|Original work||Ronald McDonald (1963)|
|Films and television|
|Theme park attraction(s)|
|Nonprofit charity||Ronald McDonald House Charities (1974)|
McDonaldland is a McDonald's media franchise and the fictional fantasy world inhabited by Ronald McDonald and his friends. Starting with the creation of Ronald McDonald in 1963 it is primarily developed and published by McDonald's, initial attempts to expand the McDonaldland universe by Needham, Harper & Steers were seemingly retconned due to legal issues, but ongoing aspects were expanded in McDonald's projects in collaboration with Data East, Virgin Interactive, Treasure, SEGA, and Klasky Csupo.
The series centers on an adventuring magical clown named Ronald McDonald, who has red hair, white and red facepaint, and wears a yellow jumpsuit over a red and white striped long-sleeve shirt with yellow gloves. His most regularly occurring friends are Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie the Early Bird, the Fry Kids, the McNugget Buddies, and the Happy Meal Gang. The fictional world has a variety of inspirations from general high fantasy and low fantasy, to corporate culture and corporate personality, to more specific influences including Christian media and the artwork of Koichi Kimura from McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure.
In addition to being used in advertising, the characters were used as the basis for themed equipment in the "PlayPlaces" attached to some McDonald's outlets, small recreational activity rooms intended for young children. While the McDonaldland portion has received somewhat less attention since 2003, several of the characters including Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird, and the Hamburglar are still seen in commercials, Happy Meal toys, and materials supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The Fry Kids and McNugget Buddies received entire dedicated McDonaldland themed line-ups of Funko Pop! figures in 2019 and onward, other characters that appeared in the line-up include Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie the Early Bird, Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac.
McDonaldland takes place predominantly in its own high fantasy world, however parts of the McDonaldland world have low fantasy interactions with the real world. In The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald the denizens of McDonaldland were shown to be able to travel between worlds using PlayPlace slides. Ronald is an adventurer with magical powers that acts as an ambassador for good and freedom, such as traveling to the rain forest to bring attention to endangered species and deforestation or delivering a safety PSA on the importance of seat belts.
Redemption arcs are incorporated within McDonaldland media. Grimace, a purple monster that was originally an antagonist that stole beverages and shakes from customers, but has since become a good guy. The Hamburglar, also originally a villain, was a thief that targeted hamburgers and sandwiches, but he is now more of a lovable rogue character. McDonaldland has many similarities with the real world; for example Uncle O'Grimacey, a character originally created for the Christian holiday Saint Patrick's Day to promote the Shamrock Shake. Technomancy like vehicles were shown in some ads, which included flying saucer-like hamburgers.
The most often occurring regions, as seen in numerous McDonaldland commercials and video games, are a forest, town, sea, outer space. Their exact geographic layout is unknown, but within these regions are several locales, including; Grimace Island, a Western themed area, several portals to real world McDonald's restaurants, the Moon, and Ronald's home.
The namesake for McDonaldLand is the McDonald's restaurants founded by Richard and Maurice McDonald, popularized by Ray Kroc. Ronald McDonald was originally portrayed by Willard Scott, a former Bozo the Clown actor. In 1963, he and Washington, D.C. franchisee Oscar Goldstein created the initial aspects of the character. The initial idea to expand the McDonaldland universe was outsourced to Needham, Harper & Steers in 1970–71 at the request of McDonald's for its restaurants. The first commercial aired in January 1971. The early commercials were built on an upbeat, bubblegum-style tune and feature a narrator; many have plots that involve various villains, like the Hamburglar, Evil Grimace, and Captain Crook trying to steal a corresponding food item but are constantly foiled by Ronald.
In 1973, Sid and Marty Krofft sued McDonald's by claiming that the entire McDonaldland premise plagiarized their television show. In Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., the Kroffts also claimed that the character Mayor McCheese was an infringement on their copyrighted character "H.R. Pufnstuf" (a mayor himself). At trial, a jury found in favor of the Kroffts and McDonald's was ordered to pay $50,000. The case was appealed by both parties to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The appeals court in a 1977 decision, reassessed damages in favor of the Kroffts to more than $1,000,000. As a result, McDonald's was ordered to stop producing some of the characters, or they must be modified to become legally distinct, and to stop airing commercials featuring those characters until then.
In 1976, Remco created a line of six-inch (15 cm) 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-video animated 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.
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. The McDonaldland premise was largely dropped out of campaigns and Happy Meal toys. Despite this, the characters continued to appear in advertising and McDonald's PlayPlaces, decorative seats for children's birthday parties and bibs, though only Ronald McDonald, Birdie, Grimace, the 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".
McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner defended Ronald McDonald, and said that he is "here to stay". Today, the characters still 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. The other characters still appear: the Happy Meal box character from the original 1979 Happy Meal Gang was redesigned to be a main character for Happy Meals during the 2010s, during the mid 2010s McDonald's made a parody hipster version of the Hamburglar portrayed by Max Greenfield, Grimace had a non-speaking appearance in an advertisement for Monsters vs. Aliens Happy Meal toys, and also made a cameo in the 2022 McDonald's Super Bowl LVI commercial with Kanye West, where Grimace is animated and voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Funko designed several ongoing Pop! Vinyl! figures starting in 2019 representing numerous McDonaldland characters including a line dedicated to The McNugget Buddies, as well as some characters thought to be retconned like Mayor McCheese & Officer Big Mac.
Main article: Ronald McDonald
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.
These characters have not appeared since the 1980s, and the reason remains unknown. Though many assume it had something to do with the lawsuit, which might be incorrect as Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac both appear in the 2020 Funko McDonaldland Pop! Vinyl! figures.