I was raised to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. From an early age, I was fed hearty bowls of oatmeal, corn flakes, Kix — good stuff that a growing boy needs. In retrospect, I guess I should thank my mom.
But on the other hand…it’s her fault that I’m never going to experience eating a bowl of Batman.
As a child, I knew my boundaries, but every now and then — inspired by an animated mascot, usually an anthropomorphic character with extreme obsessive-compulsive tendencies — I’d test the waters. I’d gaze longingly at the rows of Fruity Yummy Mummy, or gingerly place a box of Marshmallow Krispies into the grocery cart.
It never worked. I’d be told to put it back, and I’d have to do the walk of shame down the cereal aisle, knowing I was no more likely to take a bite of Ghostbusters than I was to shotgun a can of my dad’s beer. I would inevitably return home with a box of Kix or Cheerios. Not that I didn’t love those cereals. But they lacked that forbidden element, a certain je ne sais quoi, which I now realize was nothing more than a metric shit-ton of pure sugar. And with a lifetime’s worth of advertising packed into a block of six hours every Saturday morning, I knew one thing — I wanted them. And I still do.
The 1980s grow evermore distant in the rear-view mirror, and though a few relics of my childhood live on, I mourn the discontinued boxes of kiddie crack and stoner fuel I never had a chance to taste.
From what I gather from this commercial, the Fruit Islands were two things: 1) a small tropical nation ruled by a monarch reminiscent of Carmen Miranda, and 2) a cereal that combined elements of Cookie Crisp, Apple Jacks, and Trix. Oh, mighty Pacific Islander-stereotyping breakfast king, what say you? “A-yumma-yumma” indeed!
You know what I miss? Cereals with two different flavors, divided into two separate bags. And anyone who grew up in the ’80s remembers the holy grail of two-sided cereal: the Nintendo Cereal System. Super Mario Bros. (scrumptious green and orange bits) on the left, and The Legend of Zelda (rancid purple and red pieces that tasted like they were flavored with Nyquil) on the right. No lie: my grandma — being privy to my low-sugar breakfast plight — gave me a box of Nintendo cereal for Christmas 1989. It was the best present I ever received — until she sent me Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cereal the next year. But I was never gifted a box of Nerds. And judging by how much I enjoyed the candy it would have been a taste of tiny tangy crunchy heaven.
They’re right, you know: you can do the Pac-Man. I did the Pac-Man. But did I eat the Pac-Man? Hell, no. This cereal debuted in 1983, and I think watching Christian Bale gaze into a glowing box of this marshmallowy Kix-like concoction is my earliest memory.
So here we have OJ Joe, an orange rustlin’ orangeboy who rides a rolling orange. He rounds up OJ-branded oranges into orange corrals so Kellogg’s can “take the sweet juice and put it into OJ’s cereal,” so explains the narrator who sounds like Will Ferrell doing Gus Chiggins. While OJ’s might not have been the most appealing bright orange foodstuff to pop up on store shelves, I’d still have loved to try it, solely out of curiosity. What could this cereal possibly have tasted like?
Ice Cream Cones
As we know, many brands of cereals are unhealthy — and that includes some cereals you wouldn’t suspect. Take Multi-Bran Chex, for instance. Yessir, this is wholesome whole grain cereal, with 24 percent of your daily fiber requirements in only one serving, and just a hint of sweetness. Wait, just a hint? This cereal provides a whopping 13 grams of sugar per cup! But they had you fooled, right? Unhealthy, sugar-laden food disguised as “good for you” is a staple of American diets.
Then there are cereals like Ice Cream Cones. Or Cupcake Pebbles, or Oreo O’s, or Smorz. When it came to naming these decadent breakfast desserts, the marketing teams essentially said, “Fuck it. There’s no hiding it. People shouldn’t be eating this shit for breakfast, so let’s give them the most un-breakfast-like names we can think of, and see if we can sell it to them anyway.” Jesus, it was a special treat when I got ice cream or a cupcake for dessert. And there are little bastards out there eating bowlfuls of this before school?
I think General Mills should up the ante and create something like, I don’t know…”Fudge Frosted Cake ‘n Ice Cream with Marshmallows” cereal. “It’s a birthday party in a bowl!”
Sure, the old McDonald’s and Burger King jingles were catchy. The tunes from Wrigley’s — Doublemint, Spearmint, Juicy Fruit, Big Red — still stick with me to this day. But there never was, and never will be, another song that seared itself into my mind like the one for Circus Fun. Someday I’ll wind up on my deathbed, a senile, trembling old man, mumbling, “Horses, hoops…balls, bears…elephants…and…lions,” before quietly passing away. That’s how embedded in my brain this commercial is.
But aside from the advertisements and the fun graphic design of the box, the cereal sells itself. I mean, look at this stuff. Have you ever seen such a high ratio of marshmallows to cereal bits? Not that the actual cereal pieces — a mix of red Froot Loops and confetti-flecked Trix balls — is anything a kid would pick around. Circus Fun made Kaboom look like dog kibble (though Kaboom had a much longer run of more than 30 years to Circus Fun’s…two, maybe?).
I’d also like to point out that I’m fairly certain the lion voice at the very end of the commercial was provided by none other than the late Michael Pataki, the voice of George Liquor on “The Ren & Stimpy Show” and The Cow on the great ’80s cartoon “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures.”
It’s hard to imagine there exists a product resting in the cereal graveyard I crave more than Circus Fun. But behold! The ultimate lost ’80s cereal:
Imagine, if you will: it’s the mid-1980s, and a product development meeting is taking place in the offices of General Mills. A group of paunchy, grey-haired executives are sitting around an oak boardroom table, listening to a pitch for a new cereal to be marketed to young children:
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming. Now, as we all know, Lucky Charms is one of our top-selling cereals. But what if we took the marshmallows and we coated them in nutty chocolate candy? And then, instead of mixing them with oat bits, we threw them into a box of Cocoa Puffs? And for a final touch, we add some vanilla puffs in there, too! I call it…Kiddie Orgasm Cereal.”
And from that concept, Rocky Road was born. But Rocky Road wasn’t cereal — it was cereal pornography. If I were a death row prisoner in 1986, I’d have requested a mixing bowl full of Rocky Road for my last meal, because if you gave me a box of this, I’d just simply die and go to heaven. And I don’t necessarily mean that in the metaphorical sense — the sugar content in this chocoliciously chocotastic box of chocolately chocolate could send an otherwise healthy person into a diabetic coma. You can’t say they didn’t try to warn you: the cereal box was emblazoned with a giant yellow caution sign.
Good sense must have prevailed, as Rocky Road lasted for maybe a year before it vanished from shelves. But it was the hallmark cereal of a decade when Saturday mornings were dominated by marshmallows, chocolate, and sludgy, purple milk.
Well, for everyone but me.