Right around the end of the time that I ordered just a single hamburger for dinner at McDonald’s, they started offering a “Happy Meal”. Like now, the Happy Meals usually came in a little box. The handle was shaped like the McDonald’s logo. You got a burger, fries and a drink along with a “prize”. Frankly, the prize wasn’t much more than what you got in a box of Cracker Jack. The most interesting one I can remember was the tie-in for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The Happy Meal came in a plastic flying saucer shape. You pried the top off and ate your burger and fries on the plate that made up the bottom of the saucer. The “prize” was the plate itself: voila! A Frisbee!
When we go to McDonald’s these days, it’s Daniel who orders the Happy Meal. It hasn’t changed much though you can substitute Chicken McNuggets for the burger and apple slices for the fries. However, the prize is now something worth taking home. If our Happy Meals offered a “car”, it was a little plastic doohickey that looked like a car from the top, but there was no inside, no bottom. Usually the tires were just part of the design; they didn’t actually roll. However, Daniel’s “Hot Wheels Happy Meal” came with die-cast cars like you get at Wal Mart. He’s received little versions of Beanie Babies that are just as plush as the real things.
Last time we were in McDonald’s, Daniel ordered the Happy Meal and it came with a video game. I was assuming when they said video game, they meant “video game”. I figured it would be a little plastic box, similar in shape to a Wii or an Xbox, with maybe a sticker for a screen or possibly a little light. Imagine my surprise when Daniel pulled out an actual game. The screen was painted like a road vanishing into the horizon. You controlled the car silhouette at the bottom of the screen. As you played, small LCD car shapes appeared at the top of the screen. They moved down and got bigger, giving the impression you were about to pass them. Daniel twisted the little steering wheel control one way or the other to avoid a crash.
When I was Daniel’s age, a friend of mine had a little game like that called Road Rally. It was his major Christmas present that year. Now, they give them away with cheeseburgers at McDonald’s. I don’t think we’re too far away from seeing small MP3 players or maybe little keychain digital cameras. Perhaps they will give away basic cell phones that can call other Happy Meal eaters. Maybe the next generation of McVideo Games will be on the level of the original Game Boy. Electronics get cheaper and cheaper. I could only imagine what the future holds for Happy Meals.
And I couldn’t help but wonder what prizes lay at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jack these days.