History: Circus Fun is a historical oddity. It is a cereal both loved and reviled, capable of inspiring fond nostalgia and screaming terror in those who were exposed to it during their formative years. Official history states that Circus Fun was the first cereal ever to come to market with multicolored cereal pieces (red hoops and splatter-painted balls, which were supposed to be used by the marshmallow animals during their circusy adventures), and that it was a booming success in those years when a cereal full of marshmallow lions and zebras was still a (relative) rarity.
But seriously? Between the black box and the creepy clown and all those marshmallows and the fact that, in all my research, I haven't found a single picture of a box that didn't come with some kind of candy inside (Starbursts or rolls of Life Savers or gum), I think it's obvious that this cereal was specifically designed as a gateway drug by sleazy 1980's marketing execs in pinstripes and tab collars--something to sell to children who were too young for cocaine but still needed an early-morning pick-me-up.
Don't believe me? Check out this commercial I dug up and tell me there's not something a little weird going on . . .
The Box: All black, with a scary, low-fi clown forcing imaginary animals to jump into his bowl of breakfast cereal. Just looking at it is enough to trigger awful, mescaline-style flashbacks in those who experienced this stuff in the first bloom of its popularity.
The Product: I remember eating this stuff when I was a kid--my mom picking it up because it was cheaper (and somehow sleazier) than Kaboom--General Mills's other circus-based, clown-focused breakfast cereal.
And here's the thing . . . it wasn't bad. I actually have fond memories of the cereal itself--vaguely fruity breakfast pellets, marshmallows that were softer and more marshmallowy than any of the dusty, unappetizing marbits used in today's cereals. Because I wasn't rocking back and forth and wearing a helmet, I never used the hoops and balls to act out circus adventures with my marshmallow pals, but I do recall sitting on the floor, watching Saturday-morning cartoons and devouring bowls of this stuff when all the Trix in the house had run out.
Still, the box just creeped me right the fuck out. I mean, really. Who in their right mind tries to make a clown-based breakfast cereal for kids? More to the point, who tries to make two? Clowns are awful. Clowns scare the crap out of all right-thinking children. Personally, I made my mom pour all the cereal out of the box and into Tupperware before I would go anywhere near it. I don't know if this was the reason Circus Fun died an unremarkable death and ceased production sometime in the late 80's/early 90's (Kaboom was available in stores until 2010), but it was almost enough to keep me away. And I would've walked through fire to eat marshmallows for breakfast.
Best Feature: Marshmallows that tasted like marshmallows.
Worst Feature: Clowns that looked like clowns.
Fun Fact: Circus Fun tolerated immersion in milk better than almost any other cereal I can recall. This used to be part of its advertising pitch, claiming that its "crunchy, speckled balls . . . almost bounce on milk."
Is It Better or Worse Than Apple Jacks?: Worse, for sure. But I would give a lot to be able to taste another box of this stuff now--just to see if it really was as good as I remember. Of course, someone would still have to pour it all out of the box for me and into some other, less clowny container.
Stupid clowns . . .