Whatever happened to Ronald McDonald and the McDonaldland characters?

Ronald McDonald, Hamburglar, and Grimace of McDonald's attend the 2022 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

McDonald’s is one of the largest and most recognizable restaurant chains, globally known for signature menu items like the Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets.

But 30 years ago, the fast food giant was also known for its commercials and products featuring iconic characters like Ronald McDonald, Grimace, and the Hamburglar.

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McDonald's launched "McDonaldland," a fantasy world used in commercials to appeal to kids, featuring the characters Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Sundae, Birdy the Early Bird, Mayor McCheese, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook, and the Professor, according to IMDB.com.

The company began airing the McDonaldland commercials in 1971. But in 2003, the company slowly phased out the characters as it changed its marketing campaigns to appeal to more adult consumers, the Daily Meal noted. 

Who were the characters?

Ronald McDonald, the best known of the bunch, was a friendly clown with red hair and lipstick dressed in a yellow outfit complimented by red shoes. Famed TV weatherman Willard Scott was among those to wear the iconic clown suit back in the 1960s.

Grimace was a purple character who debuted in commercials as "Evil Grimace," a bad guy who tried to steal McDonald’s shakes but was later rebranded as a good guy by the company, according to the Daily Meal.

Hamburglar was the fast food thief dressed in black and white stripes, wearing a black mask. The character was known for stealing hamburgers from Ronald McDonald and his friends.

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The Fry Kids characters promoted McDonald’s French fries and were known for taking and eating the other characters' fries.

Birdy the Early Bird dressed like an old-fashioned aviator in a flight cap and scarf. The character promoted McDonald's then-new breakfast menu to young consumers.

Mayor McCheese had a hamburger for a head and wore a top hat, and sash with "mayor" on the front, and a pair of small glasses.

Officer Big Mac was a police officer downright obsessed with stopping both Captain Crook and the Hamburglar.

Captain Crook was a pirate who later became "The Captain" and was known for trying to steal Filet-O-Fish sandwiches in commercials.

The Professor, a bearded scientist with a lab coat, was McDonaldland’s inventor and researcher.

Why did McDonald’s phase out Ronald McDonald?

McDonald's decided to curtail the use of Ronald McDonald in campaigns due to reports of creepy clown sightings six years ago, the Associated Press reported. 

In 2016, McDonald's said it was being "thoughtful in respect to Ronald McDonald's participation in community events" as a result of the "current climate around clown sightings in communities." 

The AP noted that McDonald's didn't share any other details about how often Ronald McDonald made appearances, and how it changed.

According to the AP, the burger chain made its decision after a series of pranks around the country involving eerie clown sightings. The reports have forced police in some areas to respond.

Ronald McDonald is now present on Instagram, promoting McDonald’s and the Ronald McDonald House charities. 

In 2022, McDonald’s revived the beloved characters from McDonaldland with the launch of an adult Happy Meal featuring toy figurines: Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Birdie and Cactus Buddy. 

FOX 9 Minneapolis, FOX 32 Chicago, and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.