Once upon a time, the Hamburglar was a teeny tiny scoundrel with red hair and a cheeky snaggle tooth, so winning in his features that no one minded when he insisted on trying to steal all the hamburgers, all the time. With his black Zorro hat, his stripy prison clothes, and his impish grin, it was easy to forget that the Hamburglar was just another down-on-his-luck American reduced to robbing others to feed his insatiable addiction. Presumably things have been hard for him, because the last time he surfaced was in 2002, when he appeared in an advertisement with the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.
Not any more. The lovable McDonald’s mascot of yore has grown up. New images released by the fast-food chain depict the Hamburglar as a grown man wearing a fedora and macintosh atop a black-and-white t shirt. He still has a mask, but his face now also sports a good half-inch of designer stubble. "We felt it was time to debut a new look for the Hamburglar after he’s been out of the public eye all these years,” Joel Yashinsky, McDonald’s vice president for marketing, told Mashable. “He’s had some time to grow up a bit and has been busy raising a family in the suburbs and his look has evolved over time.”
“Evolved” is one way of putting it. Not since Mary Kate and Ashley grew from tweenage VHS stars to the high priestesses of haute couture have childhood icons had such a radical transformation. The old Hamburglar was maybe four foot two, with a giant cartoonish head, two sticky-out ears, and an endearing mop of auburn hair, a bit like Dennis the Menace. The new Hamburglar looks like one of the creepier models wearing a “Sexy Hamburglar” outfit on a Halloween costume website. The Artful Dodger has become an out-of-work actor, and with him, childhood innocence has been dispelled faster than the average fast-food consumer can say, “Robble Robble.”
It’s important to note, however, that this isn’t the first time the Hamburglar’s been made over. Before he was the miniature criminal with the innocent expression, he was a hideous creature of normal size with two teeth, a hook nose, and a cape, who was inexplicably known as “the Lone Jogger.” Like the later Hamburglar, he was non-verbal, but instead of articulating nonsense words he made a kind of gargling sound, like a bathtub whose water was being drained. In this commercial from the 1970s, he doesn’t appear to jog so much as sweep into a McDonald’s, grab a tray of breakfast, and spread his cape victoriously to show off his “Lone Jogger” shirt, a bit like a flasher.
It wasn’t until 1985 that (presumably) someone in the McDonald’s marketing department discovered this character was actually enormously disturbing, at which point the Hamburglar was reinvented to be more child-friendly. But judging by the recent revival, the anxiety surrounding a fast-food behemoth deliberately marketing its products to children has led the company to target a much more profitable demographic: nostalgic adults. Like us, the Hamburglar has grown up. He’s abandoned his city condo for a house in the sticks, but he hasn’t quite left his love for burgers behind (there’s one on his watch). The most unrealistic part of all of this is that the prospect of a new McDonald’s product (a Sirloin Third Pound Burger) appears to be more enticing to this hamburger aficionado than the fresh-made patties he’s grilling in his own front yard.
What’s next for McDonald’s and its $2 billion annual marketing budget? Will Grimace discover Atkins and shed 70 percent of his excess body weight, emerging sleeker in his purple frame, like an eggplant emoji? Will Mayor McCheese enter the Republican presidential race? Will Ronald McDonald ever not be disturbing? As offbeat as the decision to make the Hamburglar (a) a parent and (b) human might be, it’s important to remember that even a 40-year-old with a hamburger on his watch is less disturbing than 99 percent of the characters McDonald’s has used to sell its hamburgers over the years.