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No more Disney in your Happy Meal

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Go to McDonalds, get Happy Meals for the kids . . . and it’s not so much about the food as it is about the toy inside. McDonalds and Disney have had a deal for years now. Movie-themed toys in Happy Meals. But Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse are parting ways. At least when it comes to marketing movies and McNuggets. The companies confirm a Los Angeles Times story reporting the split today. But McDonald’s says the break-up has nothing to do with childhood obesity. From New York, Marketplace’s Bob Moon has the story.

BOB MOON: McDonald’s was complaining today that, in essence, the L.A. Times story made it sound as if Ronald McDonald was being run out of town on a Disney monorail. A spokeswoman for the fast-food giant told us it was simply a mutual business decision since it no longer makes sense for either side to be tied to an exclusive deal.

On the other hand, today’s newspaper story points out that Pixar Animation Studios chief Steve Jobs is now Disney’s biggest shareholder, and he was voicing reservations about Happy Meal movie marketing during an investor conference call last year.

STEVE JOBS: The marketing that they’ve done in the past has certainly provided, you know, a lot of free Happy Meal toys out there, which has made a lot of kids happy, and a lot of toy manufacturers, uh, not so happy. So there is value in it, but you know, there’s also some concerns, as our society becomes more conscious of some of the implications of fast food.

One of the most outspoken critics of the Happy Meal tie-ins has been writer Eric Schlosser.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: I think this is maybe the first sign that the corporate culture of Disney is starting to change, and to be influenced by that of Pixar. Pixar is based in Northern California, which really, there’s a whole other attitude towards food, and I think a much more progressive attitude.

Schlosser says he found out how influential such a marketing shift could be in researching his new book “Chew On This”:

SCHLOSSER: One out of every three toys given to an American child comes from a fast-food restaurant, and McDonald’s is the largest distributor of toys, probably, in the world.

Schlosser says he hopes Hollywood really is walking away from the Happy Meal, and that ultimately pressures the fast-food industry to offer healthier fare.

In New York, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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