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McDonald’s Happy Meals for adults make sense in a Funko-obsessed world

We can drag the fast food chain all we want, but the idea will work

An Image of a Happy Meal box in front of a blue sky. There are four toys floating above the box in the graphic: Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Birdie, and a new friend named Cactus Buddy. They all look like they are made out of clay and have four eyes for some reason. Image: McDonald’s USA
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

The massive fast-food chain McDonald’s announced on Thursday that it would be releasing special Happy Meals for adults as part of a collaboration with the fashion streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market (CPFM). Once it launches Monday, people will have a chance to get one of four collectible figurines of McDonald’s mascots — Grimace, the Hamburglar, Birdie, and a new friend named Cactus Buddy — all packaged in a special edition Happy Meal box.

CPFM is a high-end fashion brand known for its eccentric and playful graphic imagery. The figurines that will come with this meal look like cursed, distorted versions of the McDonald’s mascots. Grimace, for example, has four eyes and looks like he was made by a child with clay.

Of course, Happy Meals exist as a special way to lure kids in, so the news that McDonald’s was making Happy Meals for adults led to a lot of clowning online. One person said that the “creation of a Happy Meal for adults is the logical endpoint of American culture,” and another said that the concept of adult Happy Meals is a “pretty powerful index of mental and moral decline.” And while I agree there is something that makes my skin crawl when I think about grown-ass adults going to McDonald’s to get their “adult Happy Meal,” I also think the idea makes a lot of sense.

The plastic-y and slightly ugly aesthetics that came to characterize McDonald’s toys shaped the taste of an entire generation. And whether we like it or not, trends have normalized the adult consumption of certain categories of toys that were previously relegated to kids. The first Funko Pops were released in 1998, and the figurine brand has gone on to become a big hitter in consumer trends; it’s predicted to hit $1 billion in revenue in the next five years.

Happy Meal toys are just another collectible. Millennials and older zoomers are part of a generation of people who grew up going to McDonald’s for Neopets toys and little Sonic games. According to a representative of McDonald’s, the team is taking “one of the most nostalgic McDonald’s experiences and literally repackaging it in a new way that’s hyper-relevant for our adult fans.” Describing a collaboration with a streetwear brand that’s largely inaccessible for the average consumer as “hyper-relevant” may seem like a stretch. However, McDonald’s is right that it can cash in on the nostalgic feelings of the group of consumers who grew up getting Happy Meals.

The funny thing about it all is that McDonald’s really doesn’t need to rebrand anything to market it toward adults and to get an older audience to buy Happy Meals. Previous Happy Meal collaborations with Pokémon and BTS already appealed to adults. The interest is obviously already there — it’s just a matter of picking the right brand to work with.

While it might be embarrassing, the fact of the matter is that McDonald’s Happy Meals shaped the taste of an entire generation. So it makes sense that leadership at the company would try to recapture the once-young audience that’s aged up. I wouldn’t be surprised if we reach a day when McDonald’s runs multiple toy promotions simultaneously aimed at both children and adults.

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