McDonald’s are marketing geniuses. Rather than focusing on adults and the sparse few dollars they may spend on fast food they have endeavored to attract families. Since children are typically difficult eaters McDonald’s managed to draw them in droves with an idea brilliant in it’s simplicity; include a toy with the meal. Over the years billions of Happy Meals have been sold comprising of countless themes but every now and then a collection of these toys manages to remain in the hearts and minds of the generation that played with them. McDonald’s Changeables are some of those legendary Happy Meal premiums.
Back in the 1980’s Transformers and their various knock offs were on fire as some of the hottest toys of the decade. In an effort to capitalize on the concept, McDonald’s included transforming toys of their own to lure children and their parents to the restaurants. Debuting in 1987, Changeables were an immediate hit. Whereas most Happy Meal toys were pretty instantly forgettable or disappointingly fragile, Changeables were neither. These things were awesome!
The first wave of Changeables included 6 different figures:
- Big Mac
- McNuggets Box
- Milk Shake
- Egg McMuffin
- Quarter Pounder
They began looking like ordinary food but in reality they were robots in disguise! Wait scratch that I think it’s trademarked. They were automatons incognito! Although they were great in the 80’s the fact that the packaging is now retro makes them 10x as cool today. Remember the styrofoam boxes that the chicken McNuggets came in or the 1980’s red/brown motif on the McDonald’s cups? I had totally forgotten about some of these designs but seeing these Changeables takes you back to the awesome Eighties before these corporations were worried about environmentally friendly packaging.
Changeables were so successful that McDonald’s decided to go to the well again in 1989. For the second series McDonald’s decided to increase the total number of toys as well as give each robot a name. Here’s the 1989 lineup:
- Macro Mac (Big Mac, recolored from 1987)
- Fry Force (Large Fries, recolored from 1987)
- Krypto Cup (Small soft drink)
- Fry Bot (Small fries)
- Robo-Cakes (Hot cakes)
- Gallacta Pounder (Quarter Pounder in box)
- C2 (Cheeseburger)
- Turbo Cone (Ice cream)
Series 2 is where I got into the game. Check out the styrofoam Hot Cakes container, the styrofoam QPC box, and the old school small fries bag. I love seeing the old style packaging represented through these toys. The cup is kind of a dud. Open it up and it looks like a frightened Vincent Price. It’s a little surprising that they removed Egg McMuffin since it’s arguably their signature breakfast item, but it was probably the least interesting of the 1987 toys so I applaud them for going in a new and daring direction.
Come 1990 McDonald’s felt there was still some gas in the tank with this idea and the decision was made to try their hand one final time. 1990 would usher in a new twist to the Changeables theme as by the turn of the decade robots were suddenly yesterday’s news. Rather than morphing into robots this time our board of fare would mutate into dinosaurs! Although I’m sure what I’m about to say will kick off a storm of controversy it is my belief that the 1990 set is the finest of the bunch. Without further adieu let’s take a look at the 1990 roster:
- Happy Meal-o-Don
- McDino Cone
- Hot Cakes-o-Dactyl
- Big Mac-0-Saurus Rex
- Quarter Pounder with Cheese-o-Saur
Fry-ceretops! That’s brilliant! Whoever came up with that one deserved a raise or at least one of those cards for the free small fries. The clear winner toy wise is the Hot-cakes-odactyl as far as I’m concerned but all together it’s a great set. Granted they don’t look as menacing as the robots. Maybe even a little bit on the slow side. But as far as detail and play factor are concerned I prefer the dinosaurs to the earlier McRobots. I should admit that I am biased since this was the series I played with the most. I’m surprised that it took until the final wave of these toys for the iconic Happy Meal box to make it’s debut.
McDonald’s retired the concept after the 1990 wave of dinosaurs. It seems that as the decade wore on the company placed more emphasis on releasing licensed products rather than toys based on their own properties. Personally I felt that the original concepts such as these were better than the licensed toys as they were allowed to be more creative and there wouldn’t be as much of a let-down factor. However I don’t make the decisions for a multi-billion dollar company so I’m sure those in the industry would disagree with my assessment. Regardless the Changeables have gone into the history books as some of the finest Happy Meals toys ever created and they can fetch a surprisingly high price on the secondary market. Complete sets of all three waves of figures can sell for over $50 on auction sites like eBay proving that these left an enduring legacy.