By Andrew Blumetti
As if writing about Skippy from Family Ties and TGIF hasn’t dated me much so far, I’m certain the following will surely peg me as an ancient McNugget lovin’ dinosaur, cobwebs intact.
(insert semi-horrible Andy Rooney impression here… but without the messy desk)
With the seemingly never-ending onslaught of new-fangled gizmos and gadgets readily available today, every grade-school scamp is virtually a walking Best Buy store with a backpack. If an Apple a day keeps the doctor away, these tweens will live to be nearly a day short of one-hundred.
You have your fancy I-this and your spiffy I-that. Geez cheese Louise, they’re so tethered to their modern electronics, the only thing that you don’t see follow the “I” is “played outside after school with my friends“.
(end impression here.)
Now, I may only be a child of the 80’s— a simpler time of a feathery-haired Tony Danza, infinite cans of Aqua Net, and the gravity-defying locks of A Flock of Seagulls, but rest assured, it’s a cold, cold realization that smacks you square in the jaw when even my generation is starting to sound curmudgeonly.
Even in said decade, growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, there was a wealth of fun activities to occupy a young boy’s time on a sunny summer afternoon– endless games of stickball in the park, weaving in and out of local traffic on your bike, impressing the schoolgirls with the newest skateboarding tricks (or more specifically, “falling off a skateboard”), or perhaps a refreshing dip in a friend’s heavily-chlorined pool was the ideal way to spend your time.
Amongst all that classic-American fun in the sun, certain days really stood out from the others. Most specifically, being told that an afternoon trip to McDonald’s was being planned, simple as it sounds, now that was a reason to celebrate.
Sure, the sizzling golden fries were soaked in pure saturated happiness, and the Happy Meal box was filled with LEGO sets that were practically as good as gone by the time we got to the table, but going to Mickey-D’s included one other added attraction, one that wasn’t deep fried or dunked in honey mustard…
Sadly, most current McDonald’s locations don’t feature these outlandish relics anymore– A 4,000 square foot outdoor play-area, not much different than any standard cookie-cutter park playground, but decked-out in classic McDonald’s decor, all topped off with all the behavioral calmness of Lord of the Flies (or Fries?) on speed.
It was a barbarous marriage of the trippy universe of Willy Wonka and the happy-go-lucky freak show that was the advertising campaign of the Golden Arches… Metal slides, swings, and spinning rides that would get hotter than John Travolta’s spoon in Pulp Fiction on a summer day. A fantasy playland, covered in french fry smudge marks and more-than-occasional bratty kids in Bum Equipment t-shirts hogging every ride in sight. This madness was such a blast, it’d require multiple requests from exhausted parents to finally drag their surly kids to finally leave for home.
Fast forward to 2013, and finding a classic McDonald’s outdoor playground is quite the challenging task. Try as I might, I just can’t place my finger on the reason though…
Perhaps they became too costly to maintain? The cancellation of the McDonaldland promotion? Maybe McDonald’s brass considered any kind of exercise offensive?
….or perhaps the real reason McDonaldland Playgrounds ultimately went the way of the dodo is because sunshine-y nostalgic hindsight is clouding our vision of how Rob Zombie-ish that freaky place really was.
CHAPTER I: THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER
A giant characterless purple blob that pre-dated Barney the Dinosaur. Yes, he literally pre-dated a freakin’ dinosaur.
The aptly-named Grimace was initially introduced as a nemesis to main clown mascot, Ronald McDonald. Fast food head-hanchos realized that’s just the most incredibly stupid thing, and went with the slightly less stupid story that he has no story. Luckily his character was so crappy, no one seemed to care… but much like Freddy Krueger, he would eventually have his revenge… ON YOUR CHILDREN.
In this ominous Buffalo Bill-esque prison, Grimace forced many innocent kiddies to put the lotion in the basket. How this thing is better than a real jail is beyond me.
“Thanks for eating our cheeseburgers, kids. Now get inside this weird purple thing’s torso.”
CHAPTER II: JAILHOUSE CROCK
Apparently, the McDonald’s brain-trust figured nothing struck a chord with kids like jails, cause here was another one– “Officer Big Mac”, a big giant novelty cheeseburger decked out in a nifty constable uniform who would one day be destined to become a torture pit for youths.
His main job was to pursue the Hamburglar, a ground beef-thief who decided it was wise to wear his prison stripes outside of prison and pilfer your cholesterol away from you.
After looking at this ominous death trap, one wouldn’t have to scratch their head too long to wonder why Officer Big Mac isn’t flashing his once-famous buns around anymore. Speaking as someone who isn’t crazy about heights or tight, enclosed spaces (the dirty, slippery, kid-crowded ladder inside this godforsaken thing was nothing short of a living nightmare straight out of Jacob’s Ladder), I avoided this hepatitis-covered abyss the way Neil Patrick Harris avoids women.
CHAPTER III: DAYLIGHT ROBBERY
Rumor has it there’s a deleted scene in the special edition of Saw IV that features this pupil-less Hamburglar’s rusted swings of death, but the MPAA deemed it was too disturbing to achieve an R-rating.
He’s got a Jack Skellington-ish suit, a Jack Skellington-ish body, and contains just the right amount of uneasy to make Tim Burton smile, but don’t be fooled, this boney burger boob simply ain’t any fun. Just make sure to pour out your Dr. Pepper on the sidewalk as a tribute to all the fallen suburban homies who tragically faceplanted while getting off of this wretched thing.
CHAPTER IV: SOMETHING’S FISHY…
This underwater treasure was the thing you were forced to play on when everything more fun was being occupied. Yes, when standing inside the Grimace jail was too exciting, this became the last resort of the desperate fast food playgrounder.
Being a fish is a wild ride. It’s freedom personified… something we as humans will never be able to fully appreciate or relate to. You spend your entire life in the magnificent deep blue sea, travel in schools, and gracefully glide your vibrant scaly body amongst the endless coral, the flowing greenery, and the vivid rainbows that compose your fellow sea-brethren– it’s stunning peace and Studio-54-ish chaos all in one felt aquatic swoop.
Then one random day, you spy a tasty worm just ripe for the picking… the next thing you know, there’s a hook in your stupid cheek, and you end up a processed square patty with a slice of room-temperature kinda-cheese on you, stuck on a bun at McDonald’s to be sold in a pair for three bucks.
True, it’s not necessarily the most dignified fate, but man, imagine being the ride based on that sandwich?
Meet the “Filet-o-Fish” ride, a humdrum bouncy piece of junk that didn’t even bounce properly.
Look familiar? You may remember this weirdo as the chestbuster that burst out of Ripley’s stomach while your were nodding off at the end of Alien 3.
CHAPTER V: HOW BIZARRRRRRRRRRRE
No list of forgotten McDonald’s mascots would be complete without nefarious swashbuckler, Captain Crook, the one Mc-imbecile who actually wanted to ride the bouncy fish seat.
A two-bit pirate with a soft spot for both thievery and seafood, this seafaring counterpart to the Hamburglar was yet another immoral advertising idea who wanted to snag your salty food while your back was turned. That’s so absurd, even the Oakland Raiders mascot is pointing and laughing,
Of course, since the McDonaldland Playground was missing a slide, they kindly threw Crook a bone. If avoiding the child Mcvomit at the bottom wasn’t taxing enough, battling the derelicts walking up the slide the wrong way was nothing short of the final battle in 300.
Look at his face. That tells you everything you need to know about this thing. Raise your hand if you’d have rather walked the plank into a sea of blood-thirsty sharks instead.
CHAPTER VI: “I BELIEVE I CAN FRY”
There’s a point when it’s painfully clear you’re just flat out of original ideas.
When Steve Urkel began endlessly cloning himself, we knew Family Matters was ready to mercifully be put down, or when Home Alone 3 hit theaters with an entire new cast, the planet shifted off axis as a nation simultaneously rolled their eyes at the offensive shark-jumping.
…and on that dubious note, I present to you, The Fry Guys.
Originally named “The Goblins” (cause they’re “gobblin’ up” your fries- hey, good one!), these are basically cheerleader pom-poms with volleyball-sized eyes that stare straight into your soul. So, basically all of the aspects of cheerleading and volleyball that don’t involve the attractive women.
Yes, this is starting to sound like a quite obvious pattern. Between the Hamburglar, Crook, and these walking Koosh balls, McDonald’s figured the most effective marketing method was to make you believe your recently-purchased food for would be stolen away from you by moronic mascots. Diagnosis: Mc-agita.
To McDonald’s credit, they created a playground ride that aptly matched the excitement of The Fry Guys.
Blumes note: No hands, yet they purchased shoes with laces instead of Velcro. Poor shopping choice, Fry Guys.
CHAPTER VII: SEE, I’M NOT A MONSTER, I’M JUST AHEAD OF THE CURVE
RONALD McDONALD’S CONFESSION LETTER:
To Whom It May Concern,
I, Ronald McDonald, or “Ron” as I wish to be called, hereby admit to the number of charges of being a colossal creep, even by clown standards.
First off, I am not even Scottish, it just rhymes with “Ronald”. Secondly, this is not my natural hair color, I have been hoping to score the part of Little Orphan Annie in an off-Broadway theatrical run of Annie.
Most importantly, I apologize for my maniacal thousand-yard stare, constant serial killer smile, and the fact you’ll see me in your sleep the way you heard creaks and squeaks for weeks following a viewing of Paranormal Activity. When the borderline psychotic Burger King king was still the second-most terrifying fast-food corporate spokesman, I know I did something wrong.
Oh yeah, I also killed Waldo and stole his shirt. He’s buried and decaying under the Hamburglar swing.
See you in your nightmares,
P.S.– I also peed in the all the McFlurry machines in Michigan.
Hey kid- If this is true, your dreams stink.
The preceding is a work of parody, and I do not own any of the photos used. Except for the Fry Guy ones… I’m making a t-shirt out of that bad boy.
58 responses to “The Horrors of the McDonald’s Playground: A Walk Down Memory Lane”
“Can we go to McDonald’s today?” … The battle cry still haunts the parents of children born of the 80’s and early 90’s.
I can’t thank that old woman enough…the one who spilled hot coffee on herself, and with it, a battalion of liability lawyers that targeted this franchise like an acre full of longing locusts.
Now, if only we could get them to check out that FrankenFood.?!
Haha, that lawsuit from that woman caused them to write “CAUTION! HOT COFFEE INSIDE” on every cup as their way of protecting us and keeping their clown noses clean.
Yep, we 80’s children were McAnnoying!
Thanks for the comment!
They ended because parents like me who had kids like my oldest son got sick of trying to get their kids to go home. Our Mc-playground thingy was indoors and my son would camp out in a tubelike connector that only feather-weight kids could access. After ten minutes of gentle cajoling to come down, I escalated into one of those parents with fire in their eyes and steam coming out of their ears. You know, the ones that talk in that low devil voice that no kid in their right mind would approach.
Haha, those “on the verge of an exorcism” look on parents? I remember those. Sorry if my article brought back horrific flashbacks!
But your son planting himself in the tube- classic move! One of my favorites!
Thanks for the comment!
Great. Now I’m craving McDonald’s and I’m broke ’till payday.
Ahhh, I know the feeling all too well. Hopefully this post will inspire a delicious stop once payday comes.
Thanks for the comment! Much appreciated!
Ha oh I truly enjoyed this and relived my childhood as well. Brilliant. Thank you for the laugh in the middle of a long day. 🙂
Thanks for the compliment! Much appreciated!
It was pretty fun, and all inspired by the fact that I stopped at the same McDonald’s yesterday. I owe it all to McNuggets, haha.
Glad you enjoyed- thanks again!
Nice reading about you
Thanks for visiting my blog. Be in touch. Browse through the category sections, I feel you may find something of your interest.
Thanks very much!
I appreciate the kind words and support. I am very happy to have visited your blog, and I plan to make it a frequent visit in the future as well.
Wow this is an amazing post, I don’t remember any of these types of Mickey D’s playareas…but then again my family didn’t have much $ so it was off to White Castle for the 5c hamburger for us. I was a child of the 60’s, but in the 80’s I never saw this either and there was a McDonalds on the highway across from my College. Thanks for sharing.
The instant I read this, I had a craving for White Castle! We only had one McDonald’s with this kind of play area about 15 minutes away. It actually required passing closer McDonald’s to actually get to it! Haha
Thanks very much for the comment- much appreciated!
ahhhhhhh! great post )
Thanks a million! Glad you enjoyed!
I love that you mentioned skippy from Family Ties. Great post.
Thanks very much! Skippy was very underrated, almost criminally!
Too funny – and, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a MacDonald’s playground. I’ve only seen their sparsely placed small indoor semi-jungle gyms. Too bad that had to change.
I didn’t even realize they were that rare. I know exactly what you mean about those little jungle gym/ball pits- they certainly paled in comparison.
My inspiration to write that post was stopping at the same McDonald’s yesterday that used to have one of those outdoor playgrounds. It’s just a paved over area of parking now. Too bad, cause adult or not, I would’ve gone on the slide!
Thanks again for the comment!
It’s sad to see how boring we’ve made life for future generations 😦 Glad I got inside Mayor McCheese’s head while I could.
“Glad I got inside Mayor McCheese’s head while I could.”
That might be the best quote I’ve seen on my time here on WordPress.
Thanks for the comment and for checking out my blog- it’s greatly appreciated!
I remember being super excited as a child to visit McDonald’s, too! It meant that I was getting a Happy Meal Box with a toy, and of course, those golden French fries. I grew up in a dense city, so there were no McD’s playgrounds for me. I’ve also given up greasy Mickey D’s since then, but you’re right- the memories are still there. Oh the joys of being a child! (A child without an iPod.) Thanks for stopping by Life Is Like A Dumpling 🙂
My pleasure! As a foodie, I had a heck of a fun time on your blog and look forward to following- much continued success with it!
Thanks for sharing your McMemories! Glad I could help inspire some nostalgia.
Thanks for the comment and the support- much appreciated!
Ha, how funny! I’ve never seen any of those “attractions,” lol, and I was a child of the late 50’s — my kids came along in the 80’s but all the McDonalds around us had the indoor playgrounds, which were noisy, crowded, and boasted the same problem you mentioned about parents having to practically call the fire department to extricate their children from the attraction. Enjoyed your post!
Thanks very much Becky!
It’s funny, the current locations seemed to have done away with that newer generation of horrible indoor playgrounds in favor of internet cafes.
I miss the outdoor areas, but In a way, it’s better off that even the indoor ones are gone, because I’d just be tempted to jump in the ball pit, and those squares at McDonald’s frown upon that.
Koosh balls! How apt a description. I never considered how creepy the Mcdonald’s characters were but now that you point it out, wow, our generation was strange =)
Thanks for the comment!
The second I wrote Koosh balls, I immediately wished I had one on hand, cause those things were pretty fun.
Oh yeah, in hindsight our generation was pretty nuts. It’s a wonder we turned out as normal as we did.
Thanks for the support on my blog and for being so cool! It’s much appreciated!
It is pretty amazing we turned out kinda normal…or perhaps we’re all raving mad and just think raving mad’s normal.
Thanks for the support of my blog as well. I love the blogging community. You never know who you’ll meet=)
Okay, so first of all, I am an 80’s child as well, so I get it. I mean–I really get it. This post was so much fun to go through. The other people in the room with me are looking at me oddly, but they realised I was crazy a long time ago, so I’m sure there will be no resulting damage. I am so happy you said hello last night, Your blog looks wonderful!—Ionia
I’ve only been on WordPress a few weeks, and I really can’t get over how friendly everyone has been. It’s a great and supportive community. I do consider myself lucky when I come across such good people, and you’re definitely one of them!
I really appreciate you sharing my post and for all of the kind words. It means a lot when I can make people happy!
Please keep in touch- thanks very much!
Very funny but seriously, thanks for bringing back the old days!:)
My pleasure Carol!
Very happy you enjoyed- thanks for the support and kind words!
Wow! How much work you must have put in writing this post! Amazing!
I thought about my childhood and that Mc D was not even in Hungary at the time… I think it came in around 1990… I am guessing… Without playgrounds though…
Thanks very much!
It makes me happy when my posts bring joy to people. That’s amazing to me that McDonald’s is still so recent outside of America!
I appreciate the kind words and the support- thanks again!
Smart writing..and I remember so many of these attractions. Well Done!
Thanks a million! I appreciate the kind words!
Love this post, Andrew, not only for what you say but those PICTURES!! I haven’t seen many of those “icons”. Look like oldies but goodies for sure.
You’re funny, in how you write – I really enjoy it.
My son & me have never been into McDonalds. I tried giving him a birthday there once and it was so tacky. I ended up feeling ashamed I’d got sucked into thinking a birthday at McDonalds would be special. Wrong I was! Tacky! Yellow! Yuck! Plastic!
Haha, around here, you go to McDonald’s so young as a kid, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t go there!
And it’s kinda funny you mentioned the yellow/plastic aspect, as I think that may have been a common complaint, as they’re recently remodeling a lot of the restaurants to feature more wood/stainless steel furnishings and low warm lighting to give it a more “cafe-ish” feel. It’s actually turned out pretty nice!
Again- the kind words really are appreciated- I thank you very much!
What a great read,this really made me smile 🙂 here in New Zealand every maccas had a playground like this in the 80’s although some towns didn’t have a mcdonalds so when we got taken on a road trip to a larger city it was very exciting to go there.you drove 15mins, when i was very young we drove 7hours to Auckland to stay with family and got mcdonalds as a treat
Well thank you very much Sam, I appreciate the kind words. Always great to hear a fellow story, especially one from so far away!
Very happy you enjoyed!
Ha! I actually found this blog when remembering my ex love/hate relationship with the old skool Mc. D’s play equipment and had to google it. I’m an 80’s baby and we had these same pieces in Arlington Heights, IL. I am tall, and was a tall kid, and I remember HATING the Officer Big Mac climber, but regardless shoved my long frame inside it over and over again. It was so uncomfortable and painful and claustrophobic inside!
So I’ve ended up here because I went to a party last night and they actually had the gobblin and the filet-o-fish in their house! I needed a picture to explain to someone what I meant. But this is great! I never knew they had names and stories…(maybe they didn’t have those ads here, or maybe it’s cos those playgrounds still existed in New Zealand til 2000 or so…) just wondering why Birdie didn’t have a ride? Or was Birdie invented after feminists complained they were all male? But you’re right, they’re all totally creepy in hindsight!
The McDonald’s where I live had an updated outdoor playground from around 2004 to 2008. They had to shut it down because heroin junkies were sneaking into the ballpit at night and leaving their needles. Kids kept finding them and getting poked with them, so they started to padlock the gate. That still didn’t work, so they ultimately shut it down. RIP, McDonald’s Outdoor Playground. You will be missed.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane. In the mid to late 1970’s my father owned a Dunkin Donuts store nearby a McDonaldland in NJ. Until a few minutes ago I thought it was the only one of its kind! Many fond memories and many photos from that place!!!
The pic of all the kids playing on the playground is me and my family. I am in the pink pants with the long hair sitting down. My mom is the woman in the white shirt and black pants, and my brother, and cousins are going up the slide, while my younger aunt is coming down. Any idea who took that pic? I seen it posted today on FB on the 80’s Kids Rule page. When I searched the image on Google Images your page comes up. Just wondering if you have any info about the pic??
So I reacently saw the picture of the kids playing on the 80s style playground that you have posted. The one with the kids on the slide and the mom at the bottom. I am curious on where you got that picture. The reason be is that’s my grandmother in the pick and my father climbing up the ladder with his younger brother and there sister going down the slide. I tracked the pick to your blog and am wanting to know where it originated. I think it’s awesome! Thank you!!
HILARIOUS! I’m pretty sure my claustrophobia started when I was 5 in that Hamburgler thing!
One of the local McDonalds near me had one of these playgrounds, except we didn’t have the pirate slide or the Hamburglar swings (thank God, or else my sister and I would have been scarred for life upon seeing THAT!) This is going to sound stupid, but I was actually afraid of going into the Big Mac jail, mainly because I was afraid of falling off the ladder trying to come down. I still have issues with ladders. I’m not really afraid of heights, just falling from ladders when I’m on them.
I stumbled upon your post from a Pinterest photo. When I was 6 years old, I climbed up to the top of the Officer Big Mac death trap to look out the little round window. Another child was climbing into the part where you look out the bars. I am not exactly sure what happened, but I do remember the fall on the way down. I landed with my neck on the metal where you step into the tube at the bottom. I broke my neck. It’s a long story after that, but all these years later I still remember the fall- It seemed so much taller in my 6 year old mind.
That shit was hilarious! I grew up loving these death traps…
I briefly worked at mcdonald’s and I would show the younger parents and kids the original playground on the Internet.
This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read. I played on every one of these playground structures as a child and lived to tell the tale. We lived in Las Vegas when I was little and McDonald land playgrounds were about the only “wholesome” ( and I use the word loosely) entertainment for children in that city.
Your writing is a pure joy to read!
Thank you so much Carli-ann! It’s been forever since I wrote this or anything on this blog, but sweet comments like this really make me want to start up again. I really appreciate the kind words, it means a lot!
You’re just a panzy. We all had fun growing up playing on the recycled playground equipment in the park. After it left a McD’s, it went to a local park where it serve many children for many years. We all had a great time. Sucks to be you, Negative Nancy. I can only imagine what other enjoyable childhood experiences you boohoo and complain about. Smh. Wow.
I guess you’re probably mad that you had to walk to every house on Halloween, while kids now get driven from house to house. Lmao. Come on. It was playground equipment. Not a horror movie lmao. What else were you scared of growing up? Lmao
Hi TR… I hope you got that this was a total humor piece and not to be taken seriously. Myself, like many, have many fond memories of these playgrounds, and this was written as a way for people to have a laugh and remember those good times. If you believe that wishy-washy, helicopter-parent Halloween comment to be true about me, I’m sorry to inform you, but you could not be any more incorrect.
But despite your name-calling and jump-the-gun comments on a 5+ year-old piece, I don’t wish to turn this into a YouTube comment section. Thanks for reading, all the best!
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I remember playing on these at the local babe all field in the early to mid 90s. I was probably 11 or 12, so around 1992. I guess the city purchased them from a local McDonald’s after they removed them and made a playground at one of the local Little League baseball parks. We all LOVED climbing in Officer Big Mac and acting like we were in jail lol. It was great!
We had all of the stuff shown on this page. We spent hours upon hours playing on that stuff as kids. I couldn’t believe it when I found this page. Thanks!