Updated: Jun 17
If you're like me (as most aspire to be), your childhood was punctuated with frequent trips to greasy fast-food joints. Consuming fatty slabs of processed garbage made me everything I am today. I used the prefix "Fast-Food Toys," so as not to be limited to one restaurant chain; I will likely make the concept into a series. (Update: I did.) Be sure to stick around for the duration. This article is pretty special.
As you're no doubt aware by this point, the '80s produced the best of everything, and kids' meal promotions were no exception. There was one crowning moment in the history of fast-food toys, and ironically it was not claimed by Burger King. (Thank you. I'll be here all week.) If you're over thirty, you know I'm talking about the New Food Changeables, released by none other than that cornerstone of cholesterol, McDonald's.
Here are my original toys. Don't let these apparently innocent foodstuffs fool you!
Yeah. That just happened.
Although I have sworn off eating at McDonald's specifically (four years strong as of this writing), I have to concede they've had some pretty awesome toys. But to this day, nothing else Ronald could conjure up has ever outdone the sheer magnitude, the inherent epicness, of this promotion.
This toy line was a blatant cash-grab in response to the incredible popularity of The Transformers (and to a far less extent, Gobots). If you were old enough to breathe in the '80s, you probably had some sort of transforming robot toy. If we're being honest here, there's probably never been a better Happy Meal toy because there's never been anything better to rip off than The Transformers.
The Changeables program was spawned in 1987, but really hit its peak with the 1989 re-release, and encompassed eight figures in all. My figures, pictured in this article, bear a copyright date of 1988, making them the re-release, hence the "New" in the title. This line added six figures to the two existing robots (The Big Mac and the large fries), which were recolored. The "New" line is the release that people generally speak of in hallowed tones on obscure blogs.
Here's the Happy Meal box for those first-generation toys, dubbed simply "Changeables." Note the figures have no distinct names, a marketing oversight the New Food Changeables line would address. The Shake Changeable mold would be repurposed into a dinosaur for the 1990 McDino Changeables line, but that's another article.
I believe two new figures were introduced every week, in a brilliant effort to keep kids nagging their parents for return trips to McDonald's. Still, this would have made it a four week promotion, and that's an eternity to an eight-year old. (And it could still seem that way to an adult, depending on context. Ever given two weeks' notice at a job you hated?) I remember never wanting this Happy Meal run to end. Being a spoiled brat, I of course got the whole set of eight. (Eight. The '80s. Let your mantra be, "Eight is great.")
After school, I told my mom more than once, "When I get home, it's going to be the Battle of the Century with my New Food Changeables!" I kid you not; I remember that verbatim. And yes, I even said "New." I've been a stickler for detail since day one. I was always scared I had some sort of chore awaiting me upon returning home, so I put that declaration out as a "feeler." It she didn't counter with something along the lines of, "When you get home, you're going to have to [fill in the blank]," I figured I was in the clear. She would normally just smile, much to my relief.
While I was preparing this article, my wife told me that she remembered these toys from their release. "I was at my grandparents' house and we were playing with these toys in the driveway," she said. "I remember the cone. I don't think I was smart enough to figure them out; I would have been about five. I thought they were the coolest things ever." She assembled her favorites for her photo shoot, and here they are, taking refuge from the years in a genuine '80s Big Mac container!
In the above photo, we see the Orson Welles of the bunch, Krypto Cup. He's a lumbering beast, presumably used as the robot equivalent of a human shield. (I guess that would be a "robot shield.") While playing with, I mean, researching these toys last night, I have to admit I had some difficulty figuring out the three whole steps needed to transform him. I didn't feel so bad after Adrienne had the same problem before setting up the shot.
Most of these figures came from the McDonald's that hosted my seventh birthday party, as seen in my article, You Deserve a Cake Today. However, the center one in the below photo came from an unknown location. When I got Fry Force, I was out on the road with only my mom.
We were picking up my dad from a business trip, so I would guess that we were heading to an airport. I remember it being night, and raining hard. We presumably went through a drive-through window at a random McDonald's. I was having quite the struggle getting the head of the robot to peer up over the fries. (The paint must have been stuck to the plastic. Either that, or I was just a little wimp.) I was majorly worrying that it was never going to be dislodged, but my mom somehow managed to get it working for me while she was driving. Go, mom! Of course, this figure was featured on the display. He was the prestige piece. To have this toy not transform would be something you'd be telling your therapist about in years to come.
I now present Robo-cakes in a showdown with my C2-Cheeseburger:
My Robo-cakes also has a bit of a backstory. For some reason, I chose him to be my designated sandbox toy. I was always extremely particular about the condition of my playthings, so I am surmising this particular Changeable ranked low on my list. I knowingly got him encrusted with sand, and brazenly left him to the elements. That sand is still present, in the nooks and crannies of the intrepid warrior.
These toys, for me anyway, perfectly preserve the essence of childhood. They're from a simpler time, when kids didn't need smartphones to squelch their ADD. I have owned my "New Food Changeables" for almost thirty years, and while they might not fetch a lot on eBay, they're priceless to me.
I'm going to conclude this piece with a cinematic tour de force. Witness Attack of the Cheeseburger, Adrienne Fife's directorial debut. (And yes, Retro Injection used to be called The '80s Never Died.)