When Food Mascots Get Makeovers

The beloved and cozily familiar Quaker Oats man looks a tad different these days. Larry—did you know his name is Larry?—has been put on a Photoshop diet.

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The beloved and cozily familiar Quaker Oats man looks a tad different these days. Larry—did you know his name is Larry?—has been put on a Photoshop diet; he's also gotten something of a rejuvenating facelift (though his white hair remains, and his cheeks are still either rosy or perhaps lightly flushed by rosacea). Sarah Nassauer reports this troubling makeover news in The Wall Street Journal, explaining that it's part of a "wider effort by owner PepsiCo Inc. to reinvigorate the [Quaker] brand globally." To keep Quaker Oats "fresh and innovative," the Quaker Oats guy needs to look a little healthier. Less jowly. Less pudgy of cheek. Better hair. Stronger shoulders. The guy needs a neck. And so now, he's not Larry at all, but, say, his more handsome French cousin Laurent, who's a few years younger and quite a hit with all the American girls at the discotheques, a man oft described as a more handsome George Washington. Meet Laurent:

So, what's different? Per Nassauer:

Larry now shows his shoulders, making him seem stronger and more vibrant, says Michael Connors, Hornall Anderson's vice president of design. Trimming his hair makes him look lighter and his neck longer. "It's the same neck," says Mr. Connors, but the haircut "makes him look thinner."

Hornall Anderson also removed his double chin and smoothed the rolls and plumpness in his face and neck. "We took about five pounds off him," says Mr. Connors.

They kept the crow's feet and the eye-sparkle, partly to keep him from looking too young, and partly because they didn't actually want anyone to notice that "Larry" was different. (Minus the national article explaining all the ways he's different, that is.) But all of this fills us with enormous concern. What if, like models and actresses, our food characters, the images and icons we grew up with, are being transformed, one after another, to fit a "healthier" or "more youthful and vibrant" standard—without us even noticing? We undertook an investigation to check in with our old friends, see how they might have changed, and imagine, in some cases, what might happen to them in the future.

Toucan Sam. The most noticeable change in the Froot Loops mascot is his obvious rhinoplasty, apparent on his high-tech flash-forward website. In addition, per Wikipedia, "Although his beak originally had two pink stripes, during the 1970s it became a tradition that each stripe on his beak represented one of the flavors of the pieces in the cereal: The additions of new colors have made this color scheme no longer accurate. There are now eight colors of this cereal." FYI: The colors don't represent flavors, which seems the biggest problem of all here. From his nose job to his webbed feet, Sam is a hypocrite. That's harder to fix than a deviated septum.

The Jolly Green Giant. He's always been green and he's always been big, but did you know he also came in 16-inch ragdoll form? How's he changed? According to the Green Giant's official site, "Through the years, he grew into a friendlier—and greener—character, known for presiding over the vegetables grown in his valley with a deep 'Ho, Ho, Ho!'” But is the term "giant" acceptable these days? And jolly sounds fat, while actually, he's incredibly fit. Maybe he just needs a name revamp: Let's call him the "moderately pleased but not in a smug way spatially challenged environmentally conscious person who might shop at the Big and Tall Shop." Also, he should stop saying "ho."

The Trix Rabbit. General Mills' rabbit, who was born in 1959, is thin, but that's not a healthy thin. In fact, dare we say it, he looks a little... cracked out. And while in his early iteration he was skinny, too, or at least rabbit-shaped with a kind of pudgy belly, he didn't have quite the same scary glint in his eye. He also used to be a lot more depressed (fast-forward to 2:30 in the video linked above for some real Eeyore-style kvetching). Get thee to a rehab clinic, Trix rabbit. And stop eating so much sugared cereal. Your teeth are falling out.

M&Ms. Not only are these adorably rotund guys well over the Body Mass Index standards for their height, they're also carrying their weight in all the wrong places. That apple shape is terrible for the heart (peanut M&M's pear shape is slightly better, but he certainly is not going to fit into the latest in skinny jean fashions). On the up side, at least the Ms are diverse. And when they were born in 1941, they looked completely different. We prefer today's M&M.

Aunt Jemima. Everyone's favorite pancake syrup profferer Aunt Jemima is actually a Quaker cousin of Larry, and she had a much-discussed makeover back in 1994 to make her, essentially, less of a "mammie" stereotype. The original Jemima,"having made her debut at Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893, in the person of Nancy Green, a black cook who told folksy stories and flipped pancakes made up from the new, self-rising flour," writes Brent Staples in The New York Times, "remained her girthy self until 1968, when Quaker traded her bandanna for a more stylish headband and let her lose perhaps 100 pounds. Five years ago [in 1989], the headband disappeared and Aunt Jemima got a perm." Expect any Jemima updates to turn that perm (so '80s!) into something more natural.

Tony the Tiger. Kellogg's Frosted Flakes food mascot is a big, handsome lug, the Finnick of food characters, but he wasn't always that way. The design has changed over the years, from, again per Wikipedia, "Tony the whimsical, cereal-box-sized tiger with a teardrop-shaped head" to "his fully-grown son Jr., who is now a sleek, muscular sports enthusiast." Problem: the new-era Tony might be using performance-enhancing drugs. You don't get that ripped by accident. He also has a lisp. Grrrrreat.

The Pillsbury Dough Boy. Well, we have a big problem here. Not only do we get the glorification of the word "dough" (that's not gluten-free, is it?), but Poppin' Fresh has been pretty much consistently fat and happy through the years, a fact only made more evident by his love of being poked in the pudgy gut. His eyes are glassy and unfocused, his head seems a bit misshapen, and his arms are bigger than his legs. It's amazing he can even hold himself upright, much less bust a move on the dance floor. From this 1982 commercial (when he was 20 years old), it also appears he has a gambling habit. Other things you don't know about him could fill the history books: "the only music he ever performed was rap, he is all dough, he has blue eyes, he always wears a bakers hat and scarf, he originates from Minneapolis, MN, he loves to bake and twenty years ago he had a wife and two pets."

Mr. Peanut. Planters' trademark peanut-man has been through some changes over the years, but he's maintained his cane, spats, and monocle, indications of evolutionary weakness that should probably have been eradicated at this point. The 2001 Peanut looks sturdier than the previous iterations, and his smile is less creepy; also, unslightly facial smile lines have been smoothed out by the marketers, and he's been given a perfect aquiline nose, along with more muscled thighs and arms. The hand on his hip also gives him a debonair vibe. But does he really need his name on his hat? In 2012, that's just asking for trouble.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.