Basically everyone growing up in the United States during the 80s and 90s attended at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s (later shortened to Chuck E. Cheese). And it was unforgettable. Not only was it a pizza party, but there were arcade games, indoor play areas, and, most famously, an animatronic band starring a large rat. Who could ask for anything more? It was, after all, where a kid could be a kid.
Even though the place could sometimes smell like pizza vomit, and even though the animatronics could be just a tiny bit creepy, it was a core memory for millions of Gen X and Millennial cardholders, and there was literally nothing that could come close to anything like it — for better or for worse.
And now it’s coming to an end, at least in its 80s spirit.
The fun center’s owners, CEC Entertainment, announced this month that all 550 locations of Chuck E. Cheese will be shuttering its animatronic band, save one. A single restaurant near Los Angeles, California — in Northridge — will keep the robots — and the dream alive.
Chuck himself made the announcement on November 2 at the Northridge location, positioning the move as Munch’s Make Believe Band setting up a “residency” at the venue.
“We love performing so much, it’s practically hard-wired into us,” he said, adding that the band will perform every day.
David McKillips, the President and CEO of the company, further explained the move.
“As an important part of the legacy of the brand, we know that the animatronic band holds a special place for many fans in their childhood memories,” he said. “We want our fans to know that the decision to keep the band here is meant as a gesture of love and gratitude as our legacy continues to evolve in new ways.”
The top brass also said that the animatronic shows would be, “tailored more for adults,” suggesting that the last Chuck E. Cheese band on earth will exist mostly for nostalgia reasons.
This change has been underway for quite a few years. In 2017, the company announced its plans to re-brand and modernize, and that included plans to get rid of the robot bands. And since then, its locations have been renovated one by one, with the bands slowly disappearing.
Instead of animatronic animal bands, the venues have been focusing on other fun stuff for kids, including interactive dance floors, giant video screens, large arcade rooms, trampolines, and sports activities. I guess that sounds cool.
They’re also expanding their sensory-sensitive Sundays, when kids who might be more sensitive to light and sound can come and play.
And it’s better than the news from 2020, when the company was close to filing for bankruptcy and closing all of their locations. Not that I’ve been to one since about 1986.
If you’re looking to buy a vintage animatronic? It’s really hard to do. According to Reddit, the company destroys them during renovations and only a few have slipped through the cracks. And those are very expensive and often not for sale at all.