Was it all a hallucination? Did those crazy 1970s and ’80s McDonaldland parks where you could crawl around inside Grimace and Mayor McCheese really exist? They were so weird I couldn’t even trust my memory until I found a photo of me and my sister trapped in hamburger jail.
The fast food chain was expanding fast in 1971 when it premiered a new ad campaign featuring Ronald McDonald and his puppet pals frolicking around a psychedelic fantasyland where hamburgers grow on trees and shakes erupt out of a volcano. The world of those commercials was quickly made real when McDonald’s started installing McDonaldlands at their restaurants the following year.
More than 350 original props, set pieces, and design art from Setmakers, Inc. are coming up for bids at Heritage Auctions this weekend. The Hollywood design company was founded by art director Don Ament (whose imdb page is filled with my favorite moviemakers, from Roger Corman to the Three Stooges) and whose family is selling off the huge collection.
The idea for the land did come from a dream, according to a creative from McDonald’s, who lost a lawsuit filed by Sid & Marty Krofft, the creators of H.R. Pufnstuf. Chicago advertising firm Needham, Harper & Steers approached the Krofft’s with an idea for a land populated with a clown and his living puppets but decided to create Hamburglar and the gang on their own. The first commercials introduced the iconic characters, their colorful world, and a catchy bubblegum pop soundtrack.
After a year of TV saturation the first real-life McDonaldland, designed by Setmakers, opened in Chula Vista in the fall of 1972. Each restaurant could choose from a catalog that included slides, swings, and merry-go-rounds, and, of course, oversized statues of Ronald and friends.
Setmakers brought in concept designer Wes Cook, who had worked on Krofft shows, and would go on to Walt Disney Imagineering. Some of Cook’s original sketches are in the auction, as are miniature maquettes that designers could use to draw the characters from different angles.
The I’m Lovin’ it ad campaign superceded the McDonaldland characters in the early 2000s and the characters have mostly faded away. This is a rare chance to revisit this funky burger bunch and maybe turn your living room into a miniature hamburger theme park.
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