If you grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, then you probably recall how much fast food giant McDonald’s got into the Halloween spirit. Remember the Halloween McNugget buddies, decked out in costumes? Who could forget the Halloween buckets and pails for trick or treating? Even the McDonaldland pals, like Grimace and Hamburglar, got into the spooky fun with Happy Meal toys featuring clip-on costumes. That doesn’t even touch upon the marketing, which included fun seasonal packaging and commercials.
But there’s one unique promotional collection that’s largely become forgotten over the years; the limited VHS animated series collection called The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. A series that kicked off with a special Halloween episode, “Scared Silly”.
Released exclusively at McDonald’s restaurants from October 1998 to October 2003, The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald featured six 40-minute episodes featuring Ronald and friends. Since Halloween is the perfect time for creepy clowns, it was fitting that the first in this series was “Scared Silly.” Opening with a somewhat disturbing live-action segment that introduces Ronald and his weird pup Sundae, played by Verne Troyer, the duo rounds up their friends for a camping trip to get away from the scary movies playing on TV. They jump into a ball pit, the episode transitions into animation, and off they go to the Far Flung Forest.
A bout of ominous and stormy weather drives the campers toward an old decrepit house, where a sort of Scooby-Doo plot ensues. There are songs, floating heads, more songs, and a mad scientist that tasks the group with riddles and games. And more songs.
If the animation style looks familiar to you, it should. Produced by Nickelodeon affiliated animation studio Klaspy Csupo, the studio behind Aaahhh!!! Real Monsters, Rocket Power, and Rugrats, this limited series featured the same animation team, including director John Holmquist. This probably explains why Hamburglar looks an awful lot like Chuckie Finster. The actress behind the voice of Chuckie, Christine Cavanaugh, voiced Birdie in her final acting role ever. Even the background music seemed borrowed from Rugrats. The animated section of the episode was written by Andrew McElfresh and Michael Bloom (an executive producer behind Wrinkles the Clown documentary, bringing him full circle back to creepy clowns). Both were attached to late ‘90s cartoon Rocket Power.
Because this is a kids show, it should surprise no one that friendship prevails. The episode concludes with a return to live-action; Sundae and Ronald have faced their fears and are now ready to take on scary movies. Or dinosaur B-horror, in this case. While The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald and “Scared Silly” are pretty bizarre in general, it’s still heartwarming to see a spooky episode with an underlying message that horror is fun.
For just $3.49, purchased with a soft serve cone or soda, you could obtain the VHS at a participating restaurant. They became so popular the restaurants would often sell out. The sixth and final tape was sold exclusively on Klaspy Csupo’s site, therefore making it the rarest of the bunch. All six tapes were released far apart, making it even easier to slip through the cracks of memory. While only the inaugural ep centered around Halloween, it’s still a retro reminder of McDonald’s former holiday revelry. I miss it, and this type of bold promotional weirdness.