For the past four decades, kids of all ages have been able to pick up Happy Meals. Technically, they're called "kids' meals," since Burger King, Denny's, and other restaurant chains have their own. But it's the McDonald's Happy Meal that remains enshrined in our collective hearts.
Why? Because of the toys, of course!
Long before the collectors' market exploded, the innovation of including small plastic toys in kids' meals created an unprecedented demand for the products. Heaven help you if you failed to find all of the Pokemon variants for your children! The toys in question weren't necessarily the highest quality nor even on par with the figures on toy shelves. Yet the nostalgia is strong for these creations, including the Inspector Gadget kids' meal toy that was notoriously difficult to find. It was a Build-a-Figure before its time, and inadvertently paved the way for a continuing trend.
There were a few stumbles in the race to create the perfect kids' meal toy. McDonald's perfected its world building with its colorful characters and bizarre Transformers/GoBots knockoffs that became anthropomorphic robotic food. Burger King's attempt to emulate McDonald's led to the infamous Burger King’s Kids' Club; which was very short-lived in the '90s. Additionally, some of the kids' meals toys caused unwanted controversy, including the seemingly swearing Minions and tragically fatal accidents. But that hasn't diminished the popularity of kids' meal toys among collectors. If anything, it's only fueled the fire.
For more details about the history of kids' meal toys, check out the latest episode of SYFY WIRE's Toy Masters!