McDonald's And Disney Collabs Weren't Always Good For Business

Disney and McDonald's are among the world's most recognizable companies. Although one sells burgers and the other family-friendly entertainment, it seems a partnership between the two industry titans would be nothing short of a massive success. Unfortunately, The Walt Disney Company and McDonald's have had their fair share of disagreements in the past.

According to Attractions Magazine, one of the goals of Ray Kroc, the McDonald's C.E.O. who transformed the restaurant chain into the massive presence it is today, was for his hamburger-selling business to partner with influential companies that could help McDonald's extend its brand awareness. One of these people happened to be Walt Disney, who at the time was set to open his Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. Unfortunately, Disney was uninterested in discussing business with such a small company — while the McDonald's everyone knows today has over 40,000 locations worldwide, Kroc's ambitious business only had four locations open when he reached out to Disney. Reportedly, though discussions between the companies may have occurred, Disney's price for partnership was more than Kroc was willing to bargain. Fortunately for fans of Mickey Mouse and McNuggets, the companies have since shared many mutually beneficial promotions and have collaborated for short periods.

The two companies developed major beef in the '80s

As McDonald's gained massive success in the decades following the failed Disneyland deal, the burger retailer soon became famous enough to attract the attention of Michael Eisner, Disney's C.E.O. from 1984 to 2005. Walt Disney World, Disney's newest park endeavor at the time, partnered with McDonald's in anticipation of the log ride Splash Mountain. McDonald's began a promotion called "Splash For Cash," in which customers who purchased beverages could win discounts on menu items, cash prizes, or even a trip to Walt Disney World just in time to experience the new water ride. Unfortunately, the ride didn't open on time, prompting backlash from winning customers who were frustrated that the fast food chain couldn't fulfill its promise.

The companies also struggled to maintain harmony when Disney became extremely selective about which movies and characters McDonald's was allowed to include in promotions. McDonald's didn't realize just how valuable an exclusive partnership with Disney could be until the '90s when it dropped over $1 million on a toy distribution agreement. This deal proved to be a good investment for McDonald's in the long run: In addition to memorable Disney-themed toys appearing in Happy Meals, certain promotions were massively successful for both companies. During the promotion of Disney's "Mulan," McDonald's released its iconic Szechuan sauce, which remains a popular choice among die-hard fans.

McDonald's made a brief Disneyland appearance

If you vaguely remember enjoying fresh McDonald's french fries in Disneyland while watching the Mark Twain Riverboat sail by in Adventureland, or biting into a Big Mac while waiting in line for the Ferris wheel, you weren't dreaming. There was a time when a few McDonald's restaurants did appear on Disney property. In Disneyland, a Wild West-themed wagon outside of the exit to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad sold McDonald's french fries to hungry guests beginning in 1998. In 2001, California Adventure followed suit when it opened a burger restaurant featuring McDonald's products; the restaurant was called "Burger Invasion," but the burgers' signature style and the subtle signage addition of the Golden Arches clearly indicated to park attendees that this was a McDonald's establishment.

Disney's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida also opened multiple eateries that sold McDonald's products. Unfortunately, McDonald's presence in the parks was phased out beginning in 2007 when the two companies decided not to renew their agreement. This abrupt ending could have been due to concern from park-goers who believed Disney properties needed to offer "healthier" food options, especially since a large contingent of the park's attendees were young children during a time when discourse about childhood obesity rates was on the rise (via The New York Times).

Kroc and Disney met long before their massive successes

Ray Kroc and Walt Disney had much more in common than you might imagine. Of course, both men were entrepreneurs with brands that are beloved the world over, but the two men also had eerily similar backstories. Both were born and raised in Illinois and joined the Red Cross as ambulance drivers during World War I. They even enlisted around the same time, reportedly crossing paths multiple times during their service.

When Kroc originally proposed the idea of McDonald's and Disney collaborating back in 1954, he wrote his old friend a letter reminding him of their time in the service and updated Disney about his most recent business venture. As posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, a copy of the original letter exchange between Kroc and Disney was on display during a Heritage auction. In his letter, Disney kindly addresses his friend but makes sure to stay out of the "business" end of things, saying he "confines [himself] to the creative end of the project." It did take the Disney company a few more decades to join forces with that up-and-coming burger joint, but the rest is history.