The Time Ronald McDonald Hung His Head In Shame: Mac & Me

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The 1980s decade was not the best time for McDonald's, branding-wise. Late in the '70s they were sued by Sid and Marty Krofft over their McDonaldland characters, which the brothers claimed were a copyright infringement of H.R. Pufnstuf and related characters. The Krofft brothers won, and McDonald's was ordered to stop using several of the McDonaldland characters in advertising and commercials. In 1987, they introduced a new character -- Mac Tonight -- who had a giant crescent moon for a head and wore a tux and shades. He sang a reworked version of Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" and landed McDonald's in hot water again when they were sued by Darin's estate for infringing upon his trademark song without permission.

Then there was the time McDonald's got involved with the movie business. The result was Mac & Me, released in 1988 and widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. I can now say that I'm one of the few that has watched Mac & Me (it's been uploaded to YouTube) and it was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life (but alas, a retro blogger's got to do what a retro blogger has to do.) I don't think there's a word or phrase in the dictionary that can adequately convey how bad this movie is, but sh*t show comes close.

Mac & Me is an atrocious E.T. ripoff (even its title copies the working title of Steven Spielberg's smash hit, which was E.T. & Me) with none of the charm or originality. If you're a Paul Rudd fan, then you may have seen a clip of the film without realizing it; in a long running gag while promoting his films on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show, he instead introduces the scene where the main character loses control of his wheelchair and careens down a hill near his backyard and into a pool of water. It's actually one of the best moments in the film, unfortunately.

Mac & Me was literally written over the course of a weekend, and it shows. It basically came about because some film producer guy with zero taste and a connection to McDonald's wanted to make a movie and donate proceeds from it to the Ronald McDonald House.

Here's what Stewart Raffill, the director and screenwriter of Mac & Me, had to say years later about the mess he made:

Mac and Me? That was another movie where somebody called me up and he was a producer who had worked on quite a few films. He’d made a lot of big movies, but he decided he want to make his own movie. And he raised the money from one of the main partners at McDonalds—I think, like, the produce provider for McDonalds—and he put up the money to do that movie with the understanding that the proceeds from that movie would go to the Ronald McDonald Foundation.

So I was hired out of the blue. And the producer asked me to come down to the office. So I did and he had a whole crew there, a whole crew on the payroll. It was amazing. He had the transportation captain. The camera department head. The AD. The Production Manager. He had everybody already hired and I said, “Well, what’s the script?” And he said, “We don’t have a script. I don’t like the script. You have to write the script. You’re gonna have to write it quick so prep the movie and write the script on the weekends.”

Yeah, so I’d go and lock myself in a hotel on Friday night, write ’til Monday, anticipate what the locations were going to be, go out and find the locations, design the aliens and all that stuff. It was kind of a messy way to make a movie.

The movie is about a boy in a wheelchair, Eric Cruise (played by Jade Calegory) who encounters a young alien creature that's been separated from his family. The neighborhood that Eric and his own family live in is very close to the one in E.T., and even his family unit is very similar: he has an older teenage brother and a widowed mom, played by Christine Ebersole. The Cruises' precocious next door neighbor, Courtney, pretty much fills in for Drew Barrymore's part.

The "Mac" in the title is short for Mysterious Alien Creature but really, it alludes to McDonald's name and Big Macs. And that is one of the biggest issues critics had with this movie, other than the fact that everything else about it is poorly put together. It almost plays like a 90 minute promo for McDonald's and Coca-Cola as both brands feature prominently in the movie. The aliens themselves subside on Coca-Cola (it even brings back Mac's family from near death at one point) and Courtney's older sister works at McDonald's and is usually seen wearing the uniform. There's even a long sequence that takes place at a McDonald's featuring kids break dancing in the parking lot and a ridiculous array of kids and teens participating in a dance number. Mac, disguised in a creepy teddy bear costume, even gets in on the act to thwart the FBI guys chasing his tail. You can see this awfulness for yourself in the clip below.

The bear costume is actually a huge improvement for the alien; Mac and his family are the dopiest, sorriest looking extraterrestrials we've ever seen this side of the Milky Way. You seriously mean to tell me that no one could come up with something better than these wobbly, big-eared, genital-less awkward beings with their mouths fixed permanently in the "O" position? This is the also the dumbest group of aliens you'll ever see on the screen; after all, they allow themselves to get sucked up into a NASA rock collecting ship on their home planet which is how they get to earth in the first place. Their only power is causing anything electrical to short circuit. They can't even communicate; they call to each other by making whistling sounds and even the father alien, who resembles William H. Macy (sorry, I like Macy, too - but that's who he reminded me of!) acts like a clueless toddler, even during the movie's climatic supermarket scene where a cop practically hands over his gun to the creature.

The supermarket blows up, but the alien family walks out of the fireball unscathed. Where's a xenomorph when you need him? I would have loved to have seen Mac and his family get mouth murdered; they drove me nuts.

Here's the craziest part about this movie, as if the rest of it wasn't already completely insane...its production budget was actually higher than E.T.'s. It cost $13 million to make while E.T. came in at $10.5 million. (It made just half of that back, with box office sales totaling $6.4 million. By contrast, E.T. had pulled in close to $800 million.)

There actually is one good thing to say about Mac & Me, and that was the hiring of Jade Calegory, the boy that played Eric, and the handling of his character. Calegory really is handicapped -- he has spina bifida and scoliosis -- and was hired to play a role that very easily could have been handed, given the decade this film was made in, to someone that was not disabled. In fact, that was Calegory's own personal experience when he showed up for auditions for previous handicapped parts. Nor is his disability referenced at all in the movie aside from his mother mentioning the wheelchair accessible features in their new home. No one asks why he's in a wheelchair, nor do they tease him; they treat him like any other 12 year-old kid. For this, I do have to applaud the producers and McDonald's for showing Eric for who he is and not his disability.

Calegory only made a couple of other acting appearances after Mac & Me, and today works as a photographer and even has his own Etsy shop. The following quote has been attributed to him: "You shouldn’t dwell on what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do. And the more you see what you can do, the more you come to realize there are no limitations in life."

Believe it or not, Mac & Me's producers were hoping to make a sequel. The movie ends with the words "We'll be back!" Obviously, things didn't work out as planned, but you have to wonder if there's someone somewhere still waiting nearly 30 years later for a Mac & Me sequel.

Now that I've watched and reviewed Mac & Me so you don't have to, here's a hysterical parody promo for the film that is 100 times more watchable then the movie itself. Ronald's laugh at the end sure seems to seal the deal that the joke was on movie audiences with this bomb.


  1. While we're on the thankfully limited topic of "Movies With Shameless McDonald's Tie-Ins", don't forget the 1995 abomination "Bye Bye Love", the romantic comedy where three divorced dad's (Paul Reiser, Randy Quaid, Matthew Modine) use an idealized McDonald's restaurant as their shared-custody-child-drop-off point. The McDonald's is ridiculously clean, the staff ridiculously happy, and they even work in a sub-plot about an elderly McDonald's employee's unlikely friendship with his teen dream-boat supervisor. I can't prove that Ronald slipped some money under the ketchup-stained table to get this McTurkey made, but what other explanation is there?

    1. Sounds like Mickey D's didn't learn its lesson. I've never seen "Bye Bye Love" but that does indeed sound like product placement overkill.

  2. This acronym MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature) reminds me of the old joke about an alien with three balls--E.T., the Extra Testicle.


    1. Nice. Did he date the alien from Total Recall that had three breasts? (I can't leave you comment up long, unfortunately -- Google's police has been known to remove ads for content said in blog comments, believe it or not.)

  3. Speaking of ads, are they gonna be part of your posts from now on?

    1. When I changed to a new template, the ad network I work with had to reinstate the ad codes on the new template. I didn't realize they were having ads appear on all images within a post. I've contacted them about having them reduced or removed from posts altogether.


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