The Happy Meal came to be in the late 1970s as McDonald’s realized offering a “kids’ meal” could be a nice touch to set them apart. As it became popular, McDonald’s began adding in toys for the meal. At first, they were just minor things like mini-tops or other items. Soon, McDonald’s was working with toy companies and movie studios to produce some huge toy lines. Often, they do special movie tie-ins of figures or such that become huge deals. Some Happy Meals can be massive such as Disney lines that can each boast 100 figures. Other Meals can be downright expensive for collectors today thanks to how rare they are.
But McDonald’s doesn’t have a good track record with some Meal toys. A few are too off-beat for kids to enjoy. Others can be downright disturbing and very inappropriate. Still others are just downright stupid and terrible. Here are 20 times Happy Meal toys went too far to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
20 Bronzed Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is one of the most loved Disney animated movies ever thanks to its bright colors. A Happy Meal tie-in made perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is having every one of the characters be bronze. Who wants a non-red Sebastian or an Ariel lacking her lush red locks? Worst was that Ursula was her black and purple... but was a blow-up doll. There was also how some having moving parts but others didn’t and combined into a line that managed to make these beloved animated characters look very ugly.
19 Diener Keshi Little Weirdos
The earliest popular Happy Meal toys came from the Diener Keshi line. These tiny figurines could be spaceships, astronauts, or other toys and kids did enjoy them. Yet the “Little Weirdos” line was a bit much. It showcased several classic monsters who all looked rather offbeat (notably the guy with the pumpkin head) and the different coloring added to the freaky look. Also, because of their size, these are easier to step on than Legos and could have given the parents fits trying to keep them under control.
McDonald’s trying to teach kids about healthy food may smack some as rather hypocritical. That included a 1993 set of tiny figures based on apple, corn, steak, bread and milk. The figures themselves were rather odd (especially the steak with the mustache and glasses) and looked pretty cheap even for the time. The ridiculous part was having figures of healthy food next to burgers and fries with a milkshake on the side. This line faded fast as McDonald’s and “healthy food” have just never gone together well.
17 Zizzle Iz
It’s okay if you don’t remember this. Zizzle Iz was supposed to be the hot new toy in 2006. The figures were odd aliens on tripod legs that could be small recorders for music and even dance a bit. The line proved to be a huge flop as the creatures were just too weird for kids to get behind with “faces” that were freaky rather than appealing. It looked even worse when moving and lighting up. McDonald’s took a bet on using one of the biggest flash in the pan toys of the 2000s.
16 Spider-Man 2 “Girl” Toys
It’s well known that comic book movies have had issues with winning over female fans. Which was why this line tied into Amazing Spider-Man 2 looked so bad. It was openly aimed at girls with purses, watches, headbands, and more, complete with hearts. It looked like some standard Spidey items just painted pink and used as decoration rather than empowerment. At least they could have themed them for Spider-Woman or something rather than cater to the cliche of “girl fans” so much.
15 Avengers Endgame Big Heads
The latest entry on this list, these figures were released as a tie-in to the epic Marvel movie. Sadly, the end result looks like a cheap knock-off of a lame Funko line. The massive heads make them all look too strange (especially Captain Marvel and Black Widow) and Hulk and Thanos are downright nightmarish. Thor actually looks smaller in the movie than he does in the figure and the lack of posability doesn't help. Fans wish they could pull a Thanos and “snap” these figures out of existence.
14 Chicken Nuggets
For some reason, McDonald’s loves to do toy lines based on food items. The Chicken Nuggets were a popular one for some time with various figures based on cowboys, police, mailmen and a Halloween line. This ignores the rather obvious issue of having figures that were replicas of the treats kids were putting in their mouths. How many times did a little kid bite on one of these as if they were real? Plus, they just looked weird with the faces and lack of arms to be an odd toy.
13 Inspector Gadget
It’s not that this was a bad toy. Based on the live-action movie of the beloved cartoon series, this boasted some great gadgets and looked fun. The reason it lands on the list is because of how it was a blatant attempt to ramp up Happy Meal sales. Each meal came with just one piece for Gadget and thus, customers had to buy multiple meals to collect them all. That meant often getting copy pieces to fill up the shelf. The final product was good, but it took too much money for someone to get there.
12 Sponge Tickle Feather
Who thought this was a good idea? It’s a sponge which means it’s not really a serious toy. It looks like a feather but actually heavy in the hand. And it literally says “tickle feather” on the side. Put it all together and this is a toy that raises more than a few eyebrows and comes off seriously inappropriate for kids. It’s also just a lame toy, but it’s the weird implications that make this a huge mistake that puts a different spin on “Happy Meal.”
11 Ronald McDonald Glove Puppet
This is just sad. Really, McDonald’s could have at least made an effort creating an actual hand puppet for the kids. Instead, they took what looks like some sort of bag with Ronald’s image on it for kids to use. It barely even resembles a glove at all, no fingers of any sort and is just a lazy item to toss into the Happy Meal box. This would be better used as a napkin than a puppet as McDonald’s could have at least put some effort into making a decent Happy Meal prize.
10 Beanie Babies
To cut McDonald’s some slack, they probably had no idea the chaos they were going to cause. For a time in the mid-1990s, Beanie Babies were a monster rage as people just couldn’t get enough of collecting these stuffed animals. McDonald’s thought they would have some success selling them in Happy Meals. What they didn’t expect was that grown adults would be ordering multiple Happy Meals which caused diners to sell out fast which then instigated borderline riots. McDonald’s should have been more prepared for how this Meal would cause a nationwide frenzy.
9 Madame Alexander Wizard of Oz
This line of classic dolls may be loved by collectors, but tend to freak out other people. That’s due to the unnatural way the faces are carved to make them look like they’re about to come alive in a supernatural movie. A regular line of dolls was bad enough, but worse were the ones based on The Wizard of Oz. Instead of cute and cuddly, the dolls came off creepy and off-putting. This version of Dorothy and company is more frightening to kids than the Wicked Witch of the West could ever be.
If these were sold today, the legal ramifications would be huge. Meant for younger kids, these strange creations allowed kids to pop off plastic arms, faces, and such and rearrange them on blocks. It may have sounded good on paper but they just came off too freaky in real life. Not to mention the scores of plastic parts were a nightmare to handle and a serious choking hazard for the very kids they were aimed at. This is one set that probably wouldn’t pass muster today.
7 Sky Dancers
The concept of this was perfectly sound. A pack of princesses, each attached to a small holder that could allow to be fired up into the air. The figures would then spread out “wings” and spin around before landing back. The problem was, the figures often failed to stay upright in the holders and thus wouldn’t fire off properly. There was also the problem of having these figures flying around in all directions to cause some injuries. There was little magical about these toys.
For a time, the Furby craze was huge in the U.S. McDonald’s naturally cashed in with their own version of the strange electronic animals that looked like a cross between a penguin, an owl, and a rabbit. They could utter some rudimentary phrases and blink their eyes and just looked downright freaky. These pocket sized toys are actually worth a lot today for collectors, but McDonald’s caused fights at stores when they ran out of them to show how some folks took the Furbies a bit too seriously.
5 Mighty Ducks Pucks
For a team inspired by a Disney movie, the Mighty Ducks are doing pretty well. There was even an animated series about alien ducks fighting bad guys with hockey equipment. As a tie-in, someone thought it made sense to have the characters melded with small pucks. Not only does it look rather disturbing but there’s the obvious issue of some kids trying to use this for an actual street hockey game which could cause injuries. This toy line belongs in the penalty box.
4 Mr. Potato Head Kids
There is a strange irony in having a toy line based on talking potatoes sold alongside packs of french fries. Based on a cartoon, this line focused on several strange spuds that had interchangeable parts. One can only imagine the massive choking hazard these represented and the pieces themselves rather sharp. Plus, they just look too offbeat and show that food-related toys rarely do well as Happy Meal prizes.
3 Fry Kids
For a while, McDonald’s had the Fry Kids as mascots. Meant to look like the fries, these bizarre multi-colored characters were featured in ads with Ronald a lot. The toys made them look even weirder with the “fry bodies” dominated by huge eyes with no mouths and long legs. Adding in costumes and strange characters made them look odder. This was just a weird line of figures that didn’t make the fries look more edible.
2 The Changeables
Transformers has inspired countless knock-offs, but McDonald’s had one of the absolute worst with the Changeables. Each was shaped like a meal (burger, fries, ice cream, etc) that then changed into a tiny robot. While the toys were sturdy, they weren’t that fun to use and the fact that they couldn’t even bother giving the robots names made it worse. There was even a line based on dinosaurs that failed to take off. This was less than meets the eye when it came to these toys.
1 American Idol
This was pretty pandering in terms of a tie-in toy. The mp3 player which only played the show’s theme in the Happy Meal was bad enough, but worse were the figures which looked like an unholy mix of Funkos and cheap plastic. The lame nicknames (Country Clay, Disco Dave, New Wave Nigel) didn’t help as each was just a cliche of a different style of music. Rather than inspiring kids to pursue their musical dreams, these figures were worse than the show’s first round of bad singers.