What do you get when you combine McDonald’s, a beloved movie character, and an immense amount of product placement and put it on the big screen?
Why you get MAC and Me of course!
MAC and Me is a science-fiction comedy film from 1988 that tells the story of an alien creature who actually comes to earth and befriends a young boy in a wheelchair. It’s considered one of the worst movies ever made and was a box-office and critical failure.
Where do you even start with this movie? If you have never seen it, you are probably at least familiar with it thanks to Paul Rudd’s appearances on Conan O’Brien where he would constantly show the same clip when trying to promote one of his movies.
Mac and Me is also one of the first real instances of product placement in a movie and its combined partnership with McDonald’s – which is very evident in that notorious dance scene which we’ll get to in a bit.
Brace yourself, we’re taking a deeper look at MAC and Me.
The MAC and Me Plot
So this movie is a nice combination of obviously E.T., but ALF and also a bit of Flight of the Navigator thrown in for good mix. It starts out that NASA has landed a spacecraft on an unknown planet and is rummaging around for soil samples.
Some aliens stumble across the ship and end up getting sucked into it and are stuck as it makes its way back to earth. Once back on Earth, they escape from the NASA lab and the smallest one ends up hitching a ride in a van where a 12-year old boy in a wheelchair is also in.
The boy is named Eric Cruise and MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature) has still been hanging around their house causing mayhem and trashing the place. Eric is trying to avoid him but when he almost dies from his wheelchair rolling down a hill and launching him into a lake, MAC ends up saving his life.
Eric knows MAC is legit and they set out to trap him in their house with a vacuum cleaner. Even though MAC saved his life, Eric still isn’t convinced on the extra terrestrial’s- sorry, mysterious alien creature’s – true intentions. MAC ends up fixing all the damage he caused in the house while leaving clues behind as a way to communicate.
Some FBI agents – like the Alien Task Force in ALF – have tracked down MAC to a birthday party happening at a local McDonald’s and we get a full-on dance performance/commercial which is the ultimate in product placement. The family decides to help MAC reunite with his family which results in a shootout – and we’ll get to the unedited version in a bit. Eric ends up near an explosion and is killed, but MAC saves him allowing the alien family to get ugh; American citizenship.
The Cast Of MAC And Me
O.K. let’s take a look at the victims – sorry – the “cast” that were in MAC and Me along with some other notable work that they’ve done.
- Janet Cruise is played by Christine Ebersol – she was actually on Saturday Night Live in 81-82 and Three Men and a Baby
- Michael Cruise was played by Jonathan Ward – He appeared in Fern Gully, Who’s The Boss? And Charles in Charge
- Eric Cruise was played by Jade Calegory – Calegory suffered from Spina Bifida and used a wheelchair in real life. Calegory actually performed the stunt where he rolls down the hill into the lake.
- Courtney was played by Tina Caspary – She was originally cast as Kelly Bundy on Married With Children and was also in Annie
- The Scientist was played by Barbara Allyne Bennet – she was the old lady on the “Garage Sale” episode of The Office trying to buy the Slip ‘n Slide.
- Wickett was played by Martin West
- Jack Jr was played by Danny Cooksey who appeared on Diff’rent Strokes and was the voice of Montana Max in Tiny Tune Adventures
How Did This Movie Get Developed?
It starts with producer R.J. Louis who brought us the Karate Kid and MAC and Me was thought up with some really great intentions. Louis wanted to do a movie that gave back and that was associated with various charities.
Though this movie ended up seemingly a Coca-Cola and McDonald’s commercial, the impetus of this movie seemed based around striking the right cord to feature McDonald’s. Louis used to make McDonald’s commercials when he worked in advertising.
He also noticed how Ronald McDonald had become arguably the most recognized figure in the world. Also on that list, E.T. which was a juggernaut movie and character going into the mid-80s. What if you could combine all these things together? You could have a goldmine on your hand – especially since E.T. was the highest-grossing movie of all time at that point.
Louis put together the whole idea of the story of the mysterious alien creature, or MAC, and the basic layout of him and his family. There’s no way to ignore the parallels with E.T., especially since the whole movie was an influence on Mac and Me.
The next generation needed their own version of E.T. – even though it had only been like 4 years.
How Did McDonald’s Get Involved With All This?
Louis claims that there was never any intent to have McDonald’s be so closely involved with MAC and Me, but it’s hard to not see the collaboration. Even after having developed the idea of the movie, Louis spent three years trying to bargain to get the movie and TV right to McDonald’s. He has approached a lot of people at the company and tried to share his vision of cardboard cutouts of Mac at every restaurant location.
The movie and McDonald’s would work hand-in-hand with both being able to promote the other. He also pitched the idea of all the future video sales which were now becoming a thing as home video grew (check out my article all about how the Top Gun VHS release helped create home video as we know it).
And lastly, he said how a percentage of the movie’s profits would go to the work being done by the Ronald McDonald house.
The interesting thing here is how this was one of the first times it was seen to do a full cross-promotion with another company. Product placement and sponsored movies are commonplace now, but this wasn’t really the case back then. Even the idea of McDonald’s interaction of movie toys in their Happy Meals wasn’t totally up and running and Disney hadn’t even capitalized on this whole idea yet. Louis was one of the first to really put it in motion.
(if you want another crazy story, check out my blog all about the invention of the Happy Meal…)
So did McDonald’s actually fund this movie? Well, yes and no. McDonald’s didn’t directly put up the money to help make this thing get made, but Golden State Foods did. Golden State Foods is the company that makes McDonald’s meat, special sauce, ketchup, and vegetables – and they agreed to help finance.
An interesting note here: Somehow Disney learned that a movie could do merchandising tie-ins – and that McDonald’s was involved in this – they then went right to McDonald’s and signed a three-year deal to put Disney toys in Happy Meals. Apparently McDonald’s wasn’t too thrilled to be dealing with this unknown movie now that they had Disney, but they had to follow through on their agreement.
The Production of MAC and Me
Stewert Raffill – a British screenwriter and director – was brought in to direct MAC and Me. Raffill was on board but there still wasn’t a finished script for the movie. According to Raffill: everyone was hired and ready to go to make a movie – there just wasn’t a script to make one with.
As I mentioned before, Since the movie still had a charitable note to it, they brought in a kid to play the main role of Eric who actually was in a wheelchair. He wasn’t an actor but seemed to adapt well to the whole process of being in a movie.
All the pre-production was being done and Raffill was overseeing this but still trying to hammer out a script at night. They knew they were looking to replicate E.T., but they wanted to make sure that it wasn’t too blatantly obvious.
The good news through all this was that McDonald’s was providing lunch on the set! They also had a few things they wanted to make sure happened: They wanted to intention of the movie to promote their charities BUT they still wanted the movie to match their brand in terms of tone and style.
This means having the movie portray their fun image they show in their commercials (hence the whole McDonald’s dance scene), the food had to look the right way, even the dress code had to be up to their standards. I’m honestly surprised this scene wasn’t used on TV to sell Big Macs (note: I just made that inadvertent connection while writing that. I’m not totally convinced the entire intent was making this a 90-minute McDonald’s commercial).
The only thing missing from this whole scene was hearing “I’m Lovin’ it!” You can watch this whole part here on YouTube. It’s like the ‘Hand Jive’ scene from Grease but with more pastel colors.
They also had one more important caveat: Ronald McDonald should not appear in this film.
But we know how that went as I again reference that insane dance scene. The appearance of Ronald was apparently an “artistic choice.”
I also never realized this but the score of the movie was created by the iconic Alan Silvestri who of course brought us the Back to the Future movies. Check out my article all about the 20 things you missed in Back to the Future.
How Would They Make MAC Different Than E.T.?
They were clearly going in the same direction as E.T., but how could they at least differentiate the two? The first would be to make sure that MAC did not resemble E.T. in any way. I’d say that they accomplished that as I found MAC to be much more unnerving.
They also had the choice to include MAC’s family throughout the movie with them all being reunited in the end and becoming American citizens.
MAC also had some unique and different powers compared to E.T. including being able to REVIVE THE DEAD… MAC also had the ability to ride a bike like a muppet compared to that slouch E.T. who could only sit in a basket.
MAC also had some physiological differences and his body seemed to be made of Silly Putty allowing it to extend in different directions like an alien Stretch Armstong. This all seemed to be good enough to not totally infringe on the right of E.T. and the movie was even given the green light by Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy.
The Reception To MAC and Me
So, how did this movie do? Not good. It did not do good, but I think you already know that. The first problem is that it was released on August 12, 1988. And it came out alongside some pretty strong competition, namely:
- Die Hard
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (check my article on why we’ll never see another movie like Roger Rabbit again)
The thing was, the movie was actually doing surprisingly well in test audiences. Like really well, and I’m not sure what exactly happened here. All we know is that some big studios now wanted a shot at releasing MAC and Me. That honor went to Orion who is sadly no longer with us.
Critics detested it and the fact that it resembled E.T. so closely could not be ignored. They also couldn’t ignore that this was a 90-minute product placement meant to appease McDonald’s, Coke and even Sears – R.I.P.
Everyone seemed to look past the fact that they cast a disabled person and the charitable tie-ins with the Ronald McDonald House, there was just too much commercialism in the movie to give it any merit.
So that was the critical response to it, but the crowds stayed away too. Possibly due to the negative reviews and the other MASSIVE movies out at the time, MAC and Me made only $6.4 million dollars. And this is against a budget of around $13 million making it a financial failure.
How The Final Scene Of MAC And Me Really Ended
This seems to only have come up in the last few years, but the original intended ending of MAC and ME was WAY darker. The movie has endured a second life on home video, but what you have probably seen was not the original version.
As reported on Gizmodo, there was discovered on an alternate Japanese version of the movie that the ending scene with Eric was a lot more graphic. Apparently, the scene we know with the explosion wasn’t the original intention.
This other version of the film has Eric straight-up shot in the chest and killed. MAC obviously saves Eric in the theatrical version and we have to assume the same thing happens here? Unless this is a REALLY dark alternative.
You can find clips of this floating around on Twitter, and it’s not exactly as graphic as Saving Private Ryan, but it’s still a kid getting SHOT TO DEATH in a family movie. You probably aren’t going to see that in a Happy Meal…
The Legacy Of MAC And Me
There are a few ways to look at this movie; blatant rip-off, extremely well-intentioned, failure, cult classic, and ingenuitive with its advent of commercial crossover. It is still regarded as one of the worst movies ever made and still holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Product placement is obviously alive in well in most forms of entertainment, but since MAC and Me was a trial run of sorts, it just didn’t seem to nail it. Again, it does have this cult-like appeal to it and found an audience of home video.
If you were never aware of MAC and Me, you are probably at least familiar if you’re a fan of Paul Rudd. Ant-Man himself had made it an amazing running gag by showing the hill/wheelchair scene instead of clips from his movies every time he appeared on Conan O’Brien. The first time he pulls it off was on February 6, 2004, when he pretended to show a clip from the last episode of Friends (you can check it out on Team Coco). He’s done this same gag upwards of 15 years now.
So MAC and Me exists as sort of this weird study on how movies are made. It had great intentions but just ended up going off the rails. It relied too heavily on the fact people wanted more of E.T. in a different form, and ultimately, people couldn’t get past the egregious commercial content.
It may be one of your favorites if you discovered it later on and could enjoy it while being unaware of all its issues. If they had the chance to go back and revisit how this whole thing was made I think it could have worked out OK.
But it might not have made Paul Rudd so beloved.