McDonaldland is the home of all of the McDonald’s characters, and the location of many McDonald’s commercials for a span of about 25 years. It’s a happy place, where kids of all ethnicities and most social strata are safe to have fun and spend their parents’ money.
McDonaldland is a magical land where Ronald McDonald and his friends (and enemies) live, work, and play. Everything is done in pastel colors, from the garish grass to the tip of Ronald’s red nose. McDonald’s products grow wild here, from hamburgers growing in people’s gardens to milkshakes bubbling out of the ground.
The inhabitants of McDonaldland are, with the exception of Ronald and the children, either puppets or actors wearing full-body suits. The early commercials featured some McDonaldland criminal trying to steal food, and Ronald apprehending him or her. Despite the crimes committed by these characters, Ronald still considered them his friends.
McDonaldland was introduced to the kids of the world in 1971. Sid and Marty Krofft’s H.R. Pufnstuf, (at the time, the most popular Saturday-morning show in America) was the inspiration for much of McDonaldland: when McDonald’s marketers were unable to license the Kroffts’ characters directly for their commercials, they created McDonaldland, which emulated the feel of H.R. Pufnstuff as closely as the marketers thought they could.
This likeness explains many of the early McDonaldland characters. The Grimace was supposed to look like Seymour the Spider — he even had six arms in the original commercials. The Hamburglar was nearly identical to Witchiepoo, and Mayor McCheese was extraordinarily similar to H.R. Pufnstuf himself.
They didn’t get away with it. In 1973, the Kroffts sued McDonald’s, on the basis that McDonaldland was a transparent theft of their work. In Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided against McDonald’s, who paid a $50,000 settlement to the Kroffts, and removed many of the characters from McDonaldland.
Over time, the McDonaldland advertisements were gradually changed, and eventually phased out. Early changes involved turning characters good, such as the Grimace and Fry Kids (originally the “Gobblins”), although the Hamburglar never did change his ways. In 1980, Birdie the Early Bird was introduced to McDonaldland to pitch breakfast food at McDonald’s. She was Ronald’s first female friend, and along with the Grimace, became one of his best friends in the later McDonaldland commercials. Later changes saw a shift to Ronald interacting with kids in the real world.
Traces of the original McDonaldland cast are still visible to those who want to find them. Many Playplaces still feature a Mayor McCheese or Sheriff Big Mac, although lesser-known characters like Captain Crook are all but gone. These characters are some of the most beloved to the Adult Swim-watching ironic set: bizarre enough to be funny, rare enough to be fresh.
Will McDonaldland ever be seen again in commercials? Only Ronald and the McSecret Police know.