The Happy Meal is Happy Again

I remember a conversation I had with my sister Karen a few years ago in Mcdonald’s Cavite City.

“That’s it?” I said after seeing my little cousin Theo get his happy meal—fried chicken with rice and a small Coke laid out on the tray. Seconds later, the server hastily places the toy wrapped in plastic next to the food.

Before: Happy meals with zero presentation value. You get your food and toy laid out on the tray. That’s it.

Before: Happy meals with zero presentation value. You get your food and toy laid out on the tray. That’s it.

“Sad, isn’t it?” Karen said.

I was in disbelief. “What happened to the happy meal?”

Remember this '90s Mcdonald's happy meal eraser?

Remember this ’90s Mcdonald’s sundae eraser?

My childhood memories of the Mcdonald’s happy meal in the ’80s and ’90s were full of adventure and delight. The toy, such as Garfield and Odie riding on scooters (remember those?) and retractable cars, was the star of the meal. If my parents allowed it, I would play with my toy while munching on my French fries. If not, I’d wait until my meal was finished.

Karen, our cousins Arden and RG, and I would intentionally get different characters so that we’d come home with the complete set. Our toy cars defied gravity and flew over the couches. Ronald and his friends became superheroes in a makeshift village we arranged over the carpet. Every box and excess piece from other toy sets such as Legos were turned into buildings or miniature playgrounds for our happy meal characters. Our imaginations went buck wild.

For me, the happy meal box made the adventure more exciting. In the Philippines, it was a replica of Ronald Mcdonald’s house, and I imagined my toys living in that cardboard house. I kept the box intact for as long as I could.

My childhood was filled with memories of the Mcdonald's happy meal.

My childhood was filled with memories of the Mcdonald’s happy meal.

During my childhood in the US, the happy meal box was more creative. They had punch-out designs that allowed you to transform the box into a barn, playground, or whatever complemented the toy designs. My favorite was the Peanuts Gang at the County Fair set sometime in 1989. I carefully transformed the box into a farmyard where Snoopy and his friends could mow the lawn and plant crops. My sister and I ate burgers and fries like there’s no tomorrow just so we could complete the whole set.

Seeing my parents or aunts come home with those familiar boxes with an M-shaped handle as pasalubong ignited our spirits. A happy meal box signaled a fun meal full of fancy ketchup (I was the ketchup queen) and lots of playtime.

I don’t know when exactly the happy meal box dwindled in the Philippines. I was a grownup by then. I remember noticing one day that instead of boxes, the toys and food were placed in paper bags. Soon there wasn’t even any packaging or presentation. You just get a toy on the tray along with your food.

“If only these kids knew how much they were missing,” I told Karen after watching Theo drink his small Coke and open the plastic bag to get his toy.

The Minions were such a hit!

The Minions were such a hit!

Soon I became one of those adults who unabashedly bought happy meals for herself just to take a walk down memory lane—that or the toy was too cute to pass up. This year, I fell for the Hello Kitty figurines, helped my sister complete her Minions set, and even purchased Brainy Smurf after the Minions craze.

Two nights ago, an Instagram photo caught my eye. “It’s baaaack!” posted Maggie Adan, editor-in-chief of K-Zone.

Now that's a happy meal. Mcdo's 2013 happy meal boxes come in the iconic bright red.

Now that’s a happy meal. Mcdo’s 2013 happy meal boxes come in the iconic bright red.

I had to see it in person to believe it.

“We’re going to have dinner in Mcdo!” I told my sister yesterday.

“What? Why?” she asked.

“The real happy meal is back! The boxes are back.”

To the CEO or marketing guy who decided to bring back Mcdonald’s happy meal boxes, thank you from this kid at heart!

To the CEO or marketing guy who decided to bring back Mcdonald’s happy meal boxes, thank you from the bottom of this kid-at-heart’s… heart.

Last night’s happy meal toys: My Little Pony dolls, which we named Katy Perry vs. Nicki Minaj

Last night’s happy meal toys: My Little Pony dolls, which we named Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj

Last night, as Karen sipped on her Coke float and I drowned my French fries in ketchup, we started brushing the colorful manes of our new My Little Pony toys. We were 10 years old again. And yes, the happy meal is happy again.



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