This past weekend, I bought about thirty pounds of Happy Meal Toys, which were filled to the brim of one of those industrial-sized plastic bins, all from the 1980s and 1990s. Ten bucks, the whole thing. It’s not even that I collect Happy Meal toys. But ten bucks is a cheap price of admission for a great nostalgia treasure hunt. Who knows what could have been in that box? I was game to find out.
This was somebody’s serious collection. It wasn’t just McDonald’s toys, but also Wendy’s, Burger King, and other fast food freebies, as well as cereal prizes and other food premiums, everything sealed in the original wrappers. It was indiscriminate collecting—sheer quantity over quality. While a lot of cool, classic toys were represented here, there was also a bunch of complete crap. If there’s anyone out there in the world who would like about twenty sealed Furby Happy Meal toys, please write me.
The people selling it didn’t seem to be the original owners. They were thrilled to get ten whole dollars for the bin and only lamented that their little granddaughter would be sad since she liked to take toys from the bin every time she came over to visit. I only feel slightly bad about that. I mean, imagine being five-years-old and Grandma’s house has a massive bin of free-for-all toys.
But what I’m taking from the kid, I’m giving to the world in blog form.
These are the kinds of toys I’m talking about when I say “cool” and “classic.” If you’re of a certain age, you’ll undoubtedly have a nostalgia for the Ducktales, Muppet Babies, and Fraggle Rock Happy Meal toys. There was something about these toys that had an allure over us all—even our parents who took us to McDonald’s multiple visits just to get them. The other thing about them is that they were really well-made and wonderfully-designed. The colors were vivid. They were fun to play with. Today’s Happy Meal toys are drab and boring in comparison.
Still, there were no holy grails in the box. There were no complete runs of McDonald’s Changeables or McNugget Buddies. I couldn’t get excited about too many of the toys in there. Out of the three-hundred-plus items in the box, I kept about twenty for my own collection. The rest I divided up between eBay fodder and charity. If it had ended there, I would have been somewhat disappointed in my treasure hunt.
But it did not end there. Buried deep within the depths of the bin, there was a handful of really random, oddball treasures that really shouldn’t have survived the last quarter-century passage of time. This is the sort of stuff that should have been thrown in a trashcan back in 1988, never to see the light of day again.
This was more than a treasure hunt. This was an archaeological dig. Here are the fifteen most interesting finds.
15. These Burger King Ninja Turtle Stickers
Controversial Statement: The Burger King Kids were cooler than the McDonaldland characters. I mean, as much as anyone loved Ronald McDonald, he was always kind of creepy, right? And who would you rather hang out with? Kid Vid and friends, right? The Hamburglar was the coolest of the bunch but you know all he’d do is rob you.
And what the hell was Grimace, anyway? I’ve been searching for this answer for years. If anyone knows, please write me.
14. This Silly Sipper Straw
I’ve been stashing stuff like this away in a secret box of awesome. Then on some rainy day when our future kids are old enough, I’m going to pull out this box filled with secret dinosaur toys and secret silly straws and blow their minds.
(The wife wishes to interrupt this post and say she’s not going to let our kid play with some dirty plastic straw from Wendy’s from the 1980s. But I promise I’ll wash with warm water and mild detergent just like the instructions say.)
13. McDonaldland Rings
These are simple plastic rings, the kind you would desperately compete for at your crappy little McDonald’s birthday party right before having slice of the rock-solid frozen cake with Ronald McDonald plastered on it. They’ve just got an awesome old-school look and make for a neat little piece of McDonald’s nostalgia.
12. This Coupon for Corn Pops from 1989
It has no expiration date. I’m totally going to try using it. For sociology. I can’t decide if I should do it in the self-checkout line or if I should take it to the cashier just to see their face. Of course I risk two things: the zombie cashier showing no emotional response and not realizing the sheer thrill of scanning a twenty-three year old coupon—or the coupon not working and me looking like the asshole trying to redeem it. But really, this is the kind of thing that sociologists deal with all the time “in the field.”
Eh, I’ll probably chicken out and use the self-checkout. God help us all if that flashing help light comes on though.
11. These Alpha-Bits Cereal Prizes
This is another thing for my secret box of awesome. I’m not quite sure what they are, but anything with “riddle machine” and “word robot” is bound to be good. Also, Alpha-Bits! Does this cereal even still exist? According to the Internet, it does. I haven’t seen it in a grocery store in forever, but maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough.
10. Christmas Ornaments!
These are definitely going on the tree this year in prime locations. Especially the collectible glass Energizer Bunny Hallmark ornament from 1994. That qualifies as a “fancy” ornament, the kind that goes securely high-up in the tree so that the nosy dog can’t yank it down. The alligator was some sort of Wendy’s Christmas promotion. Then there’s Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid. Crabs wearing mittens always get me. Always.
9. These French’s Dinosaur stickers
Dinosaurs playing saxophone! Dinosaurs in football helmets! I can’t decide whether to stash these in my box of awesome or secretly hoard them all for myself for times of private worship alone with the stickers.
8. This Ghostbusters ruler
Yeah, this ruler is warped and bent from two decades of sitting in a damp basement, which sort of makes its existence pointless, but I had to throw it in this fifteen things list because, well, it still exists. You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s also holographic. Basically, holographic Ghostbusters rulers are going to be crack to me, warped smelliness and everything.
7. Speaking of things that are like crack to me….
Collecting little rubber and PVC figures is my favorite thing now, even moreso than the Ninja Turtles and video games. Completely generic rubber toys are even better, and I have a special love for the robot/alien/ninja eraser-like figures here. Then there’s the Tang Lips, those kwazy cousins of the California Raisins.
6. Fast Food Ashtrays
These were the most oddball and unexpected find in the box, as well as a neat piece of history. These little tin ashtrays would have been in the smoking sections of fast food restaurants, now about as extinct as the dinosaurs and the Arch Deluxe.
5. Darkwing Duck Fanny Pack
Over the years I’ve noticed that Darkwing Duck, Ducktales, and Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers have all conflated into one singular cartoon in my mind. And I probably would have told you Darkwing and Ducktales were one and the same until I saw this fanny pack and remembered its existence.
And speaking of remembering their existence: fanny packs. There was like one hot minute the summer of 1991 where fanny packs were a must-have item. They were Crocs of their day, where comfort and convenience irrationally blinded everyone to their hideous uncoolness. Even I had one, and I remember totally rocking it around the waist during one awkward goober trip to the beach. Whatever, it was convenient for quarters for the arcade. Thankfully, most of us regained our composure and promptly ditched the bags after that summer, but somehow a faithful contingent of frumpy moms and campers have kept the fanny pack going to this day.
4. This Crazed Tennis-Playing Madball
So clearly this isn’t an actual Madball, but I call any ball with a face a Madball and placed it in with my Madballs collection. Look at the crazed face! The lipstick! The earrings! THE LOVE.
3. Dinosaur Figures!
So we’ve got a McDonald’s dino, a Pebbles Cereal prize dino, a Land Before Time dino, and a TRICERATOPS COIN. That coin is easily as good to me as legal tender. In fact, I think they should change our national currency to dinosaur coins.
2. This Amazing Pencil Case
Two words. Totally hot. I’m pretty sure some fashion-forward elementary-schooler could still rock this pencil case in school today.
1. This Magnet
To me, this magnet was the crown jewel of the box, the complete worth of my ten-dollar investment. Just imagine the quaintness of having a service hotline magnet for your video game system on your refrigerator alongside the magnet for the Chinese food place down the street. And that is what basically sums up the 1990s, this treasure hunt, and everything I’ve ever lived for in my stupid life.