Welcome back to the June installment of LRM’s Retro-Specs! A while back I did a piece on Pizza Hut and Book It! If you are a child of the 80s, I am sure that is something you fondly remember. Fast food chains have a strong place in our hearts. Birthday parties for kids are wild now. Photo shoots and over-the-top gestures. I don’t know about you all, but I had some of my best birthday parties at McDonalds, Burger King, Chucky Cheese/Showbiz, and Discovery Zone. Even if you did not have a birthday party, McDonalds rules the 80s and is still top of the fast food chain today. Part of the reason is due to their innovative nature with toys in their happy meals product choices. Let’s go down nostalgia lane and look at McDonalds’ best Happy Meal toy, Changeables, and the time they served McPizzas!
McDonalds’ Best Happy Meal Toy
McDonalds is always the place to go for those Happy Meal toys. And they have some great ones like the Batman Returns toy line. Come on, I had to throw that in, didn’t I? There is really no comparison to what they offer now compared to the 80s. By far the best is the Transformers inspired Changeables. They are actually extremely well done. McDonalds takes their best selling food items and has them change into robots. Sure, it may seem cheap and corny, but they are actually awesome. I remember bringing them in for show-and-tell during kindergarten. I know. Major street cred, right? Also, two came out per week! Great marketing strategy to get kids to beg their parents to take them to the golden arches.
Of course I may have some bias. However, Changeables must be good since there are three different waves. The first is in 1987. These are the most well-known of the bunch representing McDonalds’ main stays. There are the Big Mac Burger, Fries, Chicken McNuggets Box (which is the old, not so environmental friendly, polystyrene box). The final two of the series are the milk shake and egg McMuffin.
Series Two comes in 1989. The originals come back with some new coloring. Of course that means we still have to collect them. Even though my parents suggest they are the same, they ARE different colors. There are some new menu items as well. The new additions include: Small Fries, Quarter Pounder (non-environmental friendly box), Cheeseburger, Ice Cream and Hot-Cakes. McDonalds step-up their game by adding names to the line as well. The names include: Macro Mac (Big Mac), Fry Force (Large Fries), Krypto Cup (Small soft drink), Fry Bot (Small Fries), Gallacta Pounder (Quarter Pounder Polystyrene box), C2 (Cheeseburger), Turbo Cone (Ice Cream), and Robo-Cakes (Hot Cakes). Fitting more along the Transformers concept.
In 1990 a third line arrives. This time the menu items do not turn into robots, but dinosaurs! Why? Because it is the 80s/90s and everyone loves dinosaurs! The new line include: Happy Meal-O-Don (Happy Meal Box), McDino Cone (Ice Cream), Hot Cakes-O-Dactyl (Hot Cakes), Fry-Ceratops (Large Fries), Big Mac-O-Saurus Rex (Big Mac), Tri-Shake-Atops (Milkshake), McNuggets-O-Saurus (McNuggets Box), Quarter Pounder with Cheese-O-Saur (Quarter Pounder With Cheese). Come on. Aren’t those amazing 80s/90s names?!
McDonalds actually did a great job with these toys. In the age of Transformers and GoBots, the toys fit the hype. Also, they do transform, yet only have a couple moving parts. This limits the complication of the toys and makes them accessible for all. There are also no small parts that could endanger younger children. Changeables also look quality. The detail is good for a free toy. They also grab the hype of the time while promoting their own brand in the process. Well done, McDonalds. Well done.
There is a fourth line. Kind of. In 1992 there is a Food Fundamentals Changeables toy. This is in line with the American Dietician Association. Irony, right? The two companies are not quite synonymous. Many of the food items are not even sold at McDonalds. “Yes, I’d like the McDonalds steak, deli sandwich and corn cob (not pictured), please”… Anyways, they come with a healthy foods pamphlet. That’s like getting socks for Christmas as a kid. The faces always stay visible and their arms and legs fold into them. Lame. However, Changeables have lasting power and are still coveted today. Some go for around $50+. Not bad for a free toy in the 80s. Their awesome concept, features, and lasting power are what make them the best McDonalds toy!
Capitalizing On Dinner Time With McPizza
Let’s transition. While we are still somewhat in the Happy Meal territory, there is a concept from the 80s many did not get to experience. I am lucky enough to be one who was able to. Not much has changed, but in the 80s McDonalds owned the fast food competition. Their menu expands. They are more than just burgers and fries. They already have the McMuffin from 1973. Then the chicken nuggets premiere. And quite the hit they are. After that comes Happy Meals.
While they completely blow their competition out of the water there is a coveted time they struggle to take advantage of. Dinner time. Burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets are not seen as “dinner” material. (Wow, a lot has changed). There is another company at the time who own the dinner slot: Pizza Hut. McDonalds looks to take over this time of day. In working to do so they introduce the McDonalds pizza.
In 1986 word begins to spread that McDonalds will join the pizza push. Through trial and error they know they have to find a quick way to produce pizza. McDonalds patents superheated dough to take from frozen to cooked in six minutes. In 1989 the pizzas roll out. The actual name McPizza is from a prototype calzone-style that did not see the light of day. The pizza is known as McDonalds pizza, yet many come to call it the McPizza. It even comes with the tag line, “so good, so fast”. Customers can order an entire pizza while some stores offer them by the slice, or personal pan size as well (depending on the locations).
Why It Didn’t Last
McPizza unfortunately goes almost as quickly as it shows up. Issues prevail. Not all restaurants got the pizza treatment. Those who did find themselves remodeling in order to accommodate the pizza ovens and warming bins. The drive-thru has issues as well. Sure the large pizzas work great indoors. However, if a family orders through the drive-thru, the boxes did not fit out the window…This leads to having to replace the windows and offer single slices or personal pan sizes. Executives also make the decision that the pizza prep. stations needs to be close to the drive-thru so people can see how their food is prepared. This means more remodeling.
As McDonalds lauds itself on their fast service, the McPizza becomes an issue. When busy, the wait time could be 10+ minutes. No one likes parking and waiting for their fast food. The cost is from $5.99-$8.99. Add in drinks or other menu items and it seems to be moving away from the low prices McDonalds are known for. This combining with the prep. time is known for the quick downfall of the McPizza.
On top of this, Pizza Hut is not ready to give up their dinner-time dominance. They provide marketing that directly goes for McDonalds’ throat. Advertising from the pizza giants such as, “Don’t make a McStake”, and “McFrozen” hurts McDonalds.
Is It Still Around?
In 2015 there are still two small franchises supposedly still serving the McPizza. One is in Ohio and the other in West Virginia. How can this be? Even though approval is still needed by McDonalds HQ, the two locations are small franchisees. Whether they are still available in these locations is unsure. One can only hope! If so, could this mean McDonalds may have the McPizza in their plans again one day?
The Happy Sack
Let’s come full circle. It’s really not the best name choice in the world. However, McDonalds does offer the McPizza in Happy Meals known as Happy Sacks. I am again lucky enough to have the McPizza and Happy Sacks in my area during these times. We often ordered the McPizza. To describe the taste, think Fazoli’s or Cicis. Not amazing, but definitely not bad. Remembering that I at one time ordered the McPizza in a Happy Sack, could I have also got a Changeables with the meal? The stars definitely could have aligned. What a time to be alive. Being a part of the McPizza life while also getting a Changeable; McDonalds’ best toys!
ALSO SEE: The Real Ghostbusters: The 80s Toon We All Loved But Ruined The Franchise (A Vicious Love Letter) | LRM’s RetroSpecs
Do you remember McDonalds’ Changeables? Do you have any of them? Which is your favorite? Also, did you have McPizza in your area? Did you like it? If not, would have try it if you had the chance? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!