Sunday, June 22, 2014

McDonaldland Commercials of the Seventies.

(I recently bought a collection of commercials which I had seen floating around the nets for a while. Because it's such a mixed bag, here's an overview, in hopes of being helpful to other collectors.)

     This compilation of McDonaldland-themed commercials is described as being comprised of ads from 1971 to 1978, but while the picture quality is satisfactory and generally quite good, the tiny copyright print is rarely legible. It's about 108 minutes long, but that includes 46 thirty-second versions of minute-long ads, thus creating about 23 minutes of some redundancy for non-collectors. There are also eight repeated ads, constituting another six-and-a-half minutes or so of redundancy. In the middle, oddly, is an utterly unrelated eleven-minute animated promo for Champion Paper (set in the Old West, with folksy voice-over by Pat Buttram)--undeniably entertaining (though filled with offensive "injun" references), but irrelevant nonetheless. Further deducting about six minutes of non-McDonaldland ads (mainly of the "You Deserve a Break Today" campaign), this leaves about 62 minutes of unique commercials involving "Hamburger Clown" Ronald McDonald (amiably portrayed by Robert "Moody" King) and his fantastical pals.
    This comp--origins unknown to me--also includes about seven minutes of an interesting TLC bio of McDonald's and Ray Kroc, but this segment jitters almost to the point of unwatchability. The perhaps-overzealous compiler even included the brief scene from Woody Allen's "Sleeper" which shows a McDonald's hamburgers-sold sign of the future absurdly laden with zeroes. The disc, which I purchased on eBay, ends with a number of neat Quaker cereal ads of the 60's: three Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch, two Crunchberries, and a widely available Quake/Quisp ad that is otherwise noteworthy for a terrific Quakemobile premium addition--unfortunately, it cuts off before the end.
    Most of the ads show the antics that take place in McDonaldland, with its coterie of peculiar and grotesque characters. Many of the litigiously-Krofftesque oddballs evolve over the seven years of ads represented, with the Hamburglar in particular becoming significantly less repulsive as time goes on. He is introduced with empty eyes and a thin, nightmarish nose that bisects almost his entire face like a pointed blade; gradually, his features soften until he is merely appalling. Ronald begins the series with a shaggy 'fro which he eventually flat-irons. The purple blob Grimace, infamously, starts out as an "evil" doofus with two pairs of arms (although the lower hands, disturbingly, appear more like sunken pouches, leading one to believe he's a relative of the Sumatran Toad) and a loutish, Stepin Fetchit affect ("I's thirsty!"). The countenance of the not-overly-brainy Professor changes several times, but never favorably.
    While most of the action in the commercials is pretty standard physical comedy schtick, there's a surprisingly dry element to many, helped by Ronald's non-goofy voice and frequently deadpan reaction shots. (I love the one where Ronald and some kids implore Captain Crook to smile, and we see their delighted reactions as they watch him and declare, "Hooray,  he did it!" The Captain's cut-back shot, however, reveals the exact same ugly rubber mug as before, with no music cue or sound effect to emphasize the gag.) The various visiting kids, which include 70's kiddie-show mainstays Jodie Foster, Ike Eisenmann and Brad Savage, are a pretty diverse group. One ad (set in the "real world" outside of McDonaldland) even features a Native American pair, rarely seen in my commercial-collecting experience.  There's another ad that's an extended Karaoke sing-along of Ronald's theme, perfect for your next rowdy get-together.
    Among the other notable ads included are quite a few holiday commercials: four Christmas-themed ads (all hawking gift certificates, of course), a Halloween ad (featuring "trick-or-treat safety cuffs," reflective wrist sleeves which came wrapped around your beverage, serving to make any kid's costume into a Wonder Woman hybrid), five patriotic ads (most of which do not specifically mention the Fourth of July, except one ad which touts a faux-vintage copy of the Declaration of Independence, "free" with purchase), two Valentine's Day ads and two "Shamrock Shake" ads, one of which features an actor with the requisite atrocious Irish accent. Some of the patriotic ads feature similarly-dyed shakes: strawberry red, regular vanilla white, and blueberry blue. For Thanksgiving, at least tangentially (the generic intro by Ronald mentions a "holiday show," which would not endear him to Fox News), there's a series of ads which accompanied a McDonald's-sponsored airing of "The Mouse on the Mayflower." Naturally, one of these also suggests fifty-cent gift certificates for Christmas giving, as well as reminding us not to litter. There are other ads devoted to picking up your trash (or "feeding the Wastebaskets," who are anthropomorphized characters in their own right, their lives beyond the commercials quite heart-breaking when imagined further), and several for Ronald's live appearances, with space left at the end for a local voice-over to be added later.
    There are plenty of ads with toys and other limited-time offerings: "Happy Cups," depicting all the characters; bonus coupons (where you "wash off" Ronald's mouth to discover your prize--Please, oh god, please kiddies, use a damp napkin and not your tongue); drink lids that double as flying discs; "Slap-happy" stickers; stencils and jigsaw puzzles; stiff, cuddle-resistant cloth Ronald dolls; a "Happy Box" for storing your various childhood doo-dads that came with a purchase of six (!) apple pies (maybe little Billy can stash his insulin there); a 56-piece travel kit of games and puzzles in its own Happy Box-like carrying case; and my favorite, a meal combo known unappealingly as Captain Crook's "Sea Bag." (I thought for sure that's what the crusty old gob called Mrs. Crook.)
    Overall, an enjoyable collection filled with curiosities, well worth acquiring for the casual nostophile or the completist nutjob. You probably can surmise which category I fall into.