Picture E.T., going through his ballsy rebellious college years.
When E.T. hit theaters in 1982, it didn't take long for the children of the world to take to the brownish, fleshy alien who loved his candy. I was saddened by the film's big flop during last year's 'special' release, which effectively took more away from the lore than it added. In many ways, the movie was an unintentional time piece, and it didn't seem able to attract the attention of today's generation of kids. The trillions of new E.T. toys are being liquidated for a song, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the wad of cash spent advertising E.T.'s re-release wasn't even made up for in ticket sales. Pity.
But, if we turn the clocks back to 1982, we'll find a society who simply couldn't get enough of the guy. As with most child fads and kiddie heroes, E.T. soon became immortalized with his very own McDonald's Happy Meal - the first of many, actually. With all profits going to the Special Olympics, E.T. proved that he wasn't just a pop icon, but a pop icon who really cared about the Special Olympics. Smart alien. Supporting the Special Olympics is always a safe bet if you want to get people on your side. With that said and done, all E.T. had to do was make his Happy Meal attractive to young souls who liked greasy cheeseburgers.
The strange thing about E.T.'s first Happy Meal? It didn't come with a toy. The 'novelty' was a small, fold-out poster - kids would get one of the four available, a new one being made available every few weeks. The poster was more of an afterthought in the ad spots, though. According to McDonald's, the real treat was the box itself. We've talked about this before, but in more recent times, McD's hasn't given the same attention to the once universally championed Happy Meal box. Sometimes you get the real thing, other times you just get a paper bag with Grimace's weird face stamped on it. The suits never seemed to comprehend the importance of the box. It's like ordering the thirty-dollar steak and getting no sprig of parsley on it. You weren't going to eat the parsley, but it's still an integral part of the formula.
I'm sure it seemed like a raw deal at the time, but in today's haphazard world where Happy Meal boxes aren't a God-given right, E.T.'s special offering seems like a dream. He had four different boxes to go along with his posters, and each of 'em played host to a number of E.T.-inspired games, puzzles, and general cardboard mayhem. Best of all, these Happy Meals came out when E.T. was still originally in theaters - so in addition to making children scream with alien delight, E.T. was afforded the chance to pick up a few new fans. No kid who got their hands on one of these Happy Meals didn't make sure to see E.T. pretty soon afterwards. We've often looked at the seedy underbelly of marketing experiments here on the site. This one is a rarity; it actually made sense.
Why am I talking about this? I've managed to locate two of the four E.T. Happy Meal boxes from 1982, and I don't think I'm overstating things by saying that you must see them for yourselves. The boxes' collection of puzzles and 'brainteasers' proves that McNuggets and cheeseburgers did more than make kids fat -- apparently, it also made them mighty stupid. Certain games on the boxes even paint a different picture of E.T.'s place in the world, making him seem a little darker and more evil than we're used to. As an added bonus, any artistic illustrations of E.T.'s friend Elliot make the boy look downright psychotic. By the time I got to the part where I was supposed to punch out little cardboard cowboy hats and put them atop little cardboard E.T. figures, I knew you guys needed a firsthand look. Without further ado, here's X-E's special review of E.T.'s dumb Happy Meal boxes. Okay, now I'm really reaching for article content. The first step is admission. The second step is canceling next week's scheduled 'Tribute To Moose Balls.' So far, I've accomplished only the first step. Beware.
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The first box kicks things off with a cutout decoration featuring the movie cast - everyone from E.T. to Drew Barrymore. Elliot, the film's central human character, is forced to waste away in the background looking like someone just smacked him around with a sock full of nickels. Actually, if this is any indication, McDonald's top artists were way more apt at drawing dogs and space aliens than they were actual people. The damn dog looks more esteemed than both Elliot and Michael. No wonder all of McDonald's spokespeople are clowns and pompoms with eyes.
Here's an interesting puzzle - easily enough, you're supposed to draw a line connecting each corresponding 'fake' and 'real' animal. After scribbling lines from the teddy bears to the real bears and the wooden horses to the real horses, I finished and wondered if I missed the point. After rereading the directions, it looked like I missed the final step: you're supposed to draw a circle around E.T. for a special surprise.
I didn't get any special surprises, but drawing the circle helped to create an anarchy symbol right over E.T.'s frigged up head. McDonald's can be pretty sneaky, if not totally antiestablishment. Brandishing E.T. an anarchist was a bold move, but this is the same billion dollar corporation that served burgers so terribly unhealthy that they actually had the balls to start selling alternate burgers with less fat for twice the money. If nothing else, Ronald and pals were brazen pioneers. It's just sad that E.T. got all tangled up in their web of deceit.
Another tough one. Elliot's looking for 'someone,' and you can only determine who by connecting the dots. Don't even bother guessing till you connect those dots.
I'll be honest - my first answer for 'peach' was actually 'fruit.' I dunno, I guess I've never gotten a peach of the iconic diamond shape like that. Completing the puzzle granted you access to E.T.'s secret message, which wasn't really all that secret since he says 'Phone Home' in the movie approximately eight-thousand times. I was hoping for a rarer, more insider look at E.T.'s psyche. I bet he knows things. Wonderful things. His superiors up on Pluto probably know how to transmogrify forks into robots who can build forks out of spoons. I wanted to know how to do that, not to hear E.T. bellow about his homeworld for the 8,001st time. Stupid alien. I hope he turns white and gets probed again.
That basically sums up the first box. There's a few 'jokes' printed on the flaps, but they're not really worth mentioning. Considering that I took the time to show you E.T.'s special jumbled fruity word message game, you can imagine how bad these jokes were. Eh, frig it - here's an example: "What did E.T. say when he looked into the mirror?" Give up? O, E T, U R A Q-T! I'm completely serious, it's right here in front of me. I'm pretty sure he lifted that from George Carlin, too.
The second box arrives with another inspiring cutout standee, this time of E.T. and Elliot from their famous bicycle getaway scene. That reminds me of the biggest complaint lobbied by fans against the 'special release' - during the sequences when the cops are trying to track down the kids and the alien, they replaced the swank shotguns with boring walkie talkies. People were pissed more out of principle than anything else, as our society had taken to dealing with more troubled times by homogenizing all forms of entertainment and avoiding even the most trivial bits of anything that could be considered 'controversial.' When things get to the point where a huge movie studio replaces guns (that were never even shot) with walkie talkies in a movie that's existed as-is for two decades, you know we're starting to take things a little too seriously. E.T. was more of a victim of circumstance here - he had no say. E.T. never has any say. And even when he does, it's just more 'Phone Home' bullshit.
Gotta love the product placement involved here - Elliot can't navigate his E.T./bike combo to the finish line without first making a stop at McDonald's. Also of note: the cop cars are larger than most of the houses. Not sure if that indicates really small houses or really large cop cars, but E.T. is approximately twelve feet tall by scale if that helps you figure things out.
This Happy Meal box's main feature was a cutout kit which let you dress up E.T. in a variety of different ways. The cardboard E.T. had a little stand, making him sort of a two-dimensional action figure if you were the type of kid who really needed to believe you got a toy with your Happy Meal.
The included outfits aren't exactly standard E.T. fare. He liked to play dress-up in the movie on occasion, but this Happy Meal takes it to a whole new level. Shown above are the four versions of E.T. we're allowed to create, each more groundbreaking than the last.
1) E.T. in his natural, naked form. Unashamed. 2) E.T. with his bedsheet poncho. Esteemed. 3) E.T. as a pedophile with Groucho glasses. Disturbed. 4) E.T. in female form with hipster clothes. Groovin'.
Wrapping up the second box is this puzzle, themed to match E.T.'s bittersweet departure from Elliot back to his home planet of Tweleionirulianiptar. Our heroic extraterrestrial would return to McDonald's a decade later to celebrate his tenth anniversary, this time with toys much cooler than cardboard boxes and fold-out posters. Still, let's not discount what we're seeing here. As far as cardboard boxes go, you won't find ones more fun than these. Hooray for E.T., hooray for McDonald's, and hooray for cardboard. And just because it's on tonight, hooray for that Golden Girls episode where Sophia sleeps with Caesar Romero. He was the Joker, you know. Follow the link below to download the original Happy Meal commercial from 1982, and phone home.