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McDonaldland was a fantasy world used in the marketing for McDonald's restaurants. 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.
McDonaldland was created by Needham, Harper & Steers in 1970–1971 at the request of McDonald's for its 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.
In 1973, Sid and Marty Krofft sued McDonald's, claiming that the entire McDonaldland was a copyright infringement of their television show. The Kroffts claimed that the character Mayor McCheese was a direct rip-off of their character "H.R. Pufnstuf" (a mayor himself). At trial, a jury found in favor of the Kroffts and McDonald's was ordered to pay $50,000. The case was appealed by both parties to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appeals court, in the 1977 decision of H.R. Pufnstuf Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., reassessed damages in favor of the Kroffts to more than $1,000,000. McDonald's was also ordered to stop producing many of the characters and to stop airing commercials featuring the characters.
1980–2003: Popularity and decline
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). 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. Some of the characters' physical appearances were revised in later commercials (notably Hamburglar, Grimace, and Birdie). 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.
Merchandise featuring the McDonaldland characters included a kid magazine titled "McDonaldland Fun Times", publishing six issues a year. A made-for-television movie, McDonaldland Treasure Island, was released in 1989, featuring much of the McDonaldland characters from the '80s. Video games based on the McDonaldland characters were also released, such as M.C. Kids and McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure.
From 1998 until 2001, Rugrats creator 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 futuristic McDonaldland. Then when the characters would enter down a tube, or other means of travel, they would become animated. In all the video tapes, Ronald goes on adventures with his friends and they learn new things along the way.
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 loving 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 continue to appear in McDonald's play areas, decorative seats for children's birthday parties, and bibs, though only Ronald McDonald, Birdie, Grimace, and Hamburglar appear in them. They also appeared on some soft drink cups until 2008. They do however still appear as cookies in pouches respectively titled "McDonaldland Cookies".
Today, 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 (in a new look) also appeared in a more adult-oriented commercial advertising the Big Mac.
- Ronald McDonald is the primary cultural icon and the official mascot of McDonald's. He is a clown with red hair and a big red smile who wears a yellow suit and red shoes. While his suit has gone through various changes over the years, it has basically remained the same.
- Hamburglar – A pint-sized burglar who was introduced in 1971 and was one of the first antagonists on the commercials often attempting to steal burgers from Ronald. He was revised in 1985. From 1971 to 1992, Hamburglar was performed by Frank Delfino, Jerry Maren in some commercials, and Tommy Vicini from 1992 to 2003 while the character was voiced by Larry Storch from 1971 to 1983, Howard Morris from 1984 to 1992, Carl W. Wolfe from 1993 to 2003, and Charlie Adler in commercials from 1985 to 1989 and The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. In 2015, McDonald's brought back the Hamburglar as part of the promotion of a new sirloin burger.
- Grimace – A large purple monster first introduced in November 1971 as the "Evil Grimace". In Grimace's first three appearances, he was depicted with two pairs of arms with which to steal sodas and shakes. "Evil" was soon dropped from Grimace's name, and Grimace was reintroduced in 1972 as one of the good guys. Grimace was performed by Patty Saunders and voiced by Lennie Weinrib from 1971 to 1975, Larry Moran from 1975 to 1998, Frank Welker from 1985 to 2003, and Kevin Michael Richardson in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
- Mayor McCheese – An enormous cheeseburger-headed character who first appeared in 1971 and was dropped in 1985. He sported a top hat, a diplomat's sash, and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He was performed by Billy Curtis until he retired in the late 1970s; Jerry Maren then took over the role. He was voiced by Howard Morris in early commercials, then Bob Joles in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald Have Time Will Travel.
- 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 could fly but was prone to crash landings, but was hardly, if ever, hurt after one. Birdie was performed by actress Patty Maloney and voiced by Russi Taylor from 1980 to 1997 in the commercials, as well as Tara Strong from 1998 to 2003, and by Christine Cavanaugh in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
- Captain Crook – The pirate captain who first appeared in 1971 and resembles Walt Disney's Captain Hook in the 1953 movie Peter Pan. He steals Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. He was revised in 1984 with a Muppet-like appearance and later became simply known as "The Captain". Captain Crook was performed by Bob Towers and voiced by Lennie Weinrib from 1971 to 1981, and Larry Storch since the 1980s.
- The Professor – A scientist introduced in 1971, who is McDonaldland's inventor and researcher. He was voiced by Andre Stojka
- 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 burger for a head, but, in his case, the head was a Big Mac (minus the vegetables and the special sauce) rather than a cheeseburger. 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. Officer Big Mac was Performed by Jerry Maren and voiced by Ted Cassidy.
- Fry Kids – The Fry Kids first appeared in 1972 (called "Gobblins"), trying to steal other characters' fries. Their name was changed to "Fry Guys" in 1983, then "Fry Kids" in 1987, as female characters (the "Fry Girls") were introduced. 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; a place where hamburgers "grew" like fruit.
- Trash Cans – Talking twin trash cans. They were part of a 1970s McDonald's commercial
- The Happy Meal Gang – Introduced in 1984, they were joined by the McNugget Buddies in 1984 and the Happy Meal Box and the Under 3 Toy in 1992.. 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, voiced by Lennie Weinrib in an Irish accent.
- CosMc – A temporary character from McDonaldland, an alien who talked like a surfer dude, first appearing in the mid-1980s. CosMc was a character in the video game M.C. Kids. CosMc was performed by Tommy Vicini and voiced by Frank Welker.
- The McNugget Buddies – A bunch of regular-sized Chicken McNuggets. They were introduced in 1984. 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, Frank Welker, Katie Leigh, Greg Berg, Pat Musick, Don Messick, and Pat Fraley 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 who ate inedible things like the script in the three-part "Ronald McDonald Makin' Movies" commercial.
- Vulture – An unnamed vulture.
- Sundae – Ronald's dog. He appeared only in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, where he was animated with puppetry.
- 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.
- Griddler – A short-lived McDonaldland character, featured in two commercials in 2003.
- Mike the Microphone – A one-time character created for the Kid Rhino albums Ronald Makes It Magic and Ronald McDonald presents Silly Sing Along.
- Mac Tonight appeared in television commercials for McDonald's restaurants in the 1980s, known for his crescent moon head, sunglasses, and piano-playing. The campaign used the song "Mack the Knife", made famous by Bobby Darin. Mac was portrayed by actor Doug Jones in his first Hollywood job.
- Mac Tonight – McDonald's moon-headed mascot for the late hours of McDonald's.
- Fast food advertising
- Burger King Kingdom – Burger King's answer for McDonaldland.
- Banana republic
- Bellomo, Mark (2016-10-04). "A Brief History of McDonaldland and the Toys (and Lawsuit) It Spawned". Mental Floss. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
- Weil, Roman L.; Frank, Peter B.; Hughes, Christian W.; Wagner, Michael J. (2007-01-02). Litigation Services Handbook: The Role of the Financial Expert. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780470052686.
- "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.
- Katie Lobosco, "McDonald's has a new Hamburglar", CNNMoney (May 7, 2015).