figure they released back in the 80s, which did all sorts of things.

Abroad, Happy Meal toys still rock, even if we don’t get them here. I really wish we’d gotten the European TransFormers Energon toys, or the Japanese Rockman.EXE toys. Serious rockage there. The latter especially disappoints me.

And while we seem to agree that McDonald’s Happy Meal toys are the undisputed king(haven’t even touched on Disney Afternoon or SEGA mini video games), it’s not without its challengers.

Burger King has had some neat promotions go on that have been cool through sheer quantity, such as their initial(and controversial) Pokemon explosion, with the bags that you couldn’t really tell what was in them, unless you cracked the system(I believe each bag had a code number on it that identified it). They also had the more recent Star Wars Super-Ds, covering all manner of characters and vehicles.

BK also had those neat golden Pokemon cards in the fancy Pokeball display holders.

Before Burger King got their hands on Pokemon, KFC had a neat promotion with Pokemon beanies plush, and not the obvious ones, either. Dratini, Seel, Zubat, and Vulpix were the more obscure Pokemon used for this.

After moving to Canada, I did have a bout of good fortune thanks to Wendy’s. Remember how I was saddened that McDonald’s never followed up on Mario? Well, Wendy’s sure did, not once, but TWICE. And not only did they do Mario stuff, they did it WAY better in some cases. I’ll always love the McD Goomba and Paratroopa, but Luigi on a cloud? Trumped by Mario in his Mario Kart, or even the Double Dash one later(though by all rights, that one lacked Luigi on the back. Shame)

There were some plush Mario, a Mario parachute, various games… but the king? While McDonald’s had the springy Mario and a finger puppet, Wendy’s brought a Super Mario ACTION FIGURE. I’ve no idea why Wendy’s did this, I’m sure there’s something somewhere that says it never should have happened, but they released a full-blown Mario action figure in their kid’s meal. Five points of articulation, and even a blister card, inside the plastic bag, inside the food bag. Great sculpt, solid as a rock, absolutely great. It should have been on a peg at TRU or Wal-mart, but instead was given away with the food they sell at Wendy’s. FTW.

You can see one set here.

Wendy’s also had some neat stuff for Garfield: The Movie, but I’m sure no one cares… ??;;

LBD “Nytetrayn”