In the 1980s I was living in Texas and working full-time at a state University. Although there were many food options on campus, sometimes my co-workers and I craved a change of scenery and taste during our lunch break. When that happened, we left campus and went to the local McDonald’s. Never a big eater, I always selected the popular Happy Meal, which offered a petite amount of food and calories—and it came with a free toy.
McDonald’s introduced Happy Meals in 1979 as a means to market their fast food to parents and their children. For parents, it removed the agonizing decision of ordering a la carte items from the menu. For children, the Happy Meal offered a lunch or dinner portioned just for them in a brightly colored box that included a pop culture themed toy. Early toys were more like those you would find in a Cracker Jack box. But in 1979, McDonald’s introduced their first movie-themed Happy Meal for the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Then in 1987 came the first Disney Happy Meal, which featured characters from classics, such as Cinderella and Sword in the Stone. During the 10-year McDonald’s and Disney relationship, themed toys preceded the debut of most animated films.
Over the years I have collected many Happy Meal toys, but have downsized my collection to Disney toys only. In researching the release dates of my Happy Meal toys, some were not found online, and some had information that varied by website. In this post, I have included images and information on some of my favorite Disney Happy Meal toys.
In 2005, McDonald’s released the Disney Pixar Pals Happy Meal set. I have four in the set. Sully and Mike sit in the window of my office, while Buzz Lightyear and Nemo reside on a shelf behind my desk. These four are by far my favorites. R2-D2, who chose to photobomb the photograph, is not a Happy Meal Toy (RIP Kenny Baker).
The Muppet Babies series was released in 1987 and included Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo riding wheeled toys. Fozzie was on a rocking horse, but that has disappeared from my collection.
The Bambi figurines came in 1988. I have the complete set (plus a second figurine of Flower).
In 1989, The Little Mermaid bath toys were released. Also featured in the set were Prince Eric in a sailboat and Ursula the Sea Witch, who could be suction cupped to the wall of your shower or bath tub.
In 1988, two different Dodgers from the animated film Oliver and Company were released. The plush toy on the left was issued during the holiday season as a tree ornament. At one time Dodger played a holiday tune when squeezed, but he is now silent. The Dodger on the right was one of a series of four characters from the film that are finger puppets.
The four Disney characters in the above photo were featured in Happy Meals in the 1990s. Elliot from Pete’s Dragon was part of the Disney Masterpiece series in 1996. It came in a small plastic box that was fashioned to look like a picture book. Clopin from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is part of a set from 1996 with characters that either had wheels or in Clopin’s case, was a shaker that made noise. The Quasimodo is from 1997 and was called a Bird Catcher. The Hercules series from 1996 featured 10 characters encased in a themed box.
The toys in the photo on the left have a sketchy history, so I will do my best. The Lady and the Tramp toy was included in the Disney Video Favorites collection from 1998. The six toys in the series could be connected to form a train. Captain Hook was in the 1991 Peter Pan Collection. The Mickey Mouse figure was included in the 1994 Epcot Adventure series with different Disney characters representing countries in World Showcase. I think there were eight characters in the series.
Whether it be plush toys, pins, Disney race medals, shot glasses, or T-shirts, if you love Disney you most likely have a collection. Tell us about yours!
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
Looking for Magic is Kathy @ Two Roads Photo. As a librarian, walker of many miles, and Paper Bag Princess, Kathy dreams of having coffee with Belle at the castle and co-administering a fantasy book discussion group. She can be contacted at email@example.com.