Goodnight, squeak prince: Chuck E. Cheese removes all its animatronics

Photo: JHVEPhoto (iStock)

They’re putting the band back together—into storage. Chuck E. Cheese, the children’s entertainment center whose 1980s and ’90s proliferation inspired a warped nostalgia in us all, has unveiled a sweeping redesign that will soon take effect in all 600-plus locations, and is already rolling out this week in several cities. Its new facade and scripty logo font look more like a Starbucks made of 100% recycled materials, and all locations will soon feature an “interactive dance floor.” But with good news comes the bad. The worst. The unspeakably tragic. The new and improved Chuck E. Cheese will no longer accept tokens for gameplay, and animatronic house ensemble Munch’s Make Believe Band is being removed at every location nationwide. We will reiterate: Munch’s Make Believe Band is no more.

The news that Chuck E. Cheese was phasing out animatronics was first reported as a long-term goal of the franchise back in 2017, but somehow, it didn’t feel real back then. Perhaps we all felt as though our collective enthusiasm could save this clacking band of misfits from certain death. Munch’s Make Believe Band—featuring the talents of Chuck E. Cheese, Helen Henny, Mr. Munch, Pasqually P. Pieplate, and Jasper T. Jowls—has been an inimitable sensation since 1977 that has by turns entertained and horrified the masses from its post, bolted to the stage above a sea of wide-eyed partygoers momentarily distracted from their cake and pizza, paper plates growing translucent with grease and shortening. CEO Tom Leverton explained the axing in 2017 to NPR’s Morning Edition by saying, “A child today has such high expectations for entertainment that the animatronics, even at their absolute best, can’t live up to those expectations.”

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Maybe this is on us. We failed to instill in younger generations a connection to the wild and winding history of these mechanical bards, from their scrappy roots as The Pizza Players to their perseverance in the face of rival house band The Rock-afire Explosion. These tireless musicians have been performing nonstop for 42 years, becoming synonymous with the very idea of “animatronics” and our complicated relationship to all that entails. It is to our detriment that we’ll no longer be able gaze up at them with a forgotten slice of pizza dangling in our hands. Go support these performers while you still can, and start selling off your valuables if you want to put in a bid at the inevitable auction.

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Marnie Shure

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.