Amid the recent excitement of McDonald’s all-day breakfast announcement and the ongoing murmurs of its financial troubles, I took it upon myself to conduct some hard research (possibly just via Google, possibly only one afternoon) into the cosmology of McDonaldland, the magical fast food kingdom where Ronald McDonald reigns supreme.
The first thing to note is that the aesthetics of the world—which was foisted into our collective consciousness in 1971—were unabashedly swiped from H.R. Pufnstuf, a deeply psychedelic kids’ show that ran for seventeen episodes in 1969.
The creative folks who turned Pufnstuf’s Living Island into McDonaldland had to relandscape the place, swapping out a dreadlocked hippie tree for ones that grew familiar rectangular apple pies, dotting the horizon with Thick Shake Volcanos, and hedging the rows with French Fry Bushes that grew actual french fries. One could troll for a fish sandwich at Filet-O-Fish Lake.
And who picked the hamburger plants that grew in the Hamburger Patch? Officer Big Mac, the Fry Kids, Mayor McCheese, the McNugget Buddies, Iam Hungry (the self-proclaimed “Vice President of Snacking”), and at least a dozen more.
But even though I love a hamburger lover, my favorite McDonaldland character is and was Grimace, a teardrop-shaped oafish purple lumpkin. This Wiki-quote, which expertly summarizes his genesis and transformation over the years, is almost too magical to believe.
“A large, purple monster-like character who was first introduced in November 1971 as the “Evil Grimace … In Grimace’s first three appearances, he was depicted with two pairs of arms with which to steal milkshakes. “Evil” was soon dropped from Grimace’s name, and Grimace was reintroduced in 1972 as one of the good guys. In 1974, Grimace was redesigned, going from two pairs of arms to the single pair he had later…
“Soon details of Grimace’s background and family life began to emerge. The character’s Uncle O’Grimacey first appeared in 1978 and would visit only one month per year, around St. Patrick’s Day, bringing Shamrock Shakes. Additional family were revealed in a McDonaldland VHS tape The Legend of Grimace Island: Grimace had an unnamed mom, an unnamed dad, a grandma named “Winky”, a great-great grandma named Jenny Grimace, and might have had a brother named “King Gonga”, who was the king of all Grimaces. In “Grimace’s Odyssey”, Grimace was portrayed as a ham radio enthusiast who used a homemade transmitter made from a colander. Grimace was played by Patti Saunders (1971–1984) and voiced by Frank Welker in the commercials, Larry Moran in some commercials, and by Kevin Michael Richardson in The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald…
“Commercials and merchandise generally portrayed Grimace as a well-meaning simpleton whose clumsy antics provided a comic foil to Ronald McDonald.”
I was happy to learn that Grimace comes from a large and intact family that loves him even though he is a well-meaning simpleton, but I was left wondering: What happened to Evil Grimace?!
Attempting to learn more, I recently earned membership in the highly secretive closed Facebook Group UUU Evil Grimace, which celebrates memes ranging from Grimace “being an asshole, to completely depraved and evil” and warns “Friendly Grimaces will get pruned.” While there is a promise of “extra pats on the back for nightmarish original Character imagery” that appeals to me as an artist—aren’t we all looking for approval in some way?—it seems that most recent posts are of Rebel Wilson’s face ‘shopped onto Grimace’s body doing cocaine and hanging out with neo-Nazis. They’ve re-named her Grimace Paltrow.
Despite, regardless, or because some and/or all of these things, I recently redesigned a modern Evil Grimace with a skateboard and a dagger and submitted it McDonald’s corporate office in Oak Brook, Illinois. I was hoping they could return to a simpler time in their history, when a thieving anthropomorphized purple blob was always out there, waiting in the bushes, plotting to steal your milkshake.
According to the letter I received in return, McDonald’s doesn’t seem interested in rebirthing Evil Grimace, though it is nice that they acknowledged his (or her) one-time existence, and offered me some coupons for my effort.
But here’s the thing: You can’t just ignore the bad things in life. Bad things exist for a reason!