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'Rugrats' Team to Update Ronald McDonald, Pals

July 16, 1998|MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hoping to make its longtime mascots more appealing to media-savvy kids, McDonald's Corp. has hired the creator of the edgy "Rugrats" cartoons to give Ronald McDonald and friends a make-over.

Los Angeles-based Klasky Csupo Inc., the animation studio behind "Rugrats," will tweak the look and personality of Hamburglar, Grimace and Mayor McCheese. They, along with Ronald, will appear in 40-minute videos McDonald's plans to sell in its restaurants beginning in October. Klasky Csupo is creating the videos.

The move is part of McDonald's attempt to revamp its image in the face of slumping sales and intense competition for family diners. The chain apparently hopes that some of Klasky Csupo's success with producing such animated shows as "Rugrats" and "The Simpsons" will rub off on the decades-old McDonald's characters.

McDonald's isn't the first marketer to give its mascots a hipper personality. M&M/Mars, for example, has made its animated M&M candies sassier.

Ronald McDonald turns 35 this year. His friends and the imaginary world of McDonaldland, where hamburgers grow from the ground and milkshakes hang from trees, were created in 1971 by advertising agency DDB Needham, a unit of New York-based Omnicom Group.

Used extensively in advertising during the 1970s, in recent years the McDonaldland characters have been relegated largely to TV ads in kid-viewing time slots.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company was not ready to discuss the details of the deal with Klasky Csupo, though she said the project was undertaken to "make Ronald more accessible to kids." The spokesperson added that Ronald, invented by a Washington franchisee in 1963, has undergone make-overs in the past.

Klasky Csupo, like a number of animation houses, has regularly produced work for commercials as a side business.

In the convoluted world of fast-food tie-ins, McDonald's rival Burger King Corp. is promoting "Rugrats," while McDonald's is in the middle of a 10-year promotional pact with Walt Disney Co.

* MORE MARKETING: D6

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