February 21st, 2013
by John Hambrock
About 10 years ago, Anne and I were cleaning out the basement and were shocked to discover two large, forgotten bins of kid’s meal toys. What we found so disturbing was not the huge number of toys each bin contained, but that each toy represented a kid’s meal we had stuffed into each of our three children.
I remember when it started for us. Our oldest son was just a toddler when Disney’s “Aladdin” came out. McDonalds introduced a series of Happy Meal toys based on the Aladdin characters. They were great toys, not too big or complicated, and each one did something really cool. But as movie tie-ins became more popular, the toys got bigger, more elaborate, and the number of pieces needed to complete a “set” increased. I remember when the “Inspector Gadget” movie was released. It started what I consider to be the ultimate kid’s meal nightmare. To build the entire Inspector Gadget action figure, you needed EVERY piece. If you missed eating out one week, it meant not getting his arm, or his leg, or torso, or whatever. So, if you started collecting pieces during week one, you were committed to stuffing your kids full of burgers, fries, and sodas until the figure was complete. We managed to get every piece of Inspector Gadget except his right leg. Our two boys had each been faithfully collecting the pieces, and they quickly figured out that if they combined their legs they’d have one complete, mutant figure with two left feet. He looked pretty stupid, but at least he could stand. I only discovered years later that I could’ve just walked in to the restaurtant, bought that week’s toy, and left without having to purchase the food.
One memorable evening, as we were standing in line at a McDonalds, an irate older woman walked up to the counter (past all of us waiting patiently in line) and asked the poor young employee if he had any more of a particular “Beanie Baby” Happy Meal Toy. She had apparently been driving to every McDonalds looking for that one Beanie she needed to complete her collection. She stormed out disappointed at being told that there were none. Most of us with children have experienced those disappointed looks on our kid’s faces when they learn they’ve missed out on the one piece needed to complete their collection. Fortunately, those lost battles were soon forgotten, and the toys became nothing more than a bin full of fast-food memories.
We still have one bin left that we keep in the attic. A good number of the toys had either been destroyed, chewed by a pet, thrown out, or given out at Halloween. Yes, one year, along with candy, we gave trick-or-treaters a kid’s meal toy.
Recently, Edison came up with a cool line of toys with a tie-in to the “Lincoln” movie. Unfortunately, Mary Todd Lincoln, when molded in plastic, looked a lot like Shrek, so he scrapped the idea entirely.
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