McDonald’s Debuts Happy Meals For Adults

When McDonald’s new menu item, the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box, comes out this month, it will be the end of years of work to make an adult Happy Meal, or what I’ve come to call a Meal of Deep and Unrelenting Sadness. When I say this, I don’t disagree with the company’s point of view that being an adult is hard or that threats like inflation, the end of democracy, or Armageddon might make people miss the good old days, when, as McD’s says in a news release, “that little red box could make a regular Tuesday the best. day. ever.”

Yes, with Tuesdays being what they are these days, it’s understandable to want a Happy Meal or anything else that makes you feel like you’re six years old again and life isn’t so hard.

McDonald Happy Meals
McDonald Happy Meals

Before you get in line for Mickey D’s Nostalgia Ride, though, you should know that it can be a very expensive Tuesday, if not the biggest scam ever. In my area, the boxes cost $11.29 for 10 McNuggets and $12.49 for a Big Mac with fries and a drink, which is more than two dollars more than the cost of the combo by themselves.

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Yes, you say, but the adult Happy Meal boxes, which have fun, asymmetrical typography and are bigger than the kids’ (think Monopoly hotels vs. houses), set the stage for a bigger toy. All true. Mine came with a 4-inch Grimace figure made of plastic. When I looked at that slow, sweet, purple creature from my childhood, I felt the years just melt away. But as I kept staring, I could see that the years had not been kind to him. Our favorite character, Grimace, now has four eyes, which is sad. He smiles, but his face looks like a whole family’s worth of fried eggs. My own emotional journey came to an abrupt end when I found out about this.

Still, both the box and the four toys inside have become very popular. For example, someone on eBay is offering $24.99 for my Grimace, which I would never sell. Because of the frenzy, I had to use the app to go to six Long Island McDonald’s before I found one that still had adult Happy Meals. This is because the company used a strategy called “artificial scarcity,” which is a hallmark of both the burger chain and its partner, Cactus Plant. If you’re wondering, Cactus Plant Flea Market is a brand of streetwear that was created by Brooklyn designer Cynthia Lu. Lu used to be Pharrell Williams’ stylist, and the musician became her champion and “Happy” meal ticket.

Williams once said that when he wore CPFM’s clothes, like hats, hoodies, and the like, he didn’t feel like he was living within the social norm. When I opened the box of my Cactus Plant in the dining room of McDonald’s, a company that sells more than a billion Happy Meals to kids in 100 countries every year, I felt like I was living in the matrix, or maybe even “The Matrix.”

“Everyone remembers their first Happy Meal as a kid,” the company’s press release says, ignoring the existence of childhood before 1979 when McDonald’s first sent its “bliss boxes” into the world. This was a kinder time when all Americans had to worry about was the Three Mile Island meltdown and hostage-taking in Iran. We adults hear this call to escape a lot these days. It’s a siren song of adult water balloon fights, bubble-blowing contests, and coloring books. A voice that tells you to take a little red box instead of a little red pill.

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