Disney Stuff - The Best Happy Meal Toys Ever

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

Welcome back to Disney Stuff. Thanks for your kind words and e-mail. Please keep them coming. This time I'd like to talk about another of my favorite Disney collections, one that my daughter and I have been attempting to complete for a few years now. The world of fast food toy collectibles is quite vast and varied. A quick search on the 'net will gain you a seemingly infinite number of sites devoted to collecting fast food "Happy Meal" toys and fast food restaurant memorabilia. The most popular, of course is the American institution, McDonald's.

As far as The Walt Disney Company goes, there has been a long and profitable relationship between these two corporate giants. I'm sure many of us have had those Mickey D's french fries back in Frontierland at The Magic Kingdom. They do hit the spot sometimes, don't they? I'm also sure that most of us out there, especially if you have kids, have a McDonald's Happy Meal toy in your house. McDonald's and Disney enjoyed a 10-year partnership, which worked out well for both parties. In the cut-throat world of big budget movie advertising, the Happy Meal toy has become an integral part of any campaign. It's been said that the largest distributor of toys in the world isn't Toys "R" Us or Wal-Mart. It's fast food giant McDonald's. Millions of toys get distributed in Happy Meal bags and boxes. Most of which, I must be honest, aren't all that worthy of mention. I tend to get rid of them when my kids are asleep and they haven't noticed any of them missing yet.

Of course, as most of you may be aware, Disney severed their exclusive partnership with McDonald's in 2006. This was a part of the company's effort to put a healthier face on their image at a time when America is facing a childhood obesity problem. Luckily, before they did so, Disney and McDonald's put out what I consider to be the greatest Happy Meal toys ever. I'm talking about the Walt Disney World 100 Years of Magic collection.

December 5, 2001 would have been Walt's 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion The Walt Disney Company embarked on a massive 15-month celebration known as The 100 Years of Magic. Centered at Disney's MGM Studios, the 100 Years of Magic celebration brought with it new theme park attractions, like Walt Disney: One Man's Dream and the "Share a Dream Come True Parade" at The Magic Kingdom among others, and of course tons of promotional tie-ins with a huge list of companies and products such as Coca Cola, Kodak and American Express. As part of that celebration a fantastic campaign was launched with McDonalds. 100 different toys would be created honoring Disney's most beloved animated characters; a veritable timeline of the company's animated films.

Most Happy Meal toys don't come close to the level of detail that the 100 Years collection contains. The figures are made out of durable resin and are each placed on a round plastic base; perfect for display. The level of detail and sculpt are far superior to most fast food toys, and even far superior to most PVC or resin toys in general. Not bad for a freebie. Each toy has the "100 Years" logo on one side, and the character's name and date they first appeared on the other. The date is one of my favorite touches. I'm not sure most kids appreciated that little inclusion, but my daughter did. She liked knowing when each character made their first appearance, which ones were the oldest, which ones came out in which order, and which ones came out the year she was born (Flik, Mulan and Mushu—1998).

Perhaps my favorite thing about the collection is the inclusion of such a diverse range of characters. Granted, to truly cover the company's history, you'd need more than 100 figures, but I think some of the choices were really spot on and does the company's history justice.

Obviously there had to be a certain mouse, but I appreciate the inclusion of so many versions of our intrepid hero:

The many faces of Mickey. Photo By Rosina Liquori.

Known to most of us grown up Disney fans, but perhaps not widely known to most kids getting Happy Meals at the time were Panchito, Elliott, and Timothy Mouse.

Not part of the Fab Five. Photo By Rosina Liquori.

Newer characters were certainly represented…

One sidekick and two leading "men." Photo By Rosina Liquori.

…as well as animated characters that a child would know if they'd been to the parks, but might not know from the long "lost" Disney treasure Song of the South.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Bear. Photo By Rosina Liquori.

My personal favorites are Robin Hood and Little John.

Green is the new black. Photo By Rosina Liquori.

I've merely scratched the surface of the collection here. Starting with Steamboat Willie and The Three Little Pigs, Gepetto and The Blue Fairy, all seven of the Dwarfs, Jose Carioca, Baloo, Mowgli and King Louie, Simba, Timon and Pumbaa, Buzz and Woody, plenty of princes, princesses and villains all the way up to Milo Thatch and Kida, you'd be hard pressed to not find your favorite characters represented in the collection.

Official photo of 100 Years of Magic Disney characters toys from McDonald's Happy Meals. Reprinted with permission from McDonald's, photo by Simon Marketing.

There are a few omissions, though. You'll notice that films from the supposed "dark era" of Disney animation, after The Rescuers and before the rebirth associated with The Little Mermaid, are not represented at all (sorry fans of Fox and The Hound, Black Cauldron, Mouse Detective, and Oliver). The only other glaring omissions are The Sword in the Stone, which is not one of the most popular films, but certainly a Disney classic, and most surprising of all... no Peter Pan! There has got to be a good story behind Peter, Hook, and of all characters, Tinker Bell, being left out of this collection. I haven't been able to chase that story down yet. I'll accept theories, rumors, or the straight facts if anyone out there has them.

Once again, you are in luck if you would like to acquire some of these 100 Years of Magic figures. They are readily available on many sites on the Internet. Most are priced somewhere between the original asking price of $1.99 up to around $5.00. There are scarcities, however. We haven't gotten Brer Fox yet. He's still eluding us, as are a few others. I've seen the entire collection selling for $250; which, if you're so inclined, isn't such a bad deal.

The original run of The 100 Years of Magic collection was from March 8 through April 4, 2002. There was a set of four drinking glasses available for purchase as well. The figures were given out in white bags, making each acquisition a surprise. If you hold the bag tight to the figure, you can read the label and some characters like Goofy are easily recognizable by their size and shape. If you're purchasing, try to make sure they are still in the package, as it will reduce the wear and tear on the figure and the label.

We only acquired a handful at an actual McDonald's during that spring. The rest were purchased second hand. I'll never forget being in Mickey D's toward the end of the run. I was trying to get a few more for my daughter before they went away. There was a little boy in front of me, who opened his little white bag and said to his mom, "Cool... now I have all 100!" He certainly beat me to the complete collection, but then again… that's a lot of McNuggets in one month.

Let me know your thoughts on what I consider to be The Greatest Happy Meal toys ever and I'll see you next month with some more great Disney Stuff.