Just when I thought I’d never decide on something to write tonight, Matt over at Dinosaur Dracula comes through. Plus, with the recent release of Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 on Wii U’s Virtual Console, I’m not sure there could be a better time for this.

His latest piece, “The best McDonald’s collectibles on eBay,” speaks to me on multiple levels. One is that I love “Fast Food Culture,” of course, and another is that one of those items is none other than the display case used to show off the Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal toys released in 1990.

My full thoughts on everything in the article can be found in the comments section there, but I wanted to expand on my thoughts regarding the Super Mario Bros. 3 display here.


When the Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal first came out, I was immediately obsessed with having the entire set. Fortunately for me, we were at the beach when they hit, so getting the first few was easy (though I’m sure my parents would have liked more meals somewhere nicer than McDonald’s).

I got Mario and Luigi right away, and while the spring-powered Raccoon Mario was neat, I’d already just gotten a non-Raccoon Mario almost exactly like it (along with a green Koopa Paratroopa) just before it on literally the same trip (along with some other Applause figurines that used the same/similar sculpting), and while having some sort of Luigi was cool, my eyes were mainly on the flipping Little Goomba and the hopping Koopa Paratroopa. Their gimmicks were cool, but even without them, they were suitable enough for action figure-style purposes — as was the “Under-3″ Raccoon Mario finger puppet (not shown, but granted upon request), which was my overall favorite of the lot.

Here’s the thing: in the late 80’s, “Nintendo Mania” was frickin’ huge, and there was all kinds of merchandise everywhere. Not unlike today, really, except that now it feels a lot more casual. However, for all the plush, the figurines, the bedspreads, the ice cream sandwiches, the cartoons, and now the Happy Meal… there was little to nothing in the way of action figures.

No poseable Mario, no vehicles, none of that. In fact, there wouldn’t be any until Ertl’s 1993 toy line based on the Super Mario Bros. movie. Now I love that movie to death, but even I recognized that’s really not the way to enter the action figure arena. Mario wouldn’t return to poseable plastic pieces until Toy Biz’s Mario Kart 64 line, and today? There’s more than I could imagine back then — or afford now.

So yeah, pickings were slim, and so I made do with whatever I could. At one point, I even drew my own “figures” based on the whole cast of DiC’s The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 cartoon, plus Castle Koopa, the Doomship, and even those little mini-Doomships used in the episode “True Colors.” (Sadly, those were all probably disposed of when my dad moved out of his old house and left most of what was there to whoever bought it — people I think I hate now for never getting back to me after I called about getting my stuff.)

Anyway, there was more than just the figures — there were television commercials (of course), and decorations all over the restaurants. For the most part, it was cut-outs of different Super Mario Bros. 3 stock art, as well as tray liners/placemats (featuring a pic of King Koopa from the cartoons colored like Bowser from the games), Happy Meal boxes, and of course, the display seen at the top of this article.

I wanted it all, but unfortunately, the world had other ideas in mind. I tried, believe you me, but while I still have all the toys (times two for the Little Goomba and Koopa Paratroopa), all their inserts, and possibly the tray liner, my parents wouldn’t let me keep the Happy Meal boxes due to the grease inside from where the food had been (it really wasn’t that bad), while the restaurants we visited denied me the cut-outs and, worst of all, the display case.

In a world devoid of any sort of action figure-styled goodness for Super Mario Bros., one where the McDonald’s toys made up a good chunk of the best you could hope to get, the display — a loose recreation of the Super Mario Bros. 3 title screen with a pipe added — was basically the playset of the piece. Masters of the Universe had Castle Grayskull, ThunderCats had the Cats Lair, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had the Sewer Playset, and so on, and for Mario? We had this.

Except, you know, the vast majority of us who didn’t. In that regard, it probably skewed closer to the nigh-impossible-to-get-unless-you’re-that-kid status of TransformersFortress Maximus or G.I. Joe‘s U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier. Of course, those were rarely had due to their sheer size (two feet and 7.5 feet, respectively) and the cost associated, rather than the rarity involved with getting fast food management to part with their assets.

SMB3 1990 Happy Meal Toys

Me being me, I made do with what I had, and what I had were the aforementioned inserts that came with the Happy Meal toys. While not usable as a playset or even a backdrop, each provided a little bit of information about the character they came with, and the Little Goomba and Koopa Paratroopa’s were particularly fascinating to me. While Mario and Luigi had the usual “heroes who help when needed” spiel, the Paratroopa’s revealed that the reason they fly/hop around so aimlessly is due to poor eyesight, while the Goombas are surly and rebelled against the Mushroom Kingdom because — and this is brilliant — they keep messy houses and are disgruntled because no one ever comes to their parties.

Hardly the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but it expanded the world of Mario just that little bit more, and I ate it up. I don’t know if the bios came from Nintendo of America and the same sort of style guides that gave us this, but regardless, it’s out there.

Anyway, I took that and ran with it. It wasn’t much, but before I was emboldened enough to make my paper cut-out “figures” (which were colored by marker and then stapled to cardboard taken from the backs of notebooks for sturdiness), I made my own backdrop of a Goomba’s Toad House (“Goom House”?) with a sign out front saying that they were having a party, and everyanyone was welcome. That, and I also occasionally repurposed the Sewer Playset’s green pipes towards this end.

I don’t know if I still have the house today, but even though there are many much better, more playable Mario toys today, I still have the full set of Happy Meal toys and hold them near and dear to my heart. Of course, I also have some of those newer toys, and maybe I should talk about some of those soon.

Or maybe I could talk about the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 Happy Meal sometime instead?


Update: It wasn’t planned this way, but I’ve managed something of a follow-up to this article, which you can read here.

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.


  • Charles-Emmanuel Ouellette

    Lovely story. They’re something fun about those Happy Toys linked to family meals on the go, vacation and childhood.
    I have fond memory of the Changeables Transformers like toys and those Super Mario’s ones. I was on the tail end days of actually playing with my action figures (the last ones I played with were from the Dick Tracy movie by Playmate toys) but I remember being happy to have actual, physical representation of those video games I liked so much. There was something charming at having them step out of the TV screen, because as you say, figures featuring those plumbers guys and critters were pretty scarce in those days! I also love that they features the early designs with color overall and blue shirts for the Mario Bros, back when their look changed a bit at every games before settling out.
    And indeed those “bios” trivia were cute, as this whole universe is. Even do those character fall into bottomless pits, throw hammers and fireballs at each other they’re always an angle of joyful, cutesy challenges where’s they’re no real treat, just big fun adventures and mayhem!

  • Nehemiah Zamora