Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, The Wolfman. The classic Universal Monsters have given nightmares to fans since they debuted. The characters have had countless appearances in all forms of media, been updated, parodied and remain a staple of horror and scares since they first appeared on film. Their long creepy hands have stretched over generations.
So it might be surprising that one of the most popular inspired descendants of those classic Universal Monsters came in the form of a fun children’s breakfast cereal line.
Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Fruit Brute, Yummy Mummy and the blue colored ghost Boo Berry endeared themselves to a generation of young breakfast eaters. The ones who grew up eating their cereals would become lifelong fans of the morning meal monsters,
Miraculously, years after the monster cereal line was discontinued and they were no longer part of kids’ regular morning meals, these breakfast boogiemen would continue to posses a quirky, nostalgic longevity nearly fifty years since the idea of monster mascots pushing cereal was first conceived.
General Mills had found great success in the late 1960’s with Lucky Charms breakfast cereal. The toasted oat pieces and fun shaped marshmallow shapes with the cute Lucky Leprechaun as its mascot was a success. It seemed like the perfect direction to start exploring more marshmallow-added cereals.
The company also had an idea of making a chocolate flavored cereal that when milk would be added to it would turn it into basically chocolate milk. As fate would have it, around the same time down the hall they were already working on a strawberry flavored grain and marshmallow cereal.
You have to remember, this was back during a time when actual nutritional value had much less importance or concern in a breakfast for kids. Chocolate milk and marshmallows was a well-balanced breakfast for kids. Just getting something to fill their tummies in the morning was good enough.
This chocolate and strawberry flavored cereal concept seemed like the next great idea to pursue. General Mills just needed kid friendly mascots to adorn the boxes and become the signature characters for these cereals. They wanted a funny pair of characters who could play off each other in television commercials. Somehow they hit upon doing versions of the classic Universal Monsters.
The classic Universal Monsters were already well known by kids. The movies were always being shown on television. The characters were regularly featured on beloved monster magazines like Monsters of Filmland, they were part of the popular Aurora model kits and they were already mainstays and reliable favorite costumes for Halloween.
Monsters it was! Of course, these breakfast mascots had to have a bit less dastardly personalities than the typical monsters. So, they would talk a big game of horror and being scary, yet they themselves would get spooked by the most harmless things. They’d be a bunch of scaredy cats.
Count Chocula and Frankenberry were both introduced in March 1971. The flavored whole grain corn cereal with their marshmallow shapes were the only chocolate and strawberry cereals on the market at the time. They were unlike anything on the market.
Count Chocula and Franken Berry began starring in animated television commercials which played out the humorous rivalry between the two. The typical design of a monster cereal commercial was usually the two arguing that their cereal was better than the other, they’d become more and more adamant theirs was the best and while being so engrossed in their debate not notice another person come by (usually a child or an innocuous kitty cat) and get scared by them. Sometimes they’d even scare themselves!
In the television commercials that kids would see on Saturday mornings, the Count and Frank’s cartoon voices sounded awfully familiar. Voice actors Jim Dukas and Bob McFadden mimicked the characters’ famous original monster counterparts to give them personalities. Count Chocula’s voice sounded a bit like Bela Lugosi and Frankenberry’ was an unmistakable spoofing of Boris Karloff.
Voiceover artists Larry Kenney and Rob Pruitt would eventually take over the voicing duties for the pair and continued with the established imitations of Lugosi and Karloff.
The cereals were an instant draw for kids.
Both cereals took off like rockets and were big hits. They were so popular General Mills felt confident to expand the line and added a blueberry flavored cereal to the line. So, in December 1972, Boo Berry joined the team.
Boo Berry’s character wasn’t inspired by a famous monster. He was just a blue ghost, with a yellow hat and red bow tie. However, he was given his own identity ala Peter Lorre. He was designed with the sleepy eyes and distinct voice of Peter Lorre, courtesy of voice actor Paul Frees (who also voiced the Pillsbury Dough Boy).
The timeless fun of added promotions would be an added allure to the cereals. Kids would dig through the cereal boxes to find prizes, toys and stickers buried inside.
In addition, games, mask cutouts and stories starring the monsters would be featured on the back of the cereal boxes. As every kid who grew up back then knew all too well, it was traditionally fun reading the back of a cereal box while munching your breakfast. The Monster cereals would regale children of adventures of the The Count, Frank and Boo on the back of the box. Remember, this was back during a simpler time when kids could be entertained by things other than staring at their iPads at the kitchen table.
Those indelible voices the monster mascots were given came in awfully handy not only in television commercials, but also when they sang on their own music album. In 1979, kids found an extra fun surprise on the back of the monster cereal boxes with musical albums!
They were a bit like short old radio plays starring Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry. Three albums could be found – ‘Count Chocula Goes To Hollywood’, ‘Monster Adventures In Outer Space’ and kids could sing and dance along with the monster trio in ‘The Monsters Go Disco’!
How many parents do you think were ready to pull their hair out having to listen to their kids play this over and over again?
Their instant success shouldn’t have been very surprising. Afterall, what kid doesn’t like the classic monsters and getting to spend time with them at breakfast – even better! Funny, bright parody versions of the classic monsters of Dracula and Frankenstein, along with a cute blue ghost, they became three of the most unusual and unique cereal mascots around. Plus, they provided bowls of yumminess!
The trio of monsters became a fixture to kids during the 1970’s. While they seemed like a natural treat to have during peak monster season – ie. Halloween, they weren’t exclusive to that one spooky holiday season back then. One could find them in supermarkets all year round!
The roster of monsters was further expanded with Fruit Brute in 1974. A furry werewolf wearing colorful overalls who pushed his cereal that had fruity flavored marshmallows. He remained on the team until being discontinued in 1982.
While he didn’t enjoy the same level of popularity and longevity as the core trio, Fruit Brute has his fans, notably director Quentin Tarantino. Boxes of Fruit Brute can be spotted in both Tarantino films Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
The fruity werewolf had a longer run than the final monster cereal Fruity Yummy Mummy, which debuted in 1987. It was basically Fruit Brute only with a Mummy mascot this time around. Yummy Mummy only lasted until 1992 before being retired back into the General Mills tombs.
The most notorious incident in the monsters cereals’ history came about in 1972 soon after they debuted. The red dye used in Franken Berry was responsible for making kids’ stools a bright pinkish color and panicking parents.
Hundreds of parents suddenly discovered their children’s stools were a pink/reddish color. Fearing they were suffering from internal bleeding, children were rushed to doctors and hospitals. After some initial confusion, the issue of their pink poop was eventually traced back to Franken Berry.
One twelve-year-old boy was in the hospital for four days. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint any physical problem from the boys pink poop. He appeared to be in perfect health and they were stumped. They finally learned from his mother her son had eaten Franken Berry cereal a few days prior. Doing their own experiment, they had the boy eat a few bowls of the tasty cereal and sure enough for the next few days he passed pink poop.
It would become known as ‘Franken Berry Stool’. The notorious ‘Red Dye No. 2.’ used in the cereal was responsible for making kids’ stools a bright pinkish color.
The dye was not able to be broken down in the human body and the result was kids having pink poo. It was a harmless side effect, but it caused a scare regarding the color additive being used in all food products and its eventual removal from being used in Franken Berry. It was replaced by a color additive that would not change the color of kids’ poop.
It wasn’t just Franken Berry who was making poop change color, Boo Berry’s blue dye used in the cereal caused poop to turn a shade of green. Yet, somehow there wasn’t a big ‘green poop scare’.
Count Chocula had his own controversy in 1987. On a special edition box, the Count had guest star Bela Lugosi as Dracula alongside him. Lugosi’s iconic costume upset some of the Jewish faith when it appeared he was wearing a Star of David necklace. Feeling it was in bad taste, General Mills redid the artwork brushing out the necklace.
As with most things that are pulled due to controversy the original untouched box art has become a valuable collectible to Count Chocula fans.
It was the core trio of Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo Berry that really cemented their status as pop culture icons. The nostalgic warmth and fun friendly aura of the three and their cereals gripped millions of kids that grew up with them. Finally in 2010 it seemed like they were about to get a final stake in the heart when General Mills announced they were going to discontinue the monster cereal line.
However, it wasn’t a final end to the monster cereals!
General Mills realized that the cereals would get an uptick in sales around the Halloween season. Based on that analysis they decided to produce them exclusively on a limited basis for the autumn season to celebrate Halloween.
Since then, old and new fans can treat themselves to seeing the monster cereals return, grab a spoon and enjoy a bowl of spooky goodness with Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry. Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy have also reappeared, but not on a regular annual basis.
2013 marked a momentous year in the history of the monster cereals. It was the only time all five monster cereals could be found on store shelves together!
Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy joined the main trio for a limited fall release. However, the original flavor profiles for Brute and Mummy were given a change. Brute became a cherry flavored cereal and Mummy was now an orange cream. Some fans were not too thrilled with the tinkering done to them. This was the last appearance of both Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy.
It’s also worth noting that this was the year Fruit Brute’s name was changed to the spelling of ‘Frute Brute’. I’ve never found a clear definitive reason what for this name change.
There is some suspicion the name change was due to legal reasons. While the cereal could be implied to have a fruit taste, the promise of it actually containing any real fruit was questionable and opened General Mills up for problems using the word. Hence, dropping the name ‘Fruit’ left less an expectation that some could be found in it. The word ‘Frute’ is much less a promise of finding any fruit-based nutrition in the cereal and to help convey the lack of any actual fruit in it.
Is this the reason for the new spelling or some other reason? General Mills isn’t saying, but I’m sure the answer lies somewhere in the catacombs of records in their offices somewhere.
The annual monster cereal releases have been given special features to make them a bit more ‘event worthy’. The app Blipped helped bring the monsters to life through an augmented reality on their cereal boxes with the ‘We’re Alive’ promotion. A pseudo-cereal election campaign was the premise one year with fans voting for their favorite monster candidate. The monster cereals even met up with The Addams Family one year!
Their limited availability around Halloween has only helped increase the specialness of the monster cereals. Once a year we see them for a brief window of time before they get shuffled back off into their crypts. Their seasonal appearance is just enough attention for them to be warmly welcomed back every year.
Special box art has been done for their annual releases. In 2014, famed artists from DC Comics, Jim Lee, Dave Johnson and Terry and Rachel Dodson took a crack at interpreting their own versions of Boo Berry, Franken Berry and Count Chocula. One year Target stores were even selling exclusive ‘retro packaging’ of the monster cereals of the boxes original simple designs. It’s clear there is a lot of fondness people have for these monsters.
One of my pet peeves with the new redesigns with Boo Berry is when they make him look happier and more animated than the original. I guess, I’m old school and prefer my Boo Berry as more a sullen, less energetic mascot like how his inspiration of Peter Lorre is thought of. He shouldn’t have a big wide grin and look too excited promoting his cereal. I like when he can barely eek out a slight grin with his droopy eyes, rather than being in a flashy showy mascot pose.
The monster cereals have gained an incredible amount of nostalgic affection and have had pop culture endurance. Naturally, merchandise and collectibles comes with that. Bobbleheads, and Funko Pop toys (everything it seems get a Funko Pop toy today) of ALL the monster cereals have been released.
Scouring the internet you’ll find dolls, stickers, mugs, t-shirts, patches, costumes and all manner of products of the boys, not to mention many fan sites devoted to them. The fan base for the beloved monster cereals seems to grow larger every year.
I’m still hoping one day they’ll get their own animated Halloween special! That seems way overdue!
In May 2021, General Mills announced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the birth of the monster cereals, something very special was coming to cereal aisles for Halloween.
The five monster mascots would join forces to create a brand new amalgamated cereal called ‘Monster Mash’. The box art that was released showed all five of the beloved characters jamming together in a band. The new cereal is described as “artificially berry flavored frosted cereal with monster marshmallows’.
I’m not sure how this new concoction will taste, but it’s certainly fun news for monster cereal fans and something to look forward to for Halloween 2021.
It’s pretty amazing how this oddball monster cereal line has stuck around for so long and the continued excitement it ignites in old and new fans alike. They surpassed the original intention of simply being pitchmen selling kids some cereal in the 1970’s. I love seeing them pop up every year and treating myself to some bowls of monster cereal. I hope they always come back every year!
So, which is your favorite monster cereal? I’m a Count Chocula fan myself.