The Real Reason McDonald's Got Rid Of Captain Crook

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Pirates, perhaps more than any other villain, end up being heroes in so many of our stories. Nobody's really rooting against Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, while the Dread Pirate Roberts from the The Princess Bride is a romantic hero favorite. And even ever-hateable Tom Brady became a lovable, stumbling winner when he went from Patriot to Buccaneer in Tampa Bay.

So it only reasoned that when McDonald's developed its child-focused McDonaldland campaign in the 1970s, they'd need a pirate to join their ranks. And that pirate's name was Captain Crook. Yes, the name sounds painfully similar to a famous gator-fearing pirate with a hook for a hand, and his sinister plots to steal Filet-o-fish sandwiches may have made him a bit of an anti-hero — but by the time his run was over in the 1980s he too had become a good guy. Here's a look at Captain Crook's life on the high seas, and why McDonald's ultimately made him walk the plank.

Captain Crook was part of the original McDonaldland cast of characters

Though Ronald McDonald became the de facto face of McDonald's over the years, he was actually once part of a troupe of colorful fast food-inspired characters who resided in a magical place known as McDonaldland. In addition to Ronald, the McDonaldland lineup boasted Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, Officer Big Mac, the Evil Grimace, and, of course, Captain Crook. The characters were developed in 1970 by advertising gurus Needham, Harper & Steers, and they were designed to inspire brand loyalty among children.

Captain Crook looked, as you might expect, was just like a pirate — complete with a Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt, lavish purple hat, and a sword ready at his side. He wore a purple scarf around his neck, perhaps to keep him warm inside over air-conditioned McDonald's, but interestingly, he did not have an eye patch or a missing limb. Captain Crook was originally introduced as a kind foil to Ronald McDonald, comprising McDonaldland's criminal element alongside The Hamburglar and Evil Grimace.

Captain Crook was like The Hamburglar of filet-o-fish sandwiches

When your name is Captain Crook, it's probably hard to convince people you're trying to obtain...anything legally. So perhaps this pirate was predestined to steal, the object of his criminal desire being the coveted McDonald's Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Much like the Hamburglar devoted his life to the illegal obtaining of burgers, and Evil Grimace had a penchant for Coke and milkshakes, so did Captain Crook spend the majority of his on-screen time trying to get a fish sandwich for free.

Captain Crook was, as you might suspect, is not exactly a successful criminal: In one classic McDonaldland ad, he once tried to lure Ronald into a hanging rope, but was outsmarted. He also attempted to swipe the sandwich with a fish net when Ronald crossed a golden-arched bridge, which was also a failure. Finally, he tried literally fishing for the sandwich off a palm tree branch, and instead hooked the table and ended up flat on the ground. This last foible led Ronald to ask rhetorically, "Why doesn't Captain Crook do what everyone else does; catch a tasty Filet-o-fish sandwich at McDonald's?" Because he's Captain Crook, Ronald. Not Captain Paying Customer.

Captain Crook was loosely based on Captain Hook from Disney movies

Captain Crook may look a little familiar to you, if you've spent any time watching Disney movies. And his name might sound a little familiar too. That's because, according to Mental Floss, he was in fact fashioned after the classic villain from Peter Pan, Captain Hook. A quick comparison of the two swashbucklers makes it even more apparent: Both don large, dark-colored hats and sweeping red jackets. Both rock sinister mustaches. Both have lace popping out of their collars and cuffs. And though Captain Crook does have both of his hands (apparently there are no alligators in McDonaldland), he does have one hand that appears to be pretty bandaged up. Perhaps he was able to find a doctor a little faster.

Interestingly, though Disney has been known to sue day care centers for using their characters, and McDonald's was ultimately sued for lifting most of the McDonaldland lineup from HR Pufnstuff, no litigation ever developed between the two commercial giants. And though his character wasn't among those cited as being directly stolen from the popular children's program, Captain Crook was among those eliminated in the wake of the lawsuit. 

McDonald's had a Captain Crook spiral slide

Perhaps you are old enough to remember the imminent personal injury lawsuit that was McDonald's Playland, where you could swing under the Hamburglar's arms, spin on a Mayor McCheese merry-go-round, and inevitably become one of hundreds of kids who hurt themselves climbing inside Officer Big Mac's head. Our favorite villian Captain Crook had a ride at the Playland too: a spiral slide that stood 7-foot, 6-inches tall, topped off with a massive cartoonish depiction of the sandwich-snatching buccaneer.

If you'd like a little piece of Captain Crook in your backyard today, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is finding a full sized slide still in existence is pretty much near impossible. The good news is that if you're content to just have the Captain Crook sculpture –- and maybe put it atop a new slide –- they're not too hard to find. This old slide topper is listed as "very rare" and can be yours for a mere $4,000, though another one that appears to be in the same condition is also listed on eBay for $1,500. So, if you want to recreate fond Captain Crook memories, it may pay to shop around.

Captain Crook didn't like smiling in pictures

You ever have that one friend who just insists on messing up your #sundayfunday brunch post by always refusing to smile? Captain Crook was absolutely that guy, and though a criminal who doesn't smile in pictures shouldn't have surprised anyone, he still knew how to mess up a group pic, even back in 1970.

Case in point: This original McDonaldland commercial from 1970. In the commercial Ronald McDonald and his squad are trying to snap some #cheeseburgertime shots for...wherever it was people posted pictures of themselves eating lunch back in 1970. While Mayor McCheese and the children are all smiles, Captain Crook suddenly rolls up yelling  "Ahoy! How about a cheeseburger for me?" — weird from a guy who devotes his life to stealing fish sandwiches, but any port in a storm we guess. Ronald, however, is absolutely not having it.

The squad leader tells the pirate, "Oh no, Captain Crook, not until you learn to smile." The Captain takes this as a personal challenge, then says "Cheeseburger" three times, and though his face doesn't appear to move, it was enough for Ronald and the kids. They yell, "He did it!" and proceed to celebrate accordingly.

The Captain Crook action figure came with a sword

The 1970s were a very different time, to say the least. But perhaps nothing underscores the difference between that era and ours is the evolution of Happy Meal toys. Just as recently as 2010, McDonald's came under intense scrutiny when the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued the hamburger giant for luring children to their unhealthy food with Happy Meal Toys. A judge threw out the class action suit in 2012, but the cultural shift was clear: Marketing unhealthy stuff to people too young to know better was no longer completely acceptable.

Now, let's contrast that to the world Captain Crook found himself thrust into over 40 years earlier, when not only was it okay to include a Captain Crook toy in a Happy Meal, that toy could also include a miniature sword. Which detached, in case a four-year-old mistook it for an orange plastic French fry. Yep, in the not-so-litigious 1970s, choking hazards apparently weren't factored into marketing campaigns. And though McDonald's was never sued by the parents of an aspiring sword swallower, it certainly marks a different time in American culture.

Captain Crook's look, attitude, and name got changed in the 1980s

Perhaps, and quite understandably, an angry pirate who refuses to smile in pictures and steals sandwiches from a beloved clown might not have been the best person to get kids in the door. This might be why McDonald's gave Captain Crook a big makeover in the early 1980s, according to the Daily Meal. He went from the sinister, Captain Hook-inspired pirate to something Daily Meal described as "muppet-like" with big, dopey eyes, a bushy moustache, and a parrot sidekick named Matey who could have easily stepped off set of Muppet Treasure Island.

Either because they felt he'd been sufficiently rehabilitated, or just wanted to keep criminal names off its roster of children's characters, McDonald's also dropped the "Crook" part of his name, redubbing the character simply "The Captain." And instead of fiendishly trying to lift Ronald's Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, he now spent his on-screen time having pleasant lunches with the clown on his pirate ship's lifeboat.

The only remnants of Captain Crook's original look seem to be these commemorative glasses

While you can find a handful of original McDonaldland Captain Crook Happy Meal toys on eBay for $55 (plus shipping!), the majority of his memorabilia that remains is of the friendly 1980s version called "The Captain." The lone exception are these old McDonald's commemorative glasses, which you can get on Amazon for as little as about $15. They sport a much more pirate-like look for Captain Crook, with long, flowing hair and a sharp black moustache — more apropos for The Princess Bride than anything from Jim Henson.

If that 1977 version is a little too pricey for a cylinder of nostalgia, this older, 1974 commemorative glass is also available on eBay for a mere $5.95 plus $6.95 for shipping. Yes, this might make you question the relative logic of paying more to have something shipped to you than it's worth, but can you really put a price on having a glass that's almost old enough to have its own AARP card, and the talking points it'll inspire when people come over? No. No, you cannot.

McDonald's ditched Captain Crook in the 1980s

Though Captain Crook saw a grand rebirth as The Captain in the 1980s, not even his new, lovable demeanor could save him from the mid-80s overhaul of the McDonaldland cast. During the middle of that decade, many beloved residents of McDonaldland — including Officer Big Mac, Mayor McCheese, and The Professor — were suddenly absent from the chain's advertising campaigns. And, according to Mental Floss, The Captain was also among the company's casualties.

The changes may have been a simple marketing move, or perhaps they may have also been a result of a lawsuit from the creators of HR Pufnstuf. In the suit, show creators Sid and Marty Kroft alleged that Needham, Harper & Steers had approached them about collaborating on a McDonald's campaign and then never contacted them again. Shortly after, McDonaldland debuted with a number of characters who looked suspiciously similar to HR Pufnstuf creations. The Krofts ultimately won the case, and though eliminating certain characters was not part of the official decision, the 1980s "streamlining" may have been a result of the judgment.