McDonaldland was a fantasy world used in the marketing for McDonald's restaurants. It was based on the "total concept and feel" of Sid and Marty Krofft's H.R. Pufnstuf television program. McDonaldland was inhabited by Ronald McDonald and other characters. In addition to being used in advertising, the characters were used as the basis for equipment in the playgrounds attached to some McDonald's. McDonaldland and the supporting characters have been abandoned in their marketing, but Ronald McDonald is still seen in commercials and in Happy Meal toys.
1971 - 1974: Early years
The first phase of the McDonaldland concept began in January 1971, about the same time McDonald's was replacing its drive-ins with mansard roofed restaurants. These early commercials were built on an upbeat, bubble-gum style tune, and featured a narrator; many had plots that involved various villains trying to steal a corresponding food item, foiled by Ronald.
McDonaldland itself, as it was depicted in the commercials, was a magical place where plants, foods, and inanimate objects were living, speaking characters. In addition to being the home to Ronald and the other core characters, McDonaldland boasted a theme park of "Thick Shake Volcanoes", anthropomorphized "Apple Pie Trees", "French Fry Bushes" (where McDonalds French Fries grew from bushes), "The Hamburger Patch" (where McDonald's hamburgers grew out of the ground like plants), "Filet-O-Fish Lake", and many other fanciful features based around various McDonald's menu items. In the commercials, the various beings are played by puppets or costumed performers, very similar to those used in the popular H.R. Pufnstuf program.
Some of the commercials were directed by veteran voice actor Howard Morris, who voiced some of the characters in the commercials as well.
1974 - 1979: Transition years
The McDonaldland line saw significant changes during this period. Notably, Grimace, who was introduced as an evil villain, was revamped in 1974 to be one of the good guys. Then, in 1977, the Uncle O'Grimacey character was introduced for a brief promotion for Shamrock Shakes around St. Patrick's Day.
Needham Harper & Steers, an ad agency (now known as the Omnicom Group) vying for McDonald's advertising accounts had originally hoped Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of H.R. Pufnstuf, would agree to license their characters for commercial promotions. After the McDonaldland promotion went forward, the Kroffts were dismissed without being credited or paid.
In 1973, the Kroffts successfully sued McDonald's, arguing that the entire McDonaldland premise was essentially a ripoff of their television show. Specifically, the Kroffts claimed that the character Mayor McCheese was a direct ripoff of their character, "H.R. Pufnstuf" (a mayor himself). McDonald's initially was ordered to pay $50,000. The case was later remanded as to damages, and McDonald's was ordered to pay the Kroffts more than $1,000,000 when the case was finally settled in 1977. As a result of the lawsuit, the concept of the "magical place" was all but phased out of the commercials, as were many of the original characters.
1980 - present: Popularity and decline
In the early 1980s and throughout the 1990s, McDonaldland remained a popular marketing device. The characters that remained following the lawsuit were Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, and the French Fry Gobblins (later renamed the Fry Guys, in an apparent attempt to make them seem more kid-friendly). Birdie the Early Bird would join the lineup soon after, representing the restaurant's new breakfast line in the early 1980s. From then on, the characters seemed to live in the real world and they interacted with real-life characters, but commercials still took place in "McDonaldland". Soon after, the Happy Meal Gang and the McNugget Buddies were prominent features in the commercials (representing the restaurant's "Happy Meals" and "Chicken McNuggets" respectively, being the menu items that mainly appealed to kids) along with Ronald.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, McDonald's released a videotape series titled Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. The series depicted Ronald, Grimace, Birdie, Hamburglar, and a few new characters like Ronald's pessimistic dog Sundae. These videos would begin in live action, in what resembled a modern-day McDonaldland. Then when the characters would enter down a tube, or other means of travel, they would become animated. The video series had six parts but the sixth one is very rare because it was never sold at a McDonald's.
In recent years, the McDonaldland premise has largely been phased out of advertising campaigns, with modern commercials usually just depicting Ronald alone in real-world situations with real children. Grimace did, however, appear in an advertisement for Monsters vs. Aliens Happy Meal Toys, while Hamburglar also appeared in a more adult-oriented commercial advertising the Big Mac.
- Ronald McDonald - The primary icon of McDonalds.
- Sundae - Ronald's dog. He only appears in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald", where he's animated with puppetry. Sundae often speaks negatively in a monotone (e.g. "There's nothing like a good song, except that wasn't much of a song!" or "Do you think we could just have a normal adventure?"). He hates ticks. He has a conflict with Hamburglar mostly in "Visitors from Outer Space," when he called Hamburglar both "Bun-Head" and "Hammy" and was excited when he was going to space for 3000 years. Sundae has shown up as a normal dog in some 2000's commercials for McDonalds. Sundae was portrayed by Verne Troyer and voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
- Grimace - Grimace is a large, purple character who was first introduced in November 1971 as the "Evil Grimace". The original idea for the character was based on an evil associate of Ronald McDonald's known only as the wren. Ronald and friends put up with the wren's evil ways, until he was caught by the hamburgler robbing a truck full of little debbies. Due to his defection from milkshakes to little debbies, the wren was promptly kicked out of Ronald McDonald Land. In Grimace's first two appearances, he was depicted with two pairs of arms with which to steal milkshakes and sodas. "Evil" was soon dropped from Grimace's moniker, and Grimace was reintroduced in 1972 as one of the good guys. In 1974, Grimace was redesigned, going from two pairs of arms to the single pair he has today. Grimace's role continued to grow, and by the mid 1970s, he was a major character in McDonaldland. Commercials and merchandise generally portray Grimace as a well-meaning simpleton whose clumsy antics provide a comic foil to Ronald McDonald. The character was retained after the streamlining of the characters in the 1980s, and soon details of Grimace's background and family life began to emerge. The character's Uncle O'Grimacey first appeared in 1986 [see below] and would visit only one month per year, around St. Patrick's Day, bringing Shamrock Shakes. Additional family were revealed in a McDonaldland VHS tape "The Legend of Grimace Island": Grimace has an unnamed mom, an unnamed dad, a grandma named "Winky", a great, great grandma named Jenny Grimace, and might have a brother named "King Gonga," who is the king of all Grimaces. In "Grimace's Oddysey", Grimace is portrayed as a ham radio enthusiast who uses a homemade transmitter made from a colander. Grimace's physical appearance is difficult to describe, even for the other denizens of McDonaldland. Ronald says Grimace has the mother's eyes, while Birdie says Grimace has the father's prominent chin, and Hamburglar jokingly says Grimace has Grandma Winky's fat ankles. Despite massive girth, Grimace took ballet classes. Grimace was played by Patti Saunders (1971–84) and voiced by Frank Welker in the commercials, Larry Moran in some commercials, and by Kevin Michael Richardson in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald."
- Hamburglar - The Hamburglar was a pint-sized thief who first appeared in March 1971 and was one of the first villains on the commercials. He is dressed in a black-and-white hooped shirt and pants, a red cape, a wide-brimmed hat, and red gloves. His primary object of theft was hamburgers. The character, like Grimace, started out as a villain, only he was old, had a long nose, gray hair, and was called the Lone Jogger in some 1970s commercials, sporting a shirt that said "Lone Jogger". He was revised in the mid-1980s; his look changed from a trollish old man to a red-headed child, and his unintelligible muttering became the familiar "robble robble." Hamburglar was later retired.[when?] In the 2000s, he was temporarily revived for an ad campaign for generic burgers instead of Happy Meals. In "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald," he takes on a new sporty appearance wearing green goggles, a leather jacket, striped shirt, shorts and sneakers. He loves playing tricks on his friends and still loves burgers. He was played by Frankie Delfino from 1971 to 1991 and Tommy Vicini from 1982 to 2003. Hamburglar was voiced by Howard Morris in most commercials, Charlie Adler in some 1980s commercials and The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, and Carl W. Wolfe in some 1990s commercials.
- Birdie the Early Bird - She was the first identifiably female character, introduced in February 1980 to promote the company's new breakfast items. She is a yellow bird wearing a pink jumpsuit and flight cap and scarf. In the ads she is frequently portrayed as a poor flyer, and somewhat clumsy in general. Birdie's origin is explained in one old commercial: a giant egg falls from the night sky into McDonaldland, and Ronald McDonald decides to show the egg love. Birdie was a regular in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald," but shown in a different outfit. In "Scared Silly," she believed that aliens took her birdbath. In "Visitors from Outer Space," Birdie took karate lessons and is as good as her karate teacher which he refers to her as "Little Bird". Birdie was played by actress Patti Maloney and voiced by Russi Taylor in the commercials and by Christine Cavanaugh in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald."
- Fry Kids - They are characters used to promote McDonald's french fries. When they first appeared in 1972, they were called Gobblins and liked to steal and gobble up the other characters' french fries. Accompanying them was the "Keep Your Eyes on Your Fries" jingle. Their name was later changed to the Fry Guys in 1983, then the Fry Kids in 1987, as female characters (the "Fry Girls") were introduced. They are differently-colored, shaggy, ball-like creatures with long legs and no arms, almost resembling a pom-pon with legs and eyes. The characters were retained after the streamlining of the characters in the '80s and appeared until 1996. In "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald," the Fry Kids were featured with black noses and visible mouths. The Fry Kids spoke in a sped-up voice in the 80s commercials, were variously voiced in the 90s commercials, and were voiced by Kath Soucie, Paul Greenberg, and Nika Futterman in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald"
- Mayor McCheese - Mayor McCheese was an enormous cheeseburger who appeared from 1971–1985, he has a burger for a head, and sports a top hat, a diplomat's sash, and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He is portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, somewhat incompetent mayor. He was based on H.R. Pufnstuf. Though the character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the mid-1980s, he did appear in a 1999 "The Wacky World of Ronald McDonald" VHS entitled "Have Time, Will Travel" and a non-speaking cameo in "The Monster O' McDonaldland Loch." Mayor McCheese was voiced by Howard Morris impersonating Ed Wynn in the commercials and by Bob Joles also impersonating Ed Wynn in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald."
- Officer Big Mac - He was featured in several of the campaign's commercials throughout the early '70s and early '80s. In addition to McDonald's signature sandwich, Big Mac was the name of a character in McDonaldland. He was similar to Mayor McCheese in that he had a large Big Mac for a head, except he was the chief of police and as such he wore a constable uniform with a disproportionately small custodian helmet resting atop his head bun. As the main source of law and order in McDonaldland, Officer Big Mac spent most of his time chasing the Hamburglar and Captain Crook. The character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the mid-1980s. Officer Big Mac was voiced by Ted Cassidy.
- Captain Crook - Captain Crook was a pirate who first appeared in July 1970 (unofficial debut of McDonaldland) and is similar in appearance to the famed Captain Hook from Disney's 1953 movie Peter Pan. Unlike the Hamburglar, this villain spent his time trying to steal Filet-O-Fish sandwiches from citizens of McDonaldland while avoiding being caught by Officer Big Mac. He would often translate for Hamburglar. As part of the nautical theme of the character, Captain Crook used ships and waterways as means to escape being captured. In the '70s, he was a major character with an unseen mouth and a rubber mask. In the 80s, he was a supporting background character renamed "The Captain" where he had an almost Muppet-like look and was often seen with a parrot. The character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the mid-1980s. Captain Crook was voiced by Lennie Weinrib.
- The Professor - A bearded scientist-type character in a lab coat. He was introduced in 1971 and served as McDonaldland's local inventor and researcher. In the '70s, he was a minor character who rarely spoke. Around the 80s, the Professor was a major character, and was redesigned to include a lightbulb-topped helmet and a mustache. Though the character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the mid-1980s, he did appear in McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure where he invents a rocketship to take Ronald and his friends to Magical Moon and appeared in M.C. Kids. The Professor was voiced by Howard Morris in the 70s and by Andre Stojka in the 80s.
- The Hamburger Patch - The Hamburger Patch first appeared in 1973, and is part of the fictional city of McDonaldland where McDonald's hamburgers "grew" like fruit on plants from the Hamburger Patch. Even though hamburgers in McDonaldland were anthropomorphized and spoke, they were picked by characters such as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar for consumption. Advertisements featuring the Hamburger Patch were shown as evidence during the McLibel court case in the United Kingdom. During questioning by defendants, McDonald's Senior Vice President of Marketing David Green admitted that showing the reality of meat production "would not be very appetizing". The Hamburger Patch also featured in books and toys used to promote McDonald's. The characters were dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the mid-1980s.
- Uncle O'Grimacey - He was created in 1977 and even appeared in 1986 for an advertising narrative of McDonald's both in celebration of Saint Patrick's Day and to mark the annual appearance of the Shamrock Shake. O'Grimacey is the Irish uncle of the character Grimace and is a variant of the Grimace-design in that he is green instead of purple, sports a frock coat covered with several four-leaf clovers, and carries a shillelagh. His design motif is not unlike that of a stereotypical depiction of the Irish folkloric leprechaun. O'Grimacey resides in his home country for eleven months of the year and visits his nephew Grimace in March, bringing with him his "incredibly delicious" shake. Uncle O'Grimacey is no longer used by the chain for its promotions of the shake.
- The Happy Meal Gang - A hamburger, fries, and soft drink in regular size that were introduced in 1984. They were later joined by the McNugget Buddies in 1989. The Happy Meal Hamburger was voiced by Bob Arbogast, the Happy Meal Fries was voiced by Jeff Winkless and later voiced by Bob Bergen, and the Happy Meal Drink was voiced by Hal Smith.
- The McNugget Buddies - A bunch of chicken nuggets in regular size. They were introduced in the 1989. In "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald," the McNuggets are show as large McNuggets with chicken beaks, chicken wings, and cowboy boots. The McNugget Buddies were voiced by Hal Rayle in the commercials and by Pamela Adlon, Lisa Raggio, and Charlie Adler in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald."
- CosMc - A temporary character from McDonaldland. CosMc was an alien who wore a large space suit, and he talked like a surfer dude. He was featured in a series of McDonald's commercials. The first one occurred in the mid-80s where he traded some items to Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Professor during their picnic. Though he traded the flowers in exchange for the food Ronald brought, he was brought back by Ronald's McMagnet and asked Ronald if they could share. Following the picnic, CosMc left to inform his people about McDonalds' food. CosMc even appeared in 1999 when the McDonaldland gang went to the Moon. CosMc was featured as a character in the video game M.C. Kids where his getaway was located on the moon and helped to locate Hamburglar when he stole Ronald's bag. CosMc is voiced by Frank Welker.
- Trash Cans - Talking twin trash cans. They were part of a 1970's McDonalds commercial which involved having to deposit garbage into them to feed them.
- Bernice - A strange creature that was introduced in 1992. She ate inedible things like the script in the three-part "Ronald McDonald Makin' Movies" commercial.
- Vulture - An unnamed vulture that spoke in a monotone voice. He was mostly featured in some multi-part McDonalds commercials. In "The Search for Grimace's Voice" commercials, he once loaned a feather to Ronald in order to get Grimace's voice out of a sleeping dragon.
- Iam Hungry - A short-lived McDonaldland character who was the self-proclaimed "Vice President of Snacking." He was introduced in 1998 and dropped in 2001. The character was a floating, fast-moving green fuzzball with orange arms and a monstrous face. He would often appear when Ronald was dining with kids and would constantly crave food. He would never stop pestering them until he got fed. Iam Hungry was featured in "The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald" VHS titled "Visitors from Outer Space" where he eats the gunk off of Ronald's rocket. Iam Hungry was voiced by Jeff Lupetin.
- Griddler - A short-lived McDonaldland character. He was featured in 2 commercials in 2003 to promote the McGriddles by stealing them from Ronald and his friends.
- Mike the Microphone - He was a one-time character created for the Kid Rhino albums Ronald Makes It Magic and Ronald McDonald presents Silly Sing Along. He guards the door and runs things inside the McDonaldland Magical Radio Station, which Ronald and some kids use for their "Silly Day Broadcast". Mike was voiced by Larry Moran.
- Mac Tonight - McDonald's moon-headed mascot for the late hours of McDonald's.
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- Burger King Kingdom
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