The 5 Greatest McDonalds Halloween Promotions of All-Time

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Monstrous McNuggets, Boo Buckets, and other burger-scented spoopy delights from America’s favorite restaurant…

With all the chatter about Ronald McDonald’s indefinite hiatus, I thought it was a good time to look back on America’s most simultaneously beloved and loathsome “restaurant.” I can neither ethically nor biologically stomach McDonalds nowadays, but somewhere there’s a marketing genius on the verge of death who probably deserves a little backend love for how synonymous he made the leading peddler of diabetes with the holiest of all American holidays: Halloween.

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If you grew up in the 80s or the 90s, McDonalds had your fucking number. With few other annual televised traditions to latch onto (outside of Treehouse of Horror), I can’t reminisce about trick or treating, fake spider-webs, and Freddy Krueger costumes without accompanying images of Ronald McDonald and Dracula McNuggets. But not all spooky marketing synergies are created equal! Pull up a boo bucket and join us as we count down the greatest McDonalds Halloween promotions of all-time!

5. McDonaldland Halloween Figures and Cassette Tapes, 1995

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Even though they all too often played second fiddle to whatever flash-in-the-pan TV or movie license, I have enormous affection for all of the residents of McDonaldLand. Fuck Ronald McDonald. Birdie was one of my first lady crushes, a giant, clinically depressed purple monster like the goddamn Grimace is catnip for weird kids, and the Hamburglar is one the first and most relatable anti-heroes children were ever introduced to. If you feel me right now, I think it was almost a shame kids could only own toys featuring these characters three times a decade.

Taking a page from the Looney Tunes Justice League toys, McDonalds’ stuffed Halloweeny Happy Meals featured four McDonaldLand residents withsnappable costumes. Generic costumes for sure, but if somebody isn’t out there dressed as a stem cell ghost or John Q. Pumpkin we all suffer as a nation. For better or for worse, this Happy Meal wave also came with cassette tapes featuring original music so cringeworthy it might as well count as scary.

Speaking of Multimedia…

4. The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald: Scared Silly, 1998

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Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe kids didn’t like the McDonaldland characters as much as I did, but I certainly don’t remember anybody hating them. So with that in mind, it’s a wonder why it took McDonalds more than two decades to start producing original, long-form animation starring Ronald and friends. It finally happened with The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald, and from 1998 to 2003, McDonalds released six low-priced (less than current price of a Big Mac), straight-to-video McDonaldland cartoon specials under the banner of “The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald,” kicking it all off in October of 1998 with its Halloween edition, Scared Silly.

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It’ll take a lot more than a remaster to make this beautiful

This being 1998, McDonalds employed the most prominent cartoon powerhouse of the day to bring their characters to animated life, Klasky Csupo. The creators of Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and Rocket Power not only brought their signature fugly 90s style to the residents of McDonaldland, but you can here several familiar voice actors (who deserve better) featured prominently throughout the 40 minute production.

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And if you think that animation looks a bit antiquated, bear in mind that the production also combines that mess with live-action oddities and some of the crudest CG animation of the day. Today it can easily be mistaken for nightmare fuel so watch at your own risk.

3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit Suction Doll, 1989

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Look, this shouldn’t count, but you know what… fuck you, it’s my article! Besides, unlike everything else I obtained, and genuinely love, this Roger Rabbit suction cup dolly is the only thing I still I have to this day. I’m looking at it right now!

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I’ve written at length about how Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the greatest movie ever made (and how we’ll never get another one) but Roger demand was at its absolute peak in 1989. And if you don’t see the magnitude of this promotion, bear in mind, this is not a Happy Meal toy, and this is not one of those Space Jam toys you paid an extra $2 for with a Super-Sized Extra value meal. This required the purchase of a VHS, the purchase of food for a mail away certificate, then additional shipping and handling fees.

Factor in the resulting hospital bills associated from eating at McDonalds, this thing was without a doubt the most expensive McDonalds toy you could purchase outside of eBay. But Roger Rabbit is special to me, and his VHS was a huge part of that because it was the first movie I ever got to pick personally, outside of the occasional Disney clamshell that ended up in our house. In the days before Netflix streaming and the grotesque amount of piracy we (I) perform on a regular basis, I had to choose between one VHS for the entire year of 1989: Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Tim Burton’s Batman. Truly, the Sophie’s Choice of Home Video! I chose Roger Rabbit, and this stupid suction dolly has helped ensure I never regretted the decision. So whatever happened to Roger Rabbit

2. Halloween McNuggets, 1993 (1986)

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If you were to ask me to think of the single most iconic Halloween commercial of my youth, it’d have to be the McDonalds Nuggets dressed as famous monsters. Whether they’re dressed as Dracula or rapping their white meat asses off, folks my age undoubtedly remember the little edible muppets with sweet and sour fondness.

More so than even the humanoid residents of McDonaldland, I probably loved the armless Fry Guys and legless McNuggets even more. I always preferred the cheesburgers over the actual McNuggets anyway, but I would have been, and still would be, perfectly fine if McDonalds shot Ronald in the back of the head and promoted the adorable McNugget puppets to Mascots in Chief. Unfortunately those original commercials above were NOT pimping McNugget Happy Meal toys. But their time did eventually come…

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We remember that chicken-flavored Universal Monsters imagery so well because it was slotted in before whatever the actual Happy Meal promotion was, making up roughly half the commercial (Note the commercial structure in the next entry.) But as a result of being licensing-agnostic, that original spoopy McNugget commercial ran for several years every Halloween, and I consider it just as crucial to my Halloween entertainment as Treehouse of Horror or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

McDonalds added McNuggets to the menu in 1983 and the original Halloween McNugget commercial first aired in 1986. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the Sppoky McNuggets characters finally became tangible goodies packed inside a Happy Meal, but at least it was in a whopping 10 different Halloween costumed variations. Although the McNuggety demand was no mystery to me, the promotion was so apparently so popular McDonalds brought back the toys in 1996.

1. Halloween Happy Meal Pails, 1986

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Ah, the Boo Buckets! You know, one of the most unsung facts about McDonalds toys is their utterly ridiculous lifespan. For instance, my parents have been on a twenty year quest to throw out all my beloved toys. I don’t have any He-man, Transformers or TMNT figures anymore, yet somehow, every time I go home I find a tiny Batmobile or Tiny Toons flipcar in a nightstand drawer or behind a shelf. Occasionally a plastic Muppet Baby falls out of the Christmas Ornament box. Because unlike a lot of “legitimate” toys of the 1980s and 90s, McDonalds toys are damn near unbreakable. They’re impervious to scarring, shattering and sun damage… just like their food!

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McBoo is McBae

When McDonalds released its first line of Halloween Pails in 1986, they were for the express purposes of collecting Halloween candy. But this was foolish. Any Trick or Treater worth their weight in individually wrapped Rolos knew full well that their Halloween bounty could, and damn sure should, exceed the capacity of McDonalds candy receptacles. [KIDS PRO TIP: Nothing beats a pillowcase. Do not go home until it’s full and bring a spare just in case.] But we all had one anyway, didn’t we.

And since we all had one, and sure as shit weren’t ever taking it trick or treating, we  didn’t really need another one. Chevy isn’t trying to sell you a Camaro 11 months after you bought a new one. But then this happened, and please note how it opens for context on the previous entry. 

In 1990, McDonalds launched another set of Boo Buckets, this time with new White Ghost and Green Witch varieties Even though we sure as hell weren’t using our old buckets, we all had to have the new batch. Especially me. I got dat ghost, my sister got dat witch (natch!) And despite having no true purpose on this mortal coil, these things showed the same immortality as every other McDonalds toy. The McDonalds Halloween buckets stuck around houses for years. You might’ve kept your Legos in one. You parents probably sorted mail in one. Look around your house. Your cat toys are probably piled in a McDonalds Boo Bucket right now.

And the practice continues. Long after we all stopped paying attention, McDonalds continued releasing Halloween pails every few years, each line more garish than the last. As of this writing, you can get one right now in an all-new, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” flavor for the first time ever!. Like the McRibb or Shamrock Shake, the McDonalds’ Halloween Pails are on of the few traditions McDonalds has, but unlike those regional promotions, it’s one the entire nation gets to play in concurrently, and there’s something beautiful about that… even if the pails do contain one-time-use poison known as McDonalds food.

For more Happy Meal yummies, peep our 5 Best Kids Meal Toys of All-Time article, or fore more toy-based nostalgia, find out Who is the Oldest Character in the Modern Toy Aisle?

6 thoughts on “The 5 Greatest McDonalds Halloween Promotions of All-Time

  1. You really have outdown yourself with this one brotha! Thanks for bringing back the memories of halloweens of past.

  2. Im glad you made this cause i was thinking of writing about the same thing.
    Having a mom that worked at mcdonalds growing up I was enveloped in the mcds world I got lots of toys
    5, 4 and 2 were definite favs, especially the mcnugget toys, I was just nostalgia-ing about them the other day.
    The were also holiday plates.

  3. Thanks for bringing back some good memories, I still have a bunch of those pails. Although, you make make it sound as if you carried that Roger Rabbit doll through life, and not like I mailed it to you last year. 😀 To be fair, I didn’t know it was from a happy meal. Cheers.

  4. Great list! I’m pretty sure I used those Boo Buckets for the first 6 Halloweens of my life.

    Also, McDonald’s really should resurrect the HamBurglar given Ronald’s recent suspension.

  5. Those Boo Pails were really indestructible, ours got re purposed as trick or treat gear, and then as Halloween plant pails, to paint pails… I think they would still be around if they were not willingly destroyed. They did seem to haunt the house for years later.

    Line of the article: “One time use poison known as McDonalds food”

  6. I still have a couple of those Halloween McNuggets in a box somewhere. Man, I really do miss the McDonalds cinematic universe of characters, I hope they see a resurgence soon. Also, I usually don’t mind Klasky Csupo’s output, but jesus fuck that video you embedded is terrifying.

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