A Ranking Of The Fever Dream McDonald’s Characters Used In Their McDonaldland Campaign

After eating a packet of McDonald’s Cookies for the first time in many, many moons, I later experienced a chaotic fever dream featuring a few of the cooked characters Maccas used in their advertising during the ’90s, which I discovered began much, much earlier (more accurately from ‘70s – ‘00s). After spending several days wondering whether these characters were real, or just a thing of my nightmares, I was tickled to discover the history of these characters and their greater purposes in the ‘McDonaldland’ universe.

In 1970 McDonald’s tasked Needham, Harper & Steers ad agency to create a kid-centred advertising campaign. From this simple request these lunatics cooked up “McDonaldland”; a fantasy world including French Fry Bushes and a Hamburger Patch where these McDonald’s staples grew, the Filet-O-Fish Lake, Apple Pie Trees that watched over the land, Milkshake Volcanoes, a Golden Arches Bridge, and a railway for the Hamburgalar Paddywagon, that was also inhabited by a scary bunch of marketing mascots.

After a cheeky lawsuit suggested some of the McDonaldland characters were a rip-off of an equally terrifying ‘kids’ show H.R. Pufnstuf, a few of the McDonaldland gang were retired, but throughout the ’80s and ‘90s many new characters were devised to blatantly sell more Maccas food items to children. These characters somehow were let loose from the advertising world and made their way into; Happy Meals disguised as ‘kids toys’; a made-for-television movie called The Adventures of Ronald McDonald: McTreasure Island; a magazine titled the McDonaldland Fun Times; a ‘90s videotape series called The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald that saw these characters take both live-action and animation form, and; of course in McDonald’s restaurants in the PlayPens (now Play Places) and restaurant décor, children’s birthday party decorations, and the aforementioned cookies. This information unlocked a flashback of memories of playing in the Maccas PlayPens (nay Play Place, parents no longer lock their children in pens) sitting on an anthropomorphised hamburger, hiding from a strange statue of the Hamburglar, staring into the bleak eyes of a giant purple lump known as Grimace.

In 2003 all of these traumatising characters, bar Ronald McDonald, were retired for the greater good of the world, and as the McDonald’s across Australia began to modernise and rebrand their restaurants to include McCafe’s, gone were the final remnants of McDonaldland. But if you, like myself, are curious about the constituents of McDonaldland, I have ranked all the characters I could dredge up from the depths of the internet below from most concerning to still questionable, but slightly less frightening.  

15. Bernice & Vulture

These two McDonaldland characters hold little to no relevance in my memory hence I lumped them together. Bernice is described as a strange creature who ate non-edible items and Vulture was an unnamed bird appearing in several ads in the late ‘90s to early ‘00s. Their most notable achievements include Bernice eating Ronald’s script in the Ronald McDonald Makin’ Movies commercial and Vulture loaning a feather to Ronald to get Grimace’s voice out of a sleeping dragon in The Search for Grimace’s Voice commercials.

God dammit Bernice! Bernice eating Ronald’s script in Ronald McDonald Makin’ Movies.

14. Sundae

Sundae was apparently Ronald McDonald’s dog whose only character appearance was in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald as both an animated Muppet-style puppet and a cartoon. He also made an uncredited comeback as a quote ‘real dog’ running alongside Ronald in a number of 2000’s television ads. I am unsure whether his name was derived for marketing purposes or from a severe lack of creativity, but due to his lack of relevance in McDonaldland, it nearly saw me not include him in this list. However, I then Googled what this cursed dog looked like and felt that if I saw it, you have to see it too. To make matters worst, he allegedly talked in a creepy monotone voice and had a ‘conflict of interest’ with the Hamburglar?

Apparently, Sundae was also a conspiracy theorist.

13. Cosmc

I don’t even know what to say about this name and character. I can only assume the reason why they’d choose an alien to appear in Maccas commercials during the mid-80s was to eventually go on to launch a video game, and because it was the ‘80s assumed all video games needed to have robots and/or aliens. I cannot assume why they chose to have a robotic alien take on a ‘surfer’ style speaking cadence. However, the fact that he thought flowers were a good trade for some Maccas fries and that he was later the face of a Crayola Happy Meal, gives him some redeemable qualities.

Still a better Trade Minister than Julie Bishop.

12. The Professor

The Professor is probably the lowest-tier OG character of McDonaldland as he is a particularly troubling looking old man who rarely spoke and eventually sported a lightbulb helmet and moustache, something that only an ad company of the ’70s would pitch as a kid’s character. His inventions were rarely successful, never mind useful, but did include the Electronic Hamburger Machine (which made only pumpkins for some reason), the Dinner Gong (I’m 99% sure ancient Asian civilisations pipped him at the post there), an invisible car that helped Ronald McDonald get to the kids (though I’m concerned he needs to be invisible to get near kids), a magnetic bat (??), and the Chicken McNugget Dip-O-Matic (no need sir, we all know Sweet ‘N’ Sour is the only sauce worth dipping those glorious nuggies into). He was also apparently McDonaldland’s chief researcher. Hopefully, his research skills were more prominent than his invention skills.

As expected, not good at inventing things so why would we assume he could keep his ‘Secret Lab’ a secret…

11. Iam Hungry

I am incredibly disappointed with whatever marketing executive got the job of coming up with a new McDonaldland character’s name and put zero effort into it. Completely pathetic name, terrifying conceptual design. With the same energy as the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil, this creepy, green, fuzzball does not make me feel hungry, just scared. He apparently would turn up to harass Ronald during kid’s birthday parties, craving food and never being satisfied, a relatable mood which bumped up his street cred on this list. He was also the self-proclaimed ‘Vice President of Snacking’ and was thankfully cancelled in the ’00s. No word on who the President of Snacking was, and if there wasn’t one, why Iam Hungry didn’t think enough to proclaim himself as the President. Iam, please work on your self-esteem if you would like to move up further on this list.

The lack of creativity is borderline offensive.

10. Uncle O’Grimacey

Despite all the other half-thought out characters in McDonaldland they used to advertise promotional products, for some reason they chose to reincarnate Grimace in a slightly older, leprechaun-esque way and claim it was his long, lost, Irish Uncle O’Grimacey. A truly wild storyline that suggested Uncle O’Grimacey lived in Ireland for eleven months of the year, visiting his nephew Grimace in March for St Patrick’s Day and bringing with him the shake of his homeland – the offputtingly green Shamrock Shake. Anyway, instead of making him a full Leprechaun the genius’ at Maccas took the easy way out and slapped a green coat of paint and a four-leaf clover vest on an already well-established character.

Shamrock Shakes supposedly tasted like mint and large plot holes, with subtle xenophobic undertones.

9. Officer Big Mac

Officer Big Mac was shockingly there to promo Maccas’ signature burger and apparently keep crime out of McDonaldland. He has similar appearances to Mayor McCheese, but unlike Uncle O’Grimacey, got his own unique back story and apparently is not related to the political figure. Officer Big Mac also claims to be a Big Mac but he physically lacks two out of the measly six ingredients that make up the Big Mac – with lettuce and special sauce being suspiciously absent. Clearly, he’s just a big burger-headed buffoon, since over half of the constituents of McDonaldland were known criminals, focussing mainly on the area of petty theft. He also somehow let the Hamburglar become a more prominent and likeable character, actively making crime cooler to children. Truly terrible law enforcement. He was also responsible for being the main fixture in some of the original Maccas Play Pens (Places) with his Big Mac head becoming a jail-like trap. Unsure how this is kid-friendly playground equipment, but he will become a recurring character in my nightmares where I am being locked in a McDonald’s Play Pen (Place).

Apparently, a chocolate shake is a more efficient law-enforcer than Officer Big Mac.

8. Captain Crook

As a very clear rip-off of Captain Cook not just by name, but also by design, he was McDonaldland’s villain alongside the Hamburglar. Despite having cook in his name, he is somehow still not the most cooked character. Not only did he steal Fillet-O-Fish, which is already a little too on the nose for a pirate character, who theoretically lives at sea where there is a notorious supply of fish, but his ship was also called the Fillet-O-Fish. In my opinion, neither of these details help sell the Fillet-O-Fish as being a mildly conceivable menu option anyone makes when going through the Maccas drive-through outside of Good Friday when they’re hungover and want to redeem themselves as a barely-passable Catholic. He also got a makeover (redesign) in the ‘80s from villainous human to a more family-friendly Captain made out of plush felt – because turning something into a freaky felt Muppet that flops around always makes things less creepy, right?

At least he is a competent captain, Officer Big Mac could learn a thing or two.

7. Fry Kids

These li’l’ fellas were shaggy, armless pom-poms who, despite their lack of arms, had the sole purpose of stealing other characters’ fries. Originally called Goblins, they got a rebrand in the ‘80s to Fry Guys, and then the marketing executives remembered girls existed and liked fries too, so they were again rebranded four years later to Fry Kids. After the rebrand, they became the first actually cute, non-terrifying McDonaldland characters, and they did not have hamburger heads which is always a bonus. Despite minimal effort being put into other advertising characters, there was even less effort into developing these colourful characters because fries don’t need marketing strategies, we all already know chippies are good especially with burgers.

They were way ahead of their time with those thicc eyebrows.

6. Ronald McDonald

I believe Ronald McDonald is the real villain of McDonaldland, and not because he advertised unhealthy food to children, but because he is, and always has been, truly terrifying. He originally had a hat, nose-cup, French fry bags for pockets, and a tray of food always ready to lure unsuspecting children with. I believe he also inspired Stephen King to write IT and is the reason why our society began its recent downfall with various clown-related scares and violence in 2016. Since the late 2000’s and the retirement of McDonaldland, Ronald has been the sole face of McDonald’s (and littering). He was the focus and narrator of most of McDonald’s campaigns since his creations in the ‘60s where he was dubbed Ronald McDonald the Hamburger-Happy Clown, was given a promotion in 2003 to Chief Happiness Officer, and was one of the few original characters to survive the 1979 McDonaldland lawsuit that saw the retirement of several characters on this list.

Was unsure whether this was a McDonald’s ad or the opening of a true-crime documentary.

5. Hamburglar

The Hamburglar was my introduction to crime alongside the now unsanctioned Letterland ‘R’ character Robber Red. His iconic lewk has also stood the test of time, with large brim black hats, black and white stripes, and monotone outfits with pops of red, continuing to remain en Vogue to this day. Originally known as the ‘Lone Jogger’ but still sporting criminal vibes, he is McDonalland’s original crime boss, stealing hamburgers and causing mild disruptions throughout the fantasyland. Despite being a criminal mastermind, he only spoke child-like gibberish and was half of Ronald’s height and weight – hence why he is listed above Ronald. Probably was the Bad Guy Billie Eilish was singing about – duh!

When you steal burgers but are still not the scariest person in the room…

4. Mayor McCheese

Terrible politician, reminds me too much of Scomo. Was sued for being too big-headed and copying another important political figure H.R. Pufnstuf – the Mayor of Living Island. Would not elect to run McDonaldland, but would elect him to knock-off Ronald. He was one of the few McDonaldland characters to go through no physical appearance or outfit changes because once you’re rocking a cheesy as a head and a mayor sash, there is very little you can do from there. As he was one of the original McDonaldland crew members who knew when the perfect time to bow out was, I have ranked him in the top four out of pure political corruption.

Mayor McCheese has the same energy as when you walk into a room but forget what you were there for.

3. Happy Meal Gang & McNugget Buddies

Scary puppets, iconic interior decor. Theoretically it would be cute putting faces on cheesys, fries, drinks and nuggies, but only when they’re inanimate. Nuggie buddies looked more like potato blobs and instead of making them cuter, at some point in the ‘90s they decided to go full-out abomination and give them chicken beaks, wings and cowboy boots, but in saying that they are still more enjoyable than many other characters. I am also greatly concerned about the fact that many of the other characters’ motives and plot points lie in eating the items off the menu, and these guys are just living alongside them? Obviously, these guys are this high on the list because of their sheer dedication to creating fantastic Happy Meal toys alongside their important contribution to the furniture settings in Maccas during those happier years.

We really didn’t need to put any more clown wigs on McDonald’s characters though.

2. Birdie the Early Bird

Birdie was an absolute trailblazer as the first female character to ever arrive in Mcdonaldland, which is concerning on many levels including the fact it took the marketing team over ten years to recognise that girls also like Maccas. Birdie was brought into promo the Maccas breakfast menu. As we all know, the early birdie gets the worm because nothing says a good day is ahead like sadly devouring a McMuffin, six hash browns, and a watered-down orange juice that burns your throat. Birdie is finally a decent character with relevant promotional reasoning. Unfortunately for Birdie, she fell from the sky in a giant egg into McDonaldland where Ronald took her under his wing, and since then she has been stuck pretending to be friends with this clown.

Birdie dreams of learning to fly so she can escape the hell that is McDonaldland.

1. Grimace

Grimace is top tier. He is the best thing to have ever come out of McDonald’s and yes, I am including their limited edition Mulan Szechuan Sauce. He has become a meme-extraordinaire and reformed criminal, proving you can always keep growing as a person. Originally, he was known as Evil Grimace and was scaly with an extra pair of arms to help him steal as many milkshakes as possible from children. And, I know I don’t have to tell you this, Evil Grimace scared children instead of making them want to drink milkshakes.

More hands for more snackies is more economic than scary.

When the other deadweight characters got cut (sued out of McDonaldland) Grimace reformed himself, shed his scales and got a fuzzy new, two-armed lewk and was able to continue as one of Macca’s strongest and most recognisable original characters up until today. Grimace has also gone on to be McDonaldland’s only entrepreneur, developing his Cryptocurrency – Grimace Coin.

Recently, there has been great confusion about what Grimace is, but the McDonald’s Corporation has blatantly stated that ‘Grimace is the embodiment of a milkshake, though others still insist he’s a taste bud’. Although being the embodiment of a milkshake as well as a tastebud is a killer concept design and history, Grimace went on to have a fully formed backstory with an extended family including his Irish Uncle O’Grimacey, a mum and dad on Grimace Island, a grandma named “Winky”, a great-great grandma named Jenny Grimace, an Aunt Millie and Aunt Tillie and might have a brother named “King Gonga”, who is the king of all Grimaces. Amazing.

Clearly Grimace Island is the perfect place for your next holiday that you can pay for using your recent investment in Grimace Coin.

An absolute bop. Should be in the top ten charts.

In summary, the McDonaldland characters may have been horrifying, but they have now grown on me, probably in a Stockholm Syndrome way. Bring back McDonaldland you cowards!

– Courtie