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McDonaldland was a fantasy world used in the marketing for McDonald's restaurants. According to a lawsuit, 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 were dropped from McDonald's marketing in 2003, 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, when McDonald's was replacing its drive-ins with mansard roofed restaurants. The 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 McDonald's 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 TV show.
Some of the commercials were directed by 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 as a protagonist. Then in 1977, the Uncle O'Grimacey character was introduced for a brief promotion for Shamrock Shakes around St. Patrick's Day. Also during this period, the McDonaldland Characters would begin promoting "Happy Meal Toys" in 1979, based on popular franchises of Disney, Warner Bros, DC Comics, etc.
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 rip-off 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.
1980–2003: 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 (renamed the Fry Guys, and later the Fry Kids with the addition of the Fry Girls, in an apparent attempt to make them seem more kid-friendly). Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, and the Professor were used until 1985 (however they did return for a Sears advertisement in 1987). 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 reality 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.
From 1998 until 2001, Klasky Csupo and McDonald's released a videotape series titled The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. The series depicted Ronald, Grimace, Birdie, the 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.
In the 2000s, McDonald's experimented with the possibility of animating the characters to improve ratings. Various spots featuring the Hamburglar and other characters alongside celebrities were planned but were canceled. A conflict emerged between agencies regarding whether to continue using the characters or to follow through with the desire of ad agency Leo Burnett to elevate the "I'm lovin' it" campaign and phase out the characters completely. The latter option was chosen, and the McDonaldland characters were retired.
2004–present: Just Ronald McDonald
In recent years, the McDonaldland premise has largely been phased out of advertising campaigns. Despite this, the McDonaldland characters continued to appear in McDonald's play areas, decorative seats for children's birthday parties, bibs, and on some soft drink cups until 2008. They do however still appear as cookies in pouches respectively titled "McDonaldland Cookies". As of 2014, the characters appear on the windows of some McDonald's restaurants. Modern commercials nowadays usually depict Ronald McDonald alone in real-world situations with real children, whether he visits a local restaurant or goes to visit sick children at Ronald McDonald House. Grimace, however, had a non-speaking appearance in an advertisement for Monsters vs. Aliens Happy Meal Toys, while Hamburglar also appeared in a more adult-oriented commercial advertising the Big Mac.
The following characters are listed in order of appearance:
- Ronald McDonald – The primary icon and mascot of McDonald's. He is a clown with red hair and a big red smile who wears a yellow suit and red shoes. He also wears a red and white striped shirt underneath with yellow gloves. His first appearance in a McDonald's commercial was in 1963. Originally, he looked nothing like his modern version, wearing a yellow-and-red striped suit with a tray of a McDonald's Hamburger, french fries, and milkshakes, which he also periodically used as a hat. From 1971 to 2000 (2003 in the last McDonaldland commercials), Ronald's suit had french fry bags for pockets with two large ones around the lower body and an average sized french fry bag on the heart. The sleeve and leg stripes were thin, and the neck collar was long. Starting with Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, in 1998, Ronald wore a different looking suit replacing the french fry bag pockets with standard red packets; the packet over his heart was changed to a circular patch with a McDonalds 'M' logo. Also during the show's first few episodes, the back read "Ronald" with red back pockets, but it would later remove the pockets and just show the McDonald's logo in red outlining. The neck collar also slightly shrunk in a smaller appearance and the stripes are thicker. This would become his permanent look starting in 2000. Ronald now interacts with children in the real world, as he used to in the McDonaldland era. He was first portrayed by Willard Scott (who also played Bozo the Clown) and various other actors over the years.
- Hamburglar – A pint-sized burglar who first appeared in March 1971 and was one of the first villains on the commercials. He was 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, hence his name. The character like Grimace started out as a villain only he was old and had a long nose, gray hair. Hamburglar spoke in gibberish which was often translated by Captain Crook. He was revised in 1985, when his look changed from a troll-like old man to a red-headed Dennis the Menace-type child who spoke and wore a shorter-brimmed hat and a black cape with yellow on the inside. His previously-unintelligible muttering was now the familiar "robble robble". In The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, he took on a new, sporty appearance wearing green goggles, a leather jacket, striped shirt, shorts and sneakers. He loved playing tricks on his friends and still loved burgers. The last appearances of Hamburglar on television were prime time commercials promoting the dollar menu. One spot featured the Hamburglar and Grimace with Cedric The Entertainer, and the final spot featured the Hamburglar with tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. From 1971 to 1992, Hamburglar was performed by 4 foot 3 inch character actor Frank Delfino, while the character 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.
- Grimace – A large, purple monster-like character who was first introduced in November 1971 as the "Evil Grimace". Many people believe Grimace is a taste bud, but McDonald's says he is "the embodiment of a milkshake." In Grimace's first three appearances, he was depicted with two pairs of arms with which to steal milkshakes. "Evil" was soon dropped from Grimace's name, 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 had later. Grimace's role continued to grow, and by the mid-1970s, he was a major character in McDonaldland. Commercials and merchandise generally portrayed Grimace as a well-meaning simpleton whose clumsy antics provided a comic foil to Ronald McDonald. His appearance changed to reflect this characteristic in 1985, from a giant purple slob with a pink mouth and small pupils to a gentle giant with movable eyebrows and eyelids, and a kid-friendlier smile with a black mouth and a pink tongue. 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 1978 (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 had an unnamed mom, an unnamed dad, a grandma named "Winky", a great-great grandma named Jenny Grimace, and might have had a brother named "King John Bailey", who was the king of all Grimaces. In "Grimace's Odyssey", Grimace was portrayed as a ham radio enthusiast who used a homemade transmitter made from a colander. Grimace was played by Patti Saunders (1971–1984) 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.
- Mayor McCheese – An enormous cheeseburger-headed character who appeared 1971–1985. He had a cheeseburger for a head, and sported a top hat, a diplomat's sash, and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He was portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, and somewhat incompetent mayor who was based on H.R. Pufnstuf. Although 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 episode 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.
- Birdie the Early Bird – The first identifiably female character, introduced in February 1980 to promote the company's new breakfast items. She was a yellow bird wearing a pink jumpsuit and flight cap and scarf; she soon gained blinkable blue eyelids, and in later years her legs were orange. In the ads she was frequently portrayed as a poor flyer and somewhat clumsy in general. Birdie's origin was explained in one old commercial: a giant egg falls from the night sky into McDonaldland, and Ronald McDonald decided 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 was as good as her karate teacher where he referred 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.
- Captain Crook – The pirate captain 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 1970s, he was a major character with an unseen mouth and a rubber mask. In the 1980s, he was a supporting background character renamed "The Captain" with an almost Muppet-like look and 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 1970s, he was a minor character who rarely spoke. Around the 1980s, the Professor was a major character and he was redesigned to include a lightbulb-topped helmet and a mustache with his hair changing from brown to white. 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 invented 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 1970s and by Andre Stojka in the 1980s.
- Officer Big Mac – Featured in several of the campaign's commercials throughout the early 1970s and early 1980s. He was similar to Mayor McCheese in that he had a large Big Mac for a head (minus the vegetables and the special sauce), 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 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.
- Fry Kids – 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 were 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 1980s 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 sped-up voices in the 1980s commercials, were variously voiced in the 1990s commercials, and were voiced by Kath Soucie, Paul Greenberg, and Nika Futterman in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
- The Hamburger Patch – First appeared in 1973 and was 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. The Hamburger Patch were 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.
- Trash Cans – Talking twin trash cans. They were part of a 1970s McDonald's commercial which involved having to deposit garbage into them to feed them. They were highlighted singing a song entitled "Don't Forget to Feed the Waste Baskets".
- The Happy Meal Gang – A hamburger, fries, and regular-sized soft drink combination that was introduced in 1984. The group was later joined by the McNugget Buddies in 1989 and the Happy Meal Box and the Under 3 Toy in 2004. In 1998, They were redesigned with the fries becoming a female removing the nose and adding the bow tie, They also added the golden arches. The Happy Meal Hamburger was voiced by Bob Arbogast and later by Jim Cummings, the Happy Meal Fries was voiced by Jeff Winkless and later voiced by Bob Bergen and then Tress MacNeille, and the Happy Meal Drink was voiced by Hal Smith and later voiced by Bill Farmer.
- Uncle O'Grimacey – Created in 1977 and first appeared in 1978 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 was the Irish uncle of Grimace and was a variant of the Grimace-design in that he was green instead of purple, sported a waistcoat covered with several four-leaf clovers, and carried a shillelagh. His design motif was not unlike that of a stereotypical depiction of the Irish folkloric leprechaun. O'Grimacey resided in his home country for eleven months of the year and visited his nephew Grimace in March, bringing with him his "incredibly delicious" shake. Uncle O'Grimacey was voiced by Lennie Weinrib in an Irish accent.
- 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-1980s, wherein he traded some items to Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Professor during their picnic. Though he traded 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 McDonald's' 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 was portrayed by Tommy Vicini and voiced by Frank Welker.
- The McNugget Buddies – A bunch of regular-sized Chicken McNuggets. They were introduced in 1988. In The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, the McNugget Buddies were depicted as anthropomorphic nuggets with chicken beaks. 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."
- 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 McDonald's 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.
- Sundae – Ronald's dog. He appeared only in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, where he was animated with puppetry. Sundae often spoke negatively in a monotone (e.g., "There's nothing like a good song, and that was nothing like a good song!" or "Do you think we could just have a normal adventure?"). He hated ticks. He had 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 3,000 years. Sundae showed up as a normal dog in some 2000s commercials for McDonald's. Sundae was portrayed by Verne Troyer and voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
- 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 two commercials in 2003 to promote the McGriddles by stealing them from Ronald and his friends.
- Mike the Microphone – A one-time character created for the Kid Rhino albums Ronald Makes It Magic and Ronald McDonald presents Silly Sing Along. He guarded the door and ran things inside the McDonaldland Magical Radio Station, which Ronald and some kids used 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.
- Fast food advertising
- Burger King Kingdom
- Sid & Marty Krofft Television v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F. 2d 1157
- Was McDonaldland plagiarized from the old "H. R. Pufnstuf" kids' TV show?
- "Frank J. Delfino; Actor Played Hamburglar". The Los Angeles Times. February 22, 1997.
- "Frank J. Delfino, Television's Hamburglar". San Jose Mercury News. February 23, 1997.
- Voice Chasers, vocal credits.
-  McDonald's post to Twitter, May 7, 2012.