I like to think of myself as something of a cereal connoisseur. Growing up, our house was famous among my friends for having an entire cereal cupboard with at least ten to fifteen cereals to choose from on any given morning. My mom was super cool and let me eat sugary stuff (of course, as a result, I’m hooked on Cocoa Pebbles to this day). Most of my favorites are still around, but I mourn the loss of such beloved breakfast treats as Nut ‘n Honey Crunch and Hidden Treasures. Tragic discontinuations aside, there were also many cereals produced in the 80s and 90s whose eventual demise was not quite as sad. Some might even say it was inevitable due to the very nature of these cereals. That’s right, I’m talking about the inherently short-lived and most-likely-to-walk-the-line-between-disgusting-and-delicious pop culture-themed breakfast cereals. Remember any of these?
Introduced to the world in 1991, this cereal capitalized on the Urkel mania that swept the nation at the height of Family Matters’ popularity. It’s completely unclear what this cereal has to do with Urkel. The sugary rings are banana and strawberry flavored. Does Urkel even like those fruits? I feel like he was probably allergic to them. As gross as it sounds, this cereal should have been cheese-flavored or at least shaped like his glasses or something. This guy on the Internet had an autographed unopened box from 1991 and sampled it in 2004. He said it tasted fine.
Another subtle tie-in introduced in 1984, this cereal consisted of honey-sweetened figure eights. According to the box, it’s “a spectacular cereal from the outermost limits of the galaxy” featuring “all the excitement and fun of Star Wars“. Wow, that’s a lot to ask of a cereal, and this is coming from someone who didn’t even see Star Wars until two months ago (I know, I know). Apparently, they also used to sell this in mini boxes as part of those little snack packs, and cereal collectors go nuts trying to find them now. Yes, cereal collectors exist. Why wasn’t this presented as an option when I took the career aptitude test in sixth grade?
Breakfast with Barbie
From the sweet spot that is 1989 came this sugary, girly cereal. The pieces were pink and yellow and purple and shaped like stars, hearts, cars, bows, and the letter B. Now this is a cereal I can get behind! At least they’re trying with the shapes. If I were to look at a bowl of this cereal, I’d probably guess it was Barbie-related, so bravo, “Ralston” cereal company, whoever you are. It’s not totally clear what flavor this cereal was supposed to be other than “natural fruit”, but the box was adorable and came in several different Barbie-themed patterns, including one that could be cut and folded to become a Barbie vanity table. I feel like cereal boxes were a lot more confident in their consumer back in the 80s. Constantly asking you to cut, fold, dig for toys, even use them as a bowl in the case of snack-packs. Now, you’re lucky if your box even comes with a coupon to send away for something, let alone a game on the back or a real toy inside.
“I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal!” Yes, that was so obviously a slogan for this Cap’n Crunch rip-off. The pieces were shaped like the letter “T” and according to the box above there were awesome stickers inside, but what really made this cereal special was its presence in the film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Pee-Wee pours a box of Mr. T cereal over his pancakes and eggs while imitating the actor-wrestler.
I have one of those crazy childhood sense-memories of watching the scene above and thinking the whole disgusting combination looked kinda good.
This is one that I wish still existed because it sounds so delicious! The “E” and “T”-shaped pieces were flavored with peanut butter and chocolate, so it probably tasted a lot like the Reese’s Puffs we know and love today. But I really like the subtlety at work here since, as you surely remember, E.T. feasts on Reese’s Pieces throughout the film. I like that they don’t make a big deal of that connection on the box but rather allow the consumer (me) to feel clever for realizing. It’s also really cute that there’s a little bubble on the box that quietly reads, “E.T.’s favorite flavors.” As if we didn’t know!
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal
Another one I’d love to taste, this cereal was actually a tie-in with the animated television series as opposed to the movie. Of course, the series was a spin-off of the movie so it’s really all one big happy time travelling family. The cereal itself sounds delicious – cinnamon oat squares with marshmallow musical notes. Yum! And fun! The toys inside the boxes were equally exciting: “hysterical” post cards, time travel luggage tags, and a telephone booth-shaped cassette case (one of the most dated phrases anyone has ever typed in the history of the world).
Nintendo Cereal System
Is it just me, or did the manufacturers of this cereal totally miss an opportunity to call their product “Nintend-Os”? I mean, it practically names itself! Sure, “Nintendo Cereal System” is more video-game-y, I guess, but it’s also kind of stupid. And it makes no sense. There is no system at work here. It’s a box of cereal. So what actually was cool about the Nintendo Cereal System is the fact that it contained not one but two cereals: Super Mario Brothers Cereal and Zelda Adventure Cereal. Text from a 1989 magazine ad reads, “Fruit-flavored Marios, Mushrooms and Goomas. Berry-flavored Links, Hearts and Shields. Nintendo is breakfast news!” Breakfast news? This must be some kind of 80s speak I can no longer understand.
Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters
Crazily enough, Ralston (at it again!) actually released this cereal four separate times under four slightly different names: Ghost Busters, Real Ghost Busters, Ghostbusters II, and Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters. The cereals inside were identical and supposedly limited edition, although four different releases doesn’t sound that limited to me. The oat pieces were fruit-flavored, the marshmallows were shaped like ghosts, and in true 80s fashion you could cut up the box to “slime your light switch”, i.e. there was a cardboard light switch cover on the back of the box. Why in the world anyone thought kids would be excited by this, I have no idea. But I guess that’s why I’m not the cereal box designer I believe I was born to be.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I love that the box describes this cereal as “Crunchy, sweetened Ninja Nets” when it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that these are just Chex pieces, repurposed. The marshmallows, however, are shaped like turtles (awesome), and in later editions they even added pizza-shaped marshmallows (totally awesome). This cereal is odd to me because it looks pretty girly and tame when really it should have been fierce and reptilian, or as reptilian as a cereal could be. I’d have liked it if the pieces were all the different colors of the turtles’ bandanas as opposed to the pastel palette we’re offered above.
Cabbage Patch Kids
I’m absolutely obsessed with this cereal. This is a perfect example of a pop culture cereal done right. First of all, the box is adorable. Look at those little dolls eating cereal! I love that they used actual Cabbage Patch dolls instead of human children. Secondly, the cereal is shaped like fat little cabbage patch faces. It’s semi-morbid to eat a big bowl of Cabbage Patch face, but I could definitely get on board. Third of all, they released several boxes with different images of Cabbage Patch kids enjoying their cereals in a variety of places (camping, swinging on a porch swing). I like that they mixed it up because, as any Cabbage Patch Kid connoisseur knows, what made Cabbage Patch Kids cool was that they were each unique. No two were exactly alike, or at least that was what they claimed. I’ll choose to ignore the “Low Sugar” warning and cross my fingers that both the cereal and the dolls make a comeback.
These are just a handful of the dozens of TV-and-movie-themed cereals released in the 80s and 90s. What’s lame about these cereals is that they are all kind of bland and similar, gussied up with colorful boxes and familiar faces. But what’s even lamer is that it totally works on me. I want to eat a big bowl of Cabbage Patch Kids. I want to experience the Nintendo Cereal System. Cereal is a huge part of my life, and so is TV (and so are movies and video games and dolls and toys and yes I am in my late 20s thankyouverymuch), so to combine the two – beyond just eating a punch-bowl of Froot Loops in front of Gilmore Girls reruns every afternoon – really appeals to me. Here’s hoping they come out with Pretty Little Liars Crunch and Whitney-Os as soon as possible.
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