This is Toys & Stomach Pains, in which we re-visit the toys of yesteryear that came packaged with fast-food, cereal boxes, or other indulgently edible products.
The Year: 1992
The Food: McDonalds Happy Meal
The Toy: Batman Returns
In retrospect, cross-promoting a dark, violent, sexually perverse movie with a line of toys aimed at small children may have been a horrible idea. Sure, Batman is adored by children, but Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is far from suibtable for little kids– this is a movie where a sadomasochistically-charged cat burglar and a horrible perverted mutant battle a hero who sets people on fire for no particular reason. Burton’s Batman plays more like an Operatic adaptation of a high-school loner’s tattered sketchbook than a comic book adventure.
Naturally, the Batman Returns-themed McDonald’s Happy Meal from 1992 was a lightning rod for controversy. Parents complained that even though the film was rated PG-13, McDonalds acted irresponsibly by marketing the film’s tie-in Happy Meal to children aged 5-10– an age group that is decidedly not thirteen.
In letters published in the Los Angeles Times, some questioned “Does McDonalds have no conscience?” and in one troublingly Orwellian statement “parents trust McDonalds.”
While I’m the first to reject most iterations of collective parental outrage against movies, these people totally have a point: Batman Returns is a magic snowglobe full of nightmares that shouldn’t be marketed towards little kids.
McDonalds responded in a statement that the point of the toys were to “allow young people to experience the fun of Batman the character. It was not designed to promote attendance at the movie.”
Warner Bros. echoed this sentiment in their statement: “‘We were careful not to provide actual toys from the movie.” Which is a weird thing to say, because one of the toys offered was the goddamn Batmobile– Which, unless I’m terribly mistaken, is in the movie… Like, a bunch of times.
The other toy vehicles offered, while they might not literally be in the movie, highlight the film’s central characters, so the whole “not actually in the movie” argument doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s take a look at each of the toys offered:
1) The Batmobile. Okay, this one’s pretty cool– press a button and the the middle section breaks away from the car and torpedoes forward– just like the real Batmobile does in that movie this toy has nothing to do with apparently.
2) Batman’s Press and Go Car. I didn’t know Batman had another car, but apparently he does. It’s smaller, and for some reason Batman’s head doesn’t fit inside. It’s the car he takes out when the Batmobile is in the shop or he just feels like something more unwieldly and uncomfortable.
3) Catwoman’s Cat Coupe. Behind the wheel of a luxury car (with a cat face in the front, and a tail in the back) this vehicle was most definitely not in the film– well played, Warner Bros. Presumably, the decision to put Catwoman behind the wheel of a car that only exposes her head and shoulders was made to curb any pre-teen confusion/arousal.
4) The Penguin Umbrella Roto-Roadster. It does seem a little contradictory to pair a fun, bright yellow car in the hands of a character who bites a man’s nose off and makes lascivious sexual comments to almost every female character he encounters… yeah, maybe these toys weren’t appropriate. McDonalds, too, agreed, eventually recalling the Batman Returns Happy Meal.