They hitched the silly scariness of cartoon monsters with the sugary sweetness of kid friendly cereals. Their clever rivalry commercials became staples on Saturday morning and weekday afternoon TV viewing. Their lovable nature combined with their silly antics earned them a place among the legends of cereal mascots. Along with an overnight success, they had their first casualty within their first decade. Their membership grew and changed along with the ups and downs of their largely successful careers. Their clashing styles took them to new heights, but after 49 years of filling bowls with their colorful sweeties year round, they were shelved, only to be let out once a year. This is the Great Saturday Morning Experience story of the monster cereals.
The monster cereals owe their beginnings to the love of all things monsters by kids of the early 1970s. Those kids grew up on reruns of the Munsters and old Godzilla movies shown on weekends along with the really old classic Universal monsters; Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and The Mummy. The kids couldn’t get enough monsters and a new hit show took advantage of the craze by turning the classic monsters into Groovy Goolies, basically a cartoon monster variety show. Somewhere in the bowels of the General Mills headquarters people took notice and decided to combine their idea of making a couple of new corn based cereals that would turn the milk into flavors kids loved with the attention grabbing draw of cartoon monsters. On that day a legend was born.
In 1971 Count Chocula and Franken Berry were released to grocery stores shelves all across the country. General Mills knew that kids loved both chocolate and strawberry milk and wanted to capitalize on that with those two flavors. The success of marshmallow bits in Lucky Charms several years prior inspired the final touch. The marriage of the cartoony classic monsters with names that sounded like the flavors of each cereal was pure magic.
Right away commercials were made to bring these two mascots to life. They got Bill Melendez who had been successfully bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts characters to television to work on the first one. Jim Dukas was brought in to provide the Bela Lugosi inspired voice for Count Chocula with his tagline of “I want to eat your cereal”. Bob McFadden created the Boris Karloff impression for Franken Berry to complete the tie in to the classic monsters of old. It was decided the two characters would compete with each other as for which cereal was the best. They weren’t the first or the last to use this successful model. It worked as it had so many other times allowing the characters to show their silliness along with selling each flavor to their young audience.
The two cereals were such a success they decided to add a third to the lineup. In 1973 Boo Berry was introduced as a blueberry flavored cereal, one of the first of its kind. The mascot of course to match that name was a ghost. The incomparable Paul Frees came in the picture to voice Boo Berry as a Peter Lorre impersonation. The new commercials were made in which the little ghost would come in to interrupt the fighting of Count Chocula and Franken Berry to declare his cereal the best. Boo would scare the other monsters, once again showing they were more silly than scary.
If three were successful, why not a fourth? General Mills had been working on an idea for a fruity cereal. This time they would have a frosted corn cereal with lime flavored marshmallows. While the original three cereals had a monochromatic theme, this one would be multi colored. For the name they came up with a rhyme for fruit. For the monster, they once again dug back into the vaults to find another of the classics, this time the wolfman, and the colorful Fruit Brute was born. He would follow in the footsteps of Boo Berry by crashing the arguments of Count Chocula and Franken Berry, scaring them as he sold his fruity cereal with the tag line: The howling good taste of fruit.
Like all other cereals with cartoon mascots of the day the monster cereals had plenty of premiums to keep the kids coming back for more. From prizes in the box, to cut-outs on the back of the box, the monsters had their hands in a little bit of everything. They had the commonplace plastic figures of themselves along with pencil top erasers, little plastic cars and planes with their figures, and plenty of items for their fans to disguise themselves as the monsters. On more than one occasion they had cut-outs of their faces on the backs of the boxes to make as masks. They included a disguise kit with stickers of noses, eyes, and ears plus an iron-on for kids’ shirts to complete the costume.
They also had the usual tie-ins with big movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. Keeping with the theme of monsters that tie in to trick and treat for Halloween, they even had gummi monsters, Super Bubble bubble gum, wax lips, fangs, or mustaches, and Starburst inside their boxes. They even got into the record business releasing such titles as “Count Chocula Goes to Hollywood”, “Monster Adventures in Outer Space”, and “The Monsters Go Disco”.
They were rapidly rising to the top of the cereal mascot fame game. Then just as it seemed they were on top of the world, tragedy struck as General Mills decided to get rid of Fruit Brute in 1982. The controversial decision did not sit well with many fans and after a few years they decided to bring in a replacement. This new cereal would be similar to Fruit Brute in that it was multi colored but instead of lime sweeties they made them vanilla flavored. They dug back into the classic monster lore one more time for their last member and in 1987 Yummy Mummy was born.
The monsters didn’t sit still with their success and worked the marshmallows over to keep up with the changing times. They made larger than normal sweeties and called them monster marshmallows. They made marshmallows shaped like bats and then ghosts. These changes along with the new exciting prizes kept the original three monsters in the game but they were not enough to keep Yummy Mummy alive and so in 1992, with little fanfare, Yummy Mummy was discontinued, barely lasting more than half the lifespan of his predecessor. The following years were good to the monsters.
More changes came about. Larry Kenney, who had been doing the voice of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird as well as Lion-O on the “Thundercats” replaced Dukas for the voice of the Count. Rob Pruitt, who voiced the blue M&M in candy commercials, would also eventually replace McFadden as the voice of Franken Berry.
The cereals themselves would also be altered as they changed the actual shape of both the cereal and the marshmallows. Originally the cereal was shaped like a circle with a cross in the center and the marshmallows were just the same shape as any marshmallow only much smaller. The new shapes tried to look a little less generic and more like little ghosts. They worked up some marshmallow tie-ins with other intellectual properties like Scooby-Doo, Casper and Wendy, and Goosebumps. They even went further out with the marshmallows and tried swirled versions shaped like the classic movie monsters, as well as bright lightning versions.
Unfortunately all the changes took their toll on the monsters along with the ever changing tastes of the times. It was decided in 2010 that the monster cereals be retired and only brought out from September to October so they would be around for Halloween. That same year Betty Crocker released Franken Berry and Boo-Berry Fruit Roll-Ups while General Mills released Count Chocula cereal bars.
Over the years the hibernation then release concept of the monsters worked well enough that they decided to bring both Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy out of retirement only this time there would be a change. Not only did the monsters get makeovers to match the ever evolving styles of the original three, their cereals changed as well. Fruit Brute would now be a cherry flavored cereal while Yummy Mummy would be changed to orange-cream. They haven’t been as successful with these changes and have not been returning with the others but fans remain hopeful for another full reunion in the future.
Though two of their members are no longer with us, and the original three have gone into seasonal hibernation for the last decade, their popularity remains high among their fans. Demand for their likenesses in new plastic and vinyl figures, as well as other toys and merchandise keep the monsters in the public consciousness. Every September fans anxiously await their brief annual appearance so they can relive the nostalgia of eating that colorful cereal with those marshmallow sweeties and even share it with younger generations. The monster cereals were, and still are, a part of what made the Saturday morning experience so great.