The latest McDonald’s Happy Meal toy is not making me happy. At all.
It’s always bothered me that the fast food chain feels the need to offer toys for boys — Hot Wheels, Ninja Turtles — and for girls — Barbies, Hello Kitty — as if no toy could ever appeal to both.
But now comes the Happy Meal tie-in for “Adventure Time,” the Cartoon Network hit that has boys and girls young and old tuning in to the tales of Finn the human and his best friend Jake the magical dog. McDonald’s is marketing it as a toy for boys. Worse, it cut all of the female characters from the six-piece collection: No Princess Bubblegum, the millionaire genius with a passion for science. No fearless Marceline the Vampire Queen.
When LaKeisha Brown, a Kansas City mom, shared the wacky decision with her 6-year-old, the little girl had one question: “‘Adventure Time’ is for boys?”
No. It’s not. Cartoon Network has long championed girl power. We’re talking about the channel that’s bringing back “Powerpuff Girls.”
“Adventure Time” boldly did an episode where all of the male characters were female. Finn became Fionna, who has her own game at Cartoonnetwork.com.
In fact, the webosphere offers “Adventure Time” leggings, dresses and full-on costumes for girls and women alike.
“It’s 2014 and Happy Meals need to get with the times,” said Aimee Slates, 26, a photographer who loves “Adventure Time” so much that her mom made costumes for her and her boyfriend (no, she didn’t opt for one of the princesses — she chose Jake).
The show “has villains and princesses and two best friends that use their imaginations to experience new things every day. These characters are not at all for boys only,” Slates says. “I know of several kids (myself included) that would buy all of the ‘Adventure Time’ toys if they hadn’t said it was ‘just for boys.’ It’s tacky, especially with how far we’ve come trying to rid ourselves of gender roles.”
So why does McDonald’s insist on giving the girls something different? Jeremy Madl, an artist ( madtoydesign.com ), has worked with fast food chains like Wendy’s and Taco Bell on toys as well as with Cartoon Network on “Adventure Time” special projects. His own two boys and two girls all love the cartoon, but he says a lot of these business decisions are based on tried-and-true play patterns and test groups.
“It’s unfortunate that this is the position that has been taken with Happy Meals, but McDonald’s does a ton of testing and there are still moms and dads out there that believe their daughters should play with a pink Hello Kitty rather than a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.”
(McDonald’s didn’t respond to my requests for a comment.)
Look, I’m not bashing Paul Frank’s cute monkey notepads and purses, which McDonald’s has decided to put in the girl Happy Meals. I understand the fast food giant is a business out to make money. But what kind of message are we sending when we tell kids a certain toy is for boys?
Brown wonders if she ever should have told her daughter about the McDonald’s mishap.
“It’s almost as if McDonald’s is saying, ‘Here, boys, go out and make adventurous choices and have a blast doing so!’ And, ‘Oh you girls … well here’s a pink journal with a monkey on it — write a poem.’
“For McDonald’s to be the most wonderful place to eat for a child, you’d think they’d know simple things like children just want to have fun, if it includes sword fighting or playing house … they’re children. The next time I purchase a Happy Meal from McDonald’s and they ask ‘boy’ or ‘girl,’ I’m going to suggest that they ask ‘Adventure Time’ or Paul Frank. You should, too.”
Making Happy Meals universal makes sense. As they might say on “Adventure Time,” it’s mathematical!
Jenee Osterheldt is a columnist at The Kansas City Star. This column was edited for use after its original publication date. To reach her, call (816) 234-4380 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. She is on Facebook at facebook.com/jeneeinkc and on Twitter at twitter.com/jeneeinkc.