For the video game, see M.C. Kids.

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.[1] 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 the "Evil Grimace", was revamped in 1974 as a friendly character. 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.[2]

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. 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 also grew to popular demand for children, the most notable of these being 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 creators 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 Hamburgler 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".

As of 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.


The following characters are listed in order of appearance:

Ronald McDonald

Main article: Ronald McDonald
Ronald McDonald in 1999.

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. 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 and 2004 in a Latin American commercial), 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 pockets; the pocket over his heart was changed to a circular patch with a McDonald's '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 from 2000-2014. In April 2014, McDonald's announced that Ronald McDonald will have a whole new look and new outfits. They also announced that he will be back in their new commercials as well as on social media sites like Twitter.[3] As part of Ronald's makeover, his jumpsuit from since the McDonaldland days has been dropped in favor of yellow cargo pants, a vest and a red-and-white striped rugby shirt. His classic clown shoes remain part of the official uniform.[4][5] 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.

Supporting characters

Officer Big Mac climb-in jail playground.
A blue female Fry Kid is perched on a McDonald's sign in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

See also

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