If you visited participating McDonald’s between June 14 and July 11, your $1.99 Happy Meal burger/fries/drink combo also included the opportunity to take home a plump, plush Babe figure, or one of six other characters from last summer’s blockbuster movie.
We understand how Disney animations get processed into plastic toys to feed the insatiable, video-crazed kids who wolf down McDonald’s Happy Meals. It’s hardly surprising that Toy Story got the treatment, too. But Babe? Did we see the same movie? Isn’t Universal’s Babe about a pig that triumphs over the very industrial-sized slaughterhouses and human appetites that make McDonald’s possible?
McDonald’s declined to comment on why Babe—and not some other more acquiescent Hollywood pig—got the Happy Meal nod. Spokeswoman Malesia Dunn emphasizes fun. “Our Happy Meals are intended to be fun, something for kids to enjoy,” she says. “We just wanted to provide a toy that they can enjoy the meal with and have fun.”
The McDonald’s Babe campaign drew angry protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which staged demonstrations on July 9 at seven big city McDonald’s (some featuring PETA’s own porker, the seven-foot-tall vegetarian Petunia the Pig). According to PETA spokesman Michael McGraw, “This is Happy Meal hypocrisy. Kids love animals, but McDonald’s has no trouble betraying their values. Every animal is a Babe; we need to teach our children to love and respect every animal.” PETA notes that some 92 million U.S. pigs each year disappear into slaughterhouses after enduring intensive-confinement factory farming conditions and don’t get to become adored pets. In literature passed out at the events, PETA called on McDonald’s to offer U.S. customers a version of the vegetarian Spicy Bean Burger it sells in Great Britain.
James Cromwell, who plays Farmer Hoggett in the film, is one Friend-of-Babe who wishes McDonald’s would go away. “I was appalled, and I hope it backfires,” he says.