McDonaldland was a fantasy world used in the marketing for McDonald's restaurants during the 1970s through the 1990s. 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 "PlayPlaces" attached to some McDonald's. The McDonaldland commercials alongside the characters were dropped from McDonald's advertising in 2003, but Ronald McDonald is still seen in commercials and in Happy Meal toys.
McDonaldland was created by Needham, Harper & Steers in 1970–71 at the request of McDonald's for its restaurants. The early commercials were built on an upbeat, bubblegum-style tune and featured a narrator; many had plots that involved various villains trying to steal a corresponding food item but are foiled by Ronald.
In 1976, Remco created a line of six-inch action figures to celebrate the characters.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the McDonaldland commercials 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) while 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 lived in reality and interacted with real-life people, 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-friendly magazine titled "McDonaldland Fun Times", which published six issues a year. A direct-to-videoanimated film titled The Adventures of Ronald McDonald: McDonaldland Treasure Island was released in 1989, featuring much of the McDonaldland characters from the 1980s. Video games featuring the characters were also released, such as M.C. Kids and McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure.
Later years (1998–2003)
From 1998 until 2003, Rugrats creators Klasky Csupo and McDonald's released an animated direct-to-video series exclusively on VHS 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. Whenever the characters would enter down a tube or other means of travel, they would become animated. In all six episodes, Ronald goes on adventures with his friends and they learn new things along the way.
In the early 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 the desire of ad agency Leo Burnett by elevating the "I'm lovin' it" campaign and phasing out the characters, resulting in McDonald's choosing the latter option and completely retiring the McDonaldland characters.
In recent years, the McDonaldland premise has largely been dropped out of advertising campaigns and Happy Meal toys. Despite this, the characters continued to appear in McDonald's PlayPlaces, decorative seats for children's birthday parties and bibs, though only Ronald McDonald, Birdie, Grimace, Hamburglar and the Fry Kids appear in them. They also appeared on some soft drink cups until 2008 and still appear as cookies in pouches titled "McDonaldland Cookies".
Today, the characters also appear on the windows of some McDonald's restaurants. Modern commercials nowadays depict Ronald McDonald alone in real-world situations with children, whether he visits a local McDonald's restaurant or to visit sick children at a Ronald McDonald House. Grimace, however, had a non-speaking appearance in an advertisement for Monsters vs. Aliens Happy Meal toys while the Hamburglar appeared in an adult-oriented commercial advertising the Big Mac.
Ronald McDonald – The primary cultural icon and official mascot of McDonald's. He is a clown with red hair and a big red smile who wears a yellow jumpsuit 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 as one of the first antagonists of the commercials where often attempts to steal burgers from Ronald. Originally, Hamburglar spoke in a gibberish language which had to be translated by Captain Crook. He was reintroduced in 1985 as one of the main protagonists where he spoke in a normal sentence. 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 1986, Howard Morris from 1986 to 2003, and sometimes Charlie Adler in commercials during the mid 1980s and in 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 who was first introduced in November 1971 as the "Evil Grimace". In Grimace's first appearances, he was one of the original main antagonists and was depicted with two pairs of arms which was used to steal sodas and shakes. "Evil" was soon dropped from Grimace's name and he was reintroduced in 1972 as a protagonist. Grimace was performed by Patty Saunders while he was voiced by Lennie Weinrib from 1971 to 1986, Frank Welker from 1986 to 2003, sometimes Larry Moran from 1986 to 2003, and Kevin Michael Richardson in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
Due to his similarities with Sid and Marty Krofft's character H.R. Pufnstuf (right), Mayor McCheese was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the brothers against McDonald's for being a rip-off of their character.
Captain Crook – A pirate captain who was introduced in 1971 as one of the main antagonists and was dropped in 1985. Captain Crook steals Filet-O-Fish sandwiches and often interprets Hamburgler's gibberish. He was revised in 1984 with a Muppet-like appearance and later became simply known as "The Captain" where he has a parrot and operates the S.S. Filet-O-Fish. Captain Crook was performed by Bob Towers while he was voiced by Larry Storch.
The Professor – A scientist who was McDonaldland's inventor and researcher. He was introduced in 1971 and has invented different devices throughout McDonaldland like the Psychedelic Electronic Hamburger Machine (which made only pumpkins for some reason), the Dinner Gong, an invisible car that helped Ronald McDonald get to McDonald's to meet with the kids, a magnetic bat, and the Chicken McNugget Dip-O-Matic. In his first appearance, he was a bespectacled man with a short beard, neck-length hair, and a hat. In later appearances in the 70s, he was a bespectacled man with a long beard. In the 80s, he was a bespectacled man with a moustache, a long nose, and a helmet with a lightbulb on it. The character was dropped in 1985. He was performed by Lou Wagner while he was voiced by Andre Stojka.
Officer Big Mac climb-in jail playground.
Officer Big Mac – Introduced in 1971 and was dropped in 1985, he was similar to Mayor McCheese in appearance that he had a large burger for a head. In his case, his head was a Big Mac (minus the vegetables and special sauce) rather than a cheeseburger. Officer Big Mac 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 – Introduced in 1972 as "Gobblins", the Fry Kids are small, shaggy, ball-like creatures with legs and no arms who try to steal other characters' French fries. The Fry Kids were variously voiced in the commercials and were voiced by Kath Soucie, Paul Greenberg and Nika Futterman in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
Uncle O'Grimacey – Introduced in 1977 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, he is depicted as Grimace's uncle. Uncle O'Grimacey was voiced by Lennie Weinrib.
Iam Hungry – A short-lived McDonaldland character who was introduced in 1998 and was dropped in 2001. Self-proclaimed as the "Vice President of Snacking", the character was a floating, fast-moving green fuzzball with orange arms and a monstrous face. Iam Hungry was voiced by Jeff Lupetin.
Mike the Microphone – A one-time character created especially for the Kid Rhino albums Ronald Makes It Magic and Ronald McDonald presents Silly Sing Along.