Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nothing Can Kill the Grimace

We were talking about the Bourne movies at work and somehow that led me to Yoda backpacks, and then to the Wikipedia page for McDonaldland characters. I don't know how exactly, but I do know that what I saw there confused and frightened me. Tacked on to the last line of the write-up about Grimace, the lovable purple blob that's supposed to represent milkshakes, was the following epitaph: "The character was retained after the streamlining of the characters in the '80s, but was dropped in 2007."

What? What?!! Those sons of bitches! They killed Grimace! And by extension, Uncle O'Grimacey! But that wasn't even the worst of it, apparently Early Bird, the McNugget buddies, the Fry Kids, and even poor, mentally disabled Hamburglar have been raptured up into McDonalds heaven. Leaving only Ronald to traverse the desolate wasteland, alone and broken.

Some may have seen these characters as cold, heartless corporate mascots that contribute to America's growing obesity problem, but screw them. The rest of us saw our childhood; memories of a simple time when Saturday morning was the highlight of the week. Commercials debuted between our favorite shows, revealing what the new Happy Meal toys would be for the next few weeks. They were almost as enthralling as the shows themselves. Sure, most of the time the toy was disappointing, I think one time I got a stencil, but the excitement, the mystery of what would be the next promotion was the driving force. And the "off weeks" when the toy was something lame like a single-color lump of plastic shaped like Ronald McDonald flying a helicopter, only strengthened our interest and wishes that in just a few weeks time, a cooler new promotion would take it's place. Maybe it'd be a tie-in to the latest Disney movie, like Little Mermaid bath toys. It seems like it was usually Disney movies, but I remember (and still own) American Tail Christmas stockings, which never really occurred to me until just now as sort of inappropriate (why is a Jewish mouse on a Christmas stocking?) Sometimes the toy would be McDonaldland-specific, such the Changeables, cheeseburgers and milkshakes that transform into robots accented with late-eighties bright green and purple trimming, or the adorable yet slightly disturbing when you think about it McNugget Buddies.

But before the big reveal for the latest Happy Meal, we'd get a little slice-of-life vignette featuring Ronald and any combination of characters from the McDonaldland stable. Some characters were phased out before I was born, or shortly after, so I never got to see Mayor McCheese, the Professor, or talking, paper-eating trash cans(!) in action. And I wasn't around for Grimace's debut as an evil, six-armed shake snatcher. But the McDonald's near my house did have a hollowed-out fiberglass Big Mac, the beloved constable and best friend of Ronald McDonald, that you could climb into and peer out of his giant burger-shaped head.

I can still remember Birdie learning to fly, Grimace's epic adventure to regain his voice, or the McNuggets taking on Ronald in a sporting event. Those were carefree times, times of vaudevillian puns and talking food who seemingly had no fears of being devoured. Whether they were oblivious to their fate, exempt from it on account of their sentient nature and giant eyeballs, or masochistically looked forward to the day they were chewed into pieces was never really made clear. What is clear, is that those Halcyon days are over. McDonaldland is no more. Queue the sad montage of characters being forced from their homes, as McDonaldland itself crumbles from Utopian magical kingdom to harsh, boarded-up ghost town.

Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys
and they ain't coming back to your hometown...

With his friends and home ripped away from him, good-natured oaf Grimace could very well revert back to his evil nature. In fact, last year a police sketch artist released a picture of someone who'd been attacking women in the North End, and I couldn't help but think he looked awfully familiar...

Thanks a lot fat kids, you've ruined McDonaldland and precious childhood memories for everyone. I hope you choke on your Apple Dippers.*

* I don't actually hope anyone chokes on anything. Things change, circle of life and all that. But if someone gets the runs because of all this, I wouldn't mind that.