Written/Created by: Matt
Posted on 10.23.03.

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It's that time of year again. Halloween. McDonald's. Together again. We'll conclude with a review of McD's current crop of trick-or-treaty Happy Meal giveaways, but first, a look back at some of the finest entrees from years past. Say what you will about the food's nutritional values, but McDonald's has always given away some cool stuff. All you had to do was eat a cheeseburger -- could you think of a more appealing way for a kid to get a new toy? Do some chores, wait for a birthday to pass, score A's all across the report card? Or...just eat a cheeseburger. It's for this reason that, while many of McDonald's extracurricular promotions fall by the wayside given time, the glorious Happy Meal hasn't taken a vacation since it's arrival in 1677.

When it comes to Halloween, McDonald's has always gone the extra mile. During most other seasons, the giveaways were usually hit-or-miss. Sometimes you got cool shit, other times complete crap. Halloween Happy Meals never, never disappoint. Not even Christmastime itself is immune to McD's unstable free toy quality; the reigns go to Dracula and to the victor go the fries. The Proudly American Fries.

My favorite of the lot that I've seen is an easy choice -- the promotion ran first in 1986, though it was so successful, they brought it back for several subsequent years when they were too lazy to dream up anything new. They weren't typical as far as Happy Meal toys went -- no cute little cardboard box, no garnishing accessories, no nonsense. You're going to laugh when you see what I'm referring to, but on my chinchilla's (yeah it died) grave, I promise...the kids in my school were positively batshit crazy about these things.

It's the McBoo Halloween Pails! I can't even begin to describe the mass hysteria that befell my public school when these beasts were first advertised. The first few years featured variations on the "McBoo" pumpkins, with 1989 ushering in the much cooler witches and ghosts. Now, granted, they're really not anything special. I'm looking at them now, and I can see that. They're just pails. Colored, plastic trick-or-treat pails. I don't know why we were so nuts for them, but we were.

As a collective, my class spent most of those long ago October mornings beaming with pride as they confided that they finally "got one." Other, braver souls would risk social suicide by carrying trick-or-treat pails around school grounds over two weeks prior to Halloween. These things were charmed by some voodoo doctor, I'm telling you. Even now, nearly two decades later, I find myself strangely drawn to them as a mosquito would the blinding blue buglite that was destined to seal its doom. I know I'm not alone, though I wonder if the pails have the same effect on those who weren't around for their first appearance. Tell me, those of you new to the McBoo trio, does the picture up there inspire any sort of manic obsessive fits where you feel like life will never be complete until you hold and caress the fluorescent green McWitch pail? If it doesn't, you're just soulless. Get out of my sight.

So yeah, there were three of 'em. I'm a little hazy on their actual names -- the pumpkin is the only one stamped with a "McBoo" logo, leading me to believe that they're all just generic "Witch" or "Ghost" pails that happen to fall under a pronoun banner. Besides, if the pumpkin is "McBoo," what would you call the ghost? McGhost sounds too much like an Irish surname to pass as a Halloween specter. (update: wait, no, it really was McGhost!)

On the night of Halloween in '89, my friends and I were well-prepared for our candy hauls with these pails. I had the pumpkin, which kinda sucked since he's my least favorite of the trio. Then again, there's few small boys who'd willingly walk in public with a girly witch pail, no matter how much they secretly loved it. Anyway, there we were...walking around, collecting candy, just having a grand old time. For the first few blocks, everything seemed great. The candy was flowing, the pails were glowing, the autumn wind was blowing, the old man was snoring. Then, suddenly, as we came to one of the later blocks, we realized that there was a slight problem. Slight meaning super holy GOD huge. The pails! They were full! We had no more room to hold candy!

It was on this night that we learned the hidden truth about McDonald's largely heralded Halloween pails: THEY WEREN'T GOD DAMNED BIG ENOUGH. Losing precious sunlight by the moment as well as first dibs on the neighborhood's wealthier houses, we ran back home and added simple Hefty bags to our repertoire. One of my friends suggested leaving the pails behind, as the extra weight was dragging us down and they were no longer needed anyway. I couldn't do it. I could not...part with the pail. Instead, I took McBoo-Kin with me for the adventure, hauling the heavy, candy-filled stupid pail around every step of the way. By the end of the night, I couldn't stand the sight of the thing. I guess time heals all.

There were several variations on these classic pails over the years -- later editions had cookie cutter tops, others had scenes featuring the cast of McDonaldland rather than spooky ghost faces, and McD's would sometimes trade in the pails entirely for lamer but larger plastic sacks featuring scary scenes on the front. The pails were definitely my favorite of McD's Halloween giveaways, but we've seen a lot of other great stuff over the years...

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Another popular item was McDonald's "Treat Certificates," where instead of fun-sized Snickers bars or M&M's, families gave out coupons to get discounts and free shit from their local McD's. Okay, now think back. Picture yourself during your youth. Remember how crazy you got over the 500 dollar bills from Monopoly? You regarded it almost as if it was real money. Considering that, imagine how kids responded to certificates that guaranteed them free sundaes and fries? We were -- insane -- about these things. The houses who gave them away were quickly identified by a neighborhood-wide spread of word-of-mouth advertising, with kids literally dropping from their entire planned trick-or-treat courses to hunt down those fabled homes who paved way for free ice cream at McDonald's. One of the big things during my experiences with trick-or-treating was the value of what you received. When my friends and I returned home, we'd often pile out all of our loot and tally up how much it was "worth," according to our very rough and often made up per-piece retail prices of candies that were only sold in bags of 400. Because of that, McDonald's Treat Certificates were always the top find. Some of those coupons were worth a full buck -- even if we hated McD's, we couldn't turn down a treat sack value-booster like that. It's like driving your cart past the giant inflatable seltzer bottle on "Supermarket Sweep" without picking it up. You don't do that.

This next batch is from far more recently -- sometime during the mid-90s I believe. Four figures of famous McDonald's characters packaged with snap-on Halloween costumes. These aren't as nice as the previous two giveaways, and I'll tell you why. With the pails and the coupons, it was all about public pride. They were things you boasted and bragged about to everyone who'd listen. While these here figures were well-made and interesting, they were the sort of toys you kinda had private moments with, and never ever never talked about with your friends. At a certain stage, the only toys your peers deemed acceptable to buy were the ones that had a tie-in cartoon series. Everything else was now "baby stuff." Ronald McDonald was baby stuff. Still, for baby stuff, these figures were pretty great.

First up, Ronald and his pal, Birdie. For those who've forgotten, Birdie was meant to represent McD's breakfast meals, most typically seen flopping around the skies carrying hot cakes with perfectly still and amazingly large plastic bulbs of fake butter stapled on. Take a look at Ronald's non-costumed figure -- damn, they really gave him the "scary clown" paintjob this time around. The guy's a Juggalo. Or at least, he was until ICP started wrestling Kurrgan on "Raw is War." The duo picked out some interesting costumes, with Ronald successfully taking on the classic Frankenstein's Monster. Birdie, meanwhile, chose to dress like a big Jack O'Lantern. You'd think dressing like a clown and a giant talking bird would be enough to score free candy on Halloween, but the holiday comes but once a year. Why take chances?

Ho ho ha ha. Rounding out the quartet was Grimace and the Hamburglar, and some fairly unique costume ideas. Yes, the old bedsheet ghost was real unique, Grimace. You big purple dumbass. You indescribable source of nightmares. You terrible, terrible gumdrop. The Hamburglar...well, I'm not really sure what his costume is supposed to be, but it certainly seems to be a Spider-Man rip-off. It's either that, or he's supposed to be a guy who's trying to ward off the poisonous stings of a giant alien spider by shielding his skin with a garbage bag. While we're on the topic of the Hamburglar, I always have this dream where I'm talented enough to know how to fuck with big movie files, inserting ol' Hammy into the climax scene from "Citizen Kane." Instead of dropping that snowglobe, Hamburglar drops a Big Mac, falls to the floor, and lets out a final bellow before finding death:


Then I wake up and smack myself with pans for having such stupid dreams.

The collection also had a special toy for kids under three-years-old. Almost every Happy Meal promotion has such an item -- it's so the exceedingly small ones won't choke on anything. This time, Grimace pulls double duty, coming back as a purple monster trapped inside a really big pumpkin. You can press his head into and out of the pumpkin; an amazing action feature that gave children the option of playing Vengeful God and suffocating Grimace with a perpetual face full of pumpkin innards. I like the sound of it, but when compared to the 3+ toys, this thing falls short. If there's a lesson to be learned, I guess it's that being less than three-years-old sucks.

I don't like the figures as much as those coupons and devil pails, but they did have something over those two -- the figures came in Happy Meal boxes. Forget about the toys -- it was almost as satisfying to get dinner in a cardboard box full of pretty colors and clowns who need your help to finish a wordsearch puzzle. Through the years, many of the Happy Meal boxes have featured paper pop-out doodads, but this time, popping certain pieces of the box off turns it into a silhouette show for kids to shine flashlights towards. Allegedly, they'd cause shadow puppets to form on the walls. I didn't try it, but they wouldn't lie about something like that, right? There's better lies to keep up your sleeve. Why waste a trump card on this?

Course, to do this, you're faced with the impossible task of keeping your Happy Meal box in the sealed position which it was handed to you. It can't be done. The McD's employees always did it with such ease, but try as I might, my box fell apart the second I opened it, and stayed that way till I threw it away. It's a trait that's stayed with me -- not shown in the photo above are the two pieces of thick masking tape stuck to the handle on the other side. I cheated. I get no badge.

Oh, the boxes are full of Halloween jokes and puzzles. And pictures of Spider-Burglar looking into the mirror, proving once and for all that there's something more frightening than looking at the Hamburglar dressed in a black Spider-Man cowl. Looking at two of them.

Why did he put "clues" in quotation marks? Man, and I thought I was bad with those. Anyway, it's the easiest puzzle in the world. You're supposed to find the four things behind him that could inspire a Halloween costume. Unless Ronald can come up with an argument for disguising himself as a wooden chest or oxygen, there's only four things behind him to choose from. This was supposed to be a 3+ puzzle! Challenge us!

In the realm of Halloween Happy Meal toys, there's been a promotion far better than what we've just seen. Spooky McNuggets! God damn, I loved these things. Still do. Do still. It was basically the same idea -- each McNugget figure came with a snap-on costume, and through the years for various sets, we've seen the chicken slices dress up as everything from Dracula to the Mummy and beyond. Best of all, when you removed the costumes, the naked nuggets looked exactly like the ones shown in all of the commercials -- complete with the sadistic little eyes and all! There's been several editions of these Spooky McNuggets, though the quality of the snap-on costumes swayed dramatically. They were total crap some years, and perfectly sculpted during others. As for the McNuggets we saw in the ads, click here to download McDonald's "Scared Silly" commercial -- where Ronald invades a haunted castle and watches a bunch of chicken parts perform a Satanic ritual. The file is especially appropriate, as the nug-nugs actually dress in some of the same costumes as the figures. Keep an eye out for the one with the "evil professor" hair. He's a rogue.

And that's just a sampling. These days, parents aren't as generally open to lots and lots of McDonald's family dinners, but the Halloween season should always be an exception. They just never fail to create happiness in October. Even this year's promotion is killer -- check out the McDonald's "Stretch Screamers" Happy Meal...

It's a perfect match -- I personally feel that those Stretch Screamers things are some of the best toys to come out in the past decade, and you're getting a pretty decent free sample with this Happy Meal. There's several different figures, each impressively sized and with weird action features. Since most of the line's focus is on disgusting slime and stretchy skin, my figure had a rubber arm and ominous blue liquid that squirts around his robot eye when you tickle his stomach. Believe it or not, the others are even more interesting -- one of them is a takeoff on the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and another has a brain and spine that floats around aimlessly in pink body fluids. Sure to go down as one of McDonald's all time greatest Halloween giveaways, and if you don't like Stretch Screamers, they'll give you some girly doll with a black cat outfit instead. You have options. Still, they ain't no McBoo pails.

But then, what is?



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