Changeables Fast Food Premiums
Item No.: No. ??? Manufacturer:McDonald's Includes:n/a Action Feature:Changes from something plastic you can put in your mouth to robot Retail:$2.99ish Availability: 1987 Other: There Are 3 Series
I'm sure every generation says things were better back in their day, and I'm hesitant to do the same - except for the fact that as I go through a lot of the older toys, toy marketing, and toy tie-ins, it seems that the plastic of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s really did seem to make a tremendous impact and in terms of innovation - certainly not variety-per-line - it's unmatched. It's also deeply cynical in spots, like McDonald's Egg McMuffin Robot, one of the countless changing robot toys in the wake of Go-Bots (RIP) and Transformers. Back then, Hasbro absolutely did have a plan to achieve market domination through marketing, but kids of 1987 just wanted robots that changed into things that they liked - cars, trucks, dinosaurs, planes, but the fast food giant realized the importance of branding. If you had these as a kid and still eat at McDonald's, I'd say they probably worked.
These things started to debut in 1987, which was a pretty glorious time for toys - just before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be the next big thing, just after Star Wars died out. Transformers were doing well, but their marketing machine had arguably peaked with the TV show about to go off the air and McDonald's, having already done promotions with them, decided they could probably make something very exciting by borrowing a page from their playbook with a few decent animated TV spots and colorful toys. I don't know if you realize how integrated Saturday morning cartoons were to kids of this era, but it was a big deal - and the burger giant ran a TV spot in seemingly close to every episode of every show on every network. They mentioned what the toys were - it wasn't just advertising to children, it was essentially the news. Which, when you get right down to it, is a rather creepy thing and no doubt why they're drafting new laws to abolish certain kinds of marketing to kids as now they've got networks broadcasting all day every day rather than one morning and maybe a bit after school during the week.
From the first year of these things, I got three robots - and at the time I don't think I ever actually had a McDonld's milkshake. I still haven't had an Egg McMuffin, but that was the first robot I remember getting and not being overly thrilled by it. An english muffin has been rendered in plastic with cheese and an egg thing that looks like Oreo filling and... I don't know what the red stuff is. Don't tell me. I'm better off. There's not much too it and you can probably make jokes about people mistaking this for the actual food and it tasting better, but that sort of thing is too easy and I certainly think better of you as readers. It looks acceptably like a stylized version of the edible breakfast item, and is probably about the size of the aforementioned Oreo - just thicker.
Transformation is actually sort of clever, especially for the era. The robot can come out when you press up in a small hole in the bottom of the food mode - the top of the bun separates, and you can lift it up and rotate the arms out. It's simple, and it's not a particularly great and fun toy but there are some good elements to it.
If you liked the original Transformers and to some extent Go-Bots, some had more articulation than others. As such, a robot with moving arms and not much else isn't really all that much worse than what you could get at the toy store. For its size, the robot has a huge head - even though it's ugly, it has a lot of personality and sports a face even bigger than current, taller Transformers from 2016. With holes for the eyes and an oddly ridged, vented mouth it manages to look totally different from most of the toy store robots of the era. (Heck, maybe all of them.) The hands have little holes in them but no accessories, and the resulting toy is a smidgen over 2-inches tall and doesn't really do much other than look like half of a robot glued to a post and impaled through half of an Egg McMuffin. And yet, these things were hugely popular - kids had them, loved them, and McDonald's sold so many you're likely to still find them at toy shows, thrift stores, flea markets, and online auctions.
I really wish someone out there would do a book on the fast food toys of the 1980s - we had high-quality PVC figures, pull-back cars, actual legit LEGO sets, Playmobil, Playskool dinosaurs, and some of them were of the same basic size and quality as toys at the Kmarts and Lionel PlayWorlds of North America. The fast food toys of the 1990s were no slouch, and the early 2000s had some winners... but I can't say the hits have been as big in the last decade or so. There are still many great and notable playthings, but for some reason things like these weird food robots managed to really wedge themselves in our collective collector imagination as something important. Given the proliferation of the Golden Arches, it's kind of insidious - but I can't argue that these were surprisingly well-made little toys that hold up to a lot of abuse over the years. Well done, anonymous toy jockeys, well done.
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