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Evolution of 80s, 90s, 2000s & Modern McDonald’s Happy Meal Boxes

2000 Tony Hawk Box and Lot of 3 Finger Board Happy Meal Toys Unopened

I find fast food advertising fascinating, especially when it comes to toys. I have so much nostalgia for old fast food toys I’ve recently completed a few sets of my favourites from the 80s and 90s. There is a lot of content online regarding the best Happy Meal toys and whatnot, especially on YouTube but the iconic Happy Meal boxes themselves are less spoken about.

I suppose this is because most people simply throw these in the trash once their meal is over. It’s a weird thing to keep, greasy cardboard with pictures on it. I completely understand why most people wouldn’t collect them. Then again, I still own a Star Wars Episode 1 KFC kids meal box from 1999, much to the disgust of my family.

Back in December 2020, I ended up finding hundreds of old Happy Meal Boxes for sale on eBay. I thought I’d save the images in case any of these are hard to find pictures of later given that eBay purges old sold listings after a period. Saving the images for a future article, the one I’m writing now. It’s a lot easier to store these boxes online than to store them in my house!

Happy Meal Boxes in the 80s and 90s

Back in the 80s and 90s, the golden years of fast food advertising to children, every McDonald’s Happy Meal box was covered in bright colourful artwork. The Happy Meal box was always themed to match the current series of promotional toys available. They were covered in pictures of the characters from the latest Disney film, popular toy series or cartoon. Acting as a further advertisement for whatever McDonald’s is promoting. The whole point of these toys and meals is to advertise something else to kids after all. Yes, you get to keep the latest Minions toy, but really they are encouraging you to consider buying a ticket to see the new movie.

The Happy Meal boxes would almost always include activities to keep kids entertained whilst sitting at lunch or dinner. This was probably a godsend to both parents, other customers and the workers at McDonald’s restaurants, buying precious quiet time whilst they eat before they run off to burn calories in the McDonaldland playground.

Not only that but there was usually multiple different Happy Meal boxes per toyline. Usually, 4, so that each time you went back to collect the next toy, you’d have a different box to distract you whilst you guzzle your french fries.

The typical Happy Meal box activities included jokes, word searches, comics, “connect the dots”, letter scramble puzzles, hidden objects to find, facts and matching games. A lot of these actually involved some level of reading comprehension so one might argue there was a mild educational value here.

Some of the best and most memorable Happy Meal boxes included cut-out or pop-out cardboard features. This could include making scenery, backdrops, dioramas or houses to interact with your toy. Sometimes you’d need to get multiple different Happy Meal boxes from the same series to connect the cardboard elements together to make something such as a train track.

Modern Happy Meal Boxes

These days Happy Meal boxes are far less interesting. Living in Australia, we are lucky to get a single themed box for the whole set, let alone 4 different ones to see each week. Now that kids can play games on their phones or watch videos on it, activities on Happy Meal boxes are no longer as interesting. Most Happy Meal boxes I’ve seen from the US don’t even include unique themed artwork on all sides of the box. There’s always a plain red side and often a kid’s artwork promoting that 1 penny from each Happy Meal sold goes to supporting the Ronald McDonald House charity. Sometimes a Happy Meal App is also promoted.

I asked my friend who manages a McDonald’s here in Australia and she said that depending on the licensing agreements with the promotional partners, not all Happy Meals in Australia have their own unique box art. Then depending on current stock levels of the generic boxes, some stores might not order all of the unique boxes.

1979 Star Trek Movie Meal

Star Trek was the first movie-tie in for a Happy Meal.

1979 star trek mcdonalds happy meal box 1979 star trek mcdonalds happy meal box 2

1981 Aventures of Ronald McDonald

This set has 6 different artworks, making it one of the biggest and most interesting old Happy Meal box collections. There’s a lot of custom artwork and a lot of activities to do on each box.

1981 Happy Meal Box Adventures of Ronald McDonald backs 1981 Happy Meal Box Adventures of Ronald McDonald 3 back 4 1981 Happy Meal Box Adventures of Ronald McDonald 3 backs 2

1981 Going Places

These include facts, mazes, connect the dots, word searches and more.

1981 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Going Places 3

1981 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Going Places 3 back

1981 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Going Places 2

1981 Going Places Happy Meal Box Paddle Wheel River Boat

1981 Going Places Happy Meal Box Paddle Wheel River Boat back

1982 Little Golden Book Happy Meal

This advertises the free books in the collection, plus has a bookmark and a puzzle to find the hidden letters.

1982 LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK RARE VINTAGE HAPPY MEAL BOX by McDONALDS

1982 LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK RARE VINTAGE HAPPY MEAL BOX by McDONALDS back

1983 McDonaldland Junction

These boxes came with train tracks for the little toy train carriages you could collect.

1983 McDonalds NEW Lot Of 6 Different Happy Meal Box Mcdonald Junction 1983 McDonalds NEW Lot Of 6 Different Happy Meal Box Mcdonald Junction 2

1983 School Days Happy Meal

This series contains facts and history but on the “Old Glory” box design there is a misprint on the box. It should be Guion Bluford (astronaut), not Guilon Bluford. He was the first African American Astronaut in space.

1984 School Days Happy Meal Box Old Glory

1984 School Days Happy Meal Box Old Glory back

1985 On The Go

As well as puzzles, there are parts of the box that open up so you can play with your vehicles, such as the garage.

1985 On The Go Happy Meal Boxes

1986 Lego Happy Meal

This shows a lot of Lego vehicle creation ideas, which is cool as little Lego sets were included with the meal.

1986 McDonalds Lego Happy meal box vintage

1986 McDonaldland Band

This includes a lot of musical themed facts and games including filling the blanks in nursery rhymes. I’m sure that giving kids noisy musical instrument whistles made life hell for staff. I don’t think they’ve done many noisy toys since.
1986 McDonalds McDonaldland Band Happy Meal 3 Boxes and 6 Toys

1986 Crayola Happy Meal

Since this is to do with crayons, there are lots of things to colour and draw on for this set of boxes. I wonder if Crayola Crayons actually work on this type of glossy cardboard?

1986 Crayola Vintage Kids Happy Meal Box

1986 Play-Doh

I really like the punch-out accessories that can be placed into the Play-Doh that came with this Happy Meal set. I also like that it teaches the types of shapes you need to make to create different animals with Play-Doh.

1987 Matchbox Super GT Happy Meal

This set stood out to me as it’s usually  Hot Wheels partnering with McDonald’s, not Matchbox. This box is cool because it somehow creates a “speed ramp” for you to play with your Matchbox cars. It also has a connect the dots and maze to complete.

1987 Matchbox Super GT Happy Meal Box with Built in Speed Ramp 1987 Matchbox Super GT Happy Meal Box with Built in Speed Ramp

1987 The Real Ghostbusters Happy Meal Box

This includes word games, finding hidden ghosts, jokes, a maze and a word search. A great example.

1987 McDonalds Real Ghostbusters Public Library Happy Meal Box

1987 McDonalds Real Ghostbusters Public Library Happy Meal Box back

1988 Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock Happy Meal

This box features a cutout cave for the Fraggles to live.

1988 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Jim Henson Fraggle Rock

1988 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Jim Henson Fraggle Rock 2

1988 Disney’s Bambi

Below are two different boxes, one is for Autumn/Fall and the other is Winter. There were also ones for Spring and Summer.

1988 BAMBI BOX only Winter Fall Scenes happy meal

1988 McNugget Buddies Happy Meal Box

I love the McNugget Buddies, these boxes include very cute artwork, jokes and various puzzles.

1988 McDonalds McNugget Buddies Apartments Happy Meal Box back 1988 BAMBI BOX only Winter Fall Scenes happy meal

1988 McDonalds McNugget Buddies Gardens Happy Meal Box

1988 McDonalds McNugget Buddies Gardens Happy Meal Box back

1989 Chip n Dales Rescue Rangers Happy Meal

This features a comic strip that wraps around the whole box.

1989 Chip n Dales Rescue Rangers Three Toys plus Happy Meal Box McDonalds 1989 Chip n Dales Rescue Rangers Three Toys plus Happy Meal Box McDonalds 2

1989 Garfield Happy Meal

The food matching puzzle seems very difficult, perhaps not all are meant to have matching pairs?

1989 garfield mcdonalds happy meal box 1989 garfield mcdonalds happy meal box

1989 Raggedy Ann and Andy Happy Meal

This features pop-out sections to make a diorama and a crossword.

1989 Vintage McDonald Raggedy Ann and Andy Happy Meal FULL SET of Toys and Box

1989 Vintage McDonald Raggedy Ann and Andy Happy Meal FULL SET of Toys and Box 2

1989 Dink The Little Dinosaur

With a few puzzles, this helps identify the species of each character in Pink The Little Dinosaur.

1989 McDonalds Disneys Dink Happy Meal 1 Box and 1 Toy 1980s Fast Food

1989 McDonalds Disneys Dink Happy Meal 1 Box and 1 Toy 1980s Fast Food 2

1990 Walt Disney’s Tale Spin Happy Meal

This includes connecting the dots, jokes and a word find.

1990 Happy Meal Box Walt Disney Tale Spin 1990 Happy Meal Box Walt Disney Tale Spin

1990 Tiny Toons Happy Meal Boxes

There’s a lot to read and do on these.

1990 TINY TOONS McDONALDS HAPPY MEAL BOXES

1991 McDonalds Hook

This was a 4 week series with multiple toys per week.

1991 McDonalds Hook Complete 4 week Set plus 3 Happy Meal Boxes

1992 Looney Tunes Quack-Up Car Chase Happy Meal

There’s definitely a lot going on here.

1992 Happy Meal Looney Tunes Quack Up Car Chase box 1992 Happy Meal Looney Tunes Quack Up Car Chase

1992 Barbie Magical World Happy Meal

This set involves jokes and various puzzles, I think I recall my sister having the toys from this set.

1992 Mattel Barbie Magical World Happy Meal Box

1992 Mattel Barbie Magical World Happy Meal Box marriage

1992 Disney’s Snow White

This set has a lot of activities to do!

1992 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Vintage Unused Disney Snow White 3

1992 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Vintage Unused Disney Snow White 2 1992 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Vintage Unused Disney Snow White

 

1993 Batman The Animated Series Happy Meal

I love that they have a bat logo on the “M” handle. Each box is themed to a different Batman villain including Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and The Joker.

1993 batman the animated series mcdonalds happy meal box 1993 batman the animated series mcdonalds happy meal box

1993 Dinosaurs Happy Meal

This set was unusual coming with a longer shaped box and didn’t appear to be promoting anything in particular and were just generic Dinosaur toys. I think this might have been exclusive to Australia as I can’t find much about these online. Other countries seemed to get larger dinosaur toys around the same time.

1993 Dinosaur happy meal toys set of 3 original Happy Meal box back

1993 Dinosaur happy meal toys set of 3 original Happy Meal box

1994 Animaniacs Happy Meal Boxes

These boxes are good at capturing the spirit of the show.

1994 animaniacs mcdonalds happy meal box1994 animaniacs mcdonalds happy meal box

1994 Disney’s Epcot Center

There’s lots of variety in puzzles and activities on these boxes.

1994 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Set of 4 Disneys Epcot Center 1994 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Set of 4 Disneys Epcot Center

1996 Barbie Dolls of The World Olympics Happy Meal

To promote the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Mattel put out this Barbie collection which taught a word in different languages representing different countries. This particular box features Swahili (Kenya), Spanish (Mexico) and Japanese. It also featured representations of national dress for Mexican Barbie, Kenyan Barbie and Japanese Barbie characters and had cut out items you could add to the diorama around the lower half of the box.

1996 McDonalds Barbie Olympics World Dolls Happy Meal Box 1996 McDonalds Barbie Olympics World Dolls Happy Meal Box

1996 WWF World Wildlife Fund

This seems to be an Australian set as well and includes the differently shaped box. I remember this set being particularly disappointing as a kid as each toy is just a container with some fact cards inside it. These facts should have been part of the box!

1996 WWF toys FULL SET of 4 original Happy Meal box World Wildlife McDonalds 1996 WWF toys FULL SET of 4 original Happy Meal box World Wildlife McDonalds

1997 The Little Mermaid Happy Meal

This just has a few jokes on it and the characters pop out.

1997 McDonalds Disneys The Little Mermaid Happy Meal box

1997 McDonalds Disneys The Little Mermaid Happy Meal box

1998 Disney Hercules Now On Video

This includes punch-out pieces that give the Pegasus 3D wings and allows Hercules to give Meg a flower. There are also hidden objects to find on the box art.

1998 Happy Meal Box Walt Disney Hercules McDonalds back 1998 Happy Meal Box Walt Disney Hercules McDonalds back

1998 Disney’s Mulan

Here are two sides of two different boxes. They appear to have punched out characters so that you can hang up the pictures. This would have been when the famous McDonald’s Szechuan sauce was first introduced.

1998 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Disney Mulan 1A 2 1998 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Disney Mulan 1A 1998 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Disney Mulan 2A 1998 McDonalds Happy Meal Box Disney Mulan 2A

2000 Tony Hawk / My Scene

Here the art is split between toys aimed at boys and toys aimed at girls.

2000 Tony Hawk Box and Lot of 3 Finger Board Happy Meal Toys Unopened

2001 Barbie / Hot Wheels

This box featuring Hot Wheels and Barbie feature punch-out accessories for the matching toys.

2001 Walt Disney’s 102 Dalmations

This box is incredibly cute and whilst it has no text or games on it, it pops open to become a dog house for your dalmation toys.

2001 WALT DISNEYS 102 DALMATIANS MCDONALDS HAPPY MEAL USED BOX2001 WALT DISNEYS 102 DALMATIANS MCDONALDS HAPPY MEAL USED BOX 2

2001 WALT DISNEYS 102 DALMATIANS MCDONALDS HAPPY MEAL USED BOX base

2003 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe + Bratz Happy Meal

I honestly love Masters of the Universe and it’s a shame we didn’t get these toys in Australia (that I know of). The play feature to get your figure to punch through the punchout cardboard of Castle Greyskull here is pretty cool.  The Bratz punch-out matching feature is pretty boring.

2003 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Happy Meal Box

2003 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Happy Meal Box back

2005 Chicken Little

There’s a lot of positive messages hidden on here.

2005 McDonald Happy Meal Boxes Chicken Little 2

2005 Crash Bandicoot & Spyro Happy Meal

This box seems to be encouraging kids to eat fruit, where apple slices were now an option instead of fries.

2005 Crash Bandicoot Happy Meal Box MINT Spyro 2 2005 Crash Bandicoot Happy Meal Box MINT Spyro

2005 Neopets McDonalds Happy Meal Box

This is now just promoting healthier menu options and going out for exercise.

2005 Neopets McDonalds Happy Meal Cardboard Box 2005 Neopets McDonalds Happy Meal Cardboard Box

2017 Mcdonalds Holiday Express Train

This shows the full set of toys available, which are all different brands such as Hot Wheels, Minions,  Barbie and Jurassic World which will be popular at Christmas. It also informs parents of the apple juice options.

2017 Mcdonalds Holiday Express Train Happy Meal Box 2017 Mcdonalds Holiday Express Train Happy Meal Box

2019 Secret Life of Pets 2

This includes some punch-out accessories that I assume fit the toys. There are advertisements for the milk drink product and also a Puzzle promoting the = RMHC.

2019 McDonalds Happy Meal BOX SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

2019 McDonalds Happy Meal BOX SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2

2019 Pokemon & Hello Kitty

This series of toys was absolute chaos. There were 8 Pokemon toys (intended for boys) and 8 Hello Kitty toys (intended for girls) but of the Pokemon toys, there were 12 random cards to collect, where 1 was randomly included with each toy. Chaos.

2019 pokemon hello kitty happy meal box 1 2019 pokemon hello kitty happy meal box 2

2020 Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

This has a few jokes and promotes a prize to win some tickets to Walt Disney World. It is promoting the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway ride at Walt Disney World, the first-ever ride that actually focuses on these key characters!

2020 New Disney Parks Mickey Minnies Runaway Railway McDonalds Happy Meal Box

2020 New Disney Parks Mickey Minnies Runaway Railway McDonalds Happy Meal Box 2

What do you think?

Written by Keith

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