Image: CEC

The Beatles. Blondie. Pink Floyd. Simon & Garfunkel. One Direction... For every chapter in the centuries-long story of music, you'll find the sad stories of band break-ups. And it seems that the time is nearing to add another high profile band to the list of legendary losses for music fans: the last animatronic band at a Chuck E. Cheese.

For fans of the "original pizza rat," we spent an entire in-depth feature here at Theme Park Tourist exploring the story of Chuck E. Cheese – founded in 1976 by Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Atari. What began as a pizza parlor with a trash-talking animatronic rat soon become a staple of themed entertainment, bringing novel animatronic technologies out of Disney Parks and close to home. The era of the "family entertainment center" saw many imitators, but the Chuck E. Cheese brand and its characters dominated and became household names through the '90s.

Image: CEC Entertainment

Okay, okay, to be fair, 35 years isn't a bad run for Munch's Make Believe Band – an unlikely musical group headed by a rat who's backed by a chicken, a dog, a purple monster, and an Italian pizza chef. But a modern makeover has seen this old school rock group from the '80s outmoded and replaced by "interactive dance floors" and screen-based appearances from characters at all of its more than 400 U.S. locations... except one

Now, the very last of Munch's Make-Believe Band remains at a single location: Northridge, California, near Los Angeles.

CEO David McKillips told Los Angeles' KTLA, “More than a billion people have come through the doors of Chuck E Cheese. We’ve been phasing out the animatronics over the last couple of years, because every generation has had their own Chuck E. Cheese.” 

Image: CEC Entertainment

It's a fair statement. Chuck himself underwent a substantial redesign in 2012, adopting a sleek, stylized new character model (and swapping species, officially morphing from a rat to a mouse). That left the fascinatingly clunky animatronics significantly "off-model" from the corporate style book. And given that Chuck E. Cheese's target audience is kids and not nostalgic millennials, "upgrading" the characters' in-store setup to a modern, high-energy format is, on paper, a no brainer.

CEC Entertainment Inc. CEO Tom Leverton explained the end of the robotic dinner show 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.” He added to CBS News, "The kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago, and they would wait for the live Chuck E. to come out."

Image: CEC Entertainment

The remaining Make Believe Band is no accident. “We wanted to keep one legacy location open and have our band have a residence where you can come anytime you want, every day, the band will be playing. This is going to become a destination for all of our super-fans and those that just want to reach back to the legacy of Chuck E. Cheese,” said McKillips. The remaining band's retirement set-up has also been "plussed" with a tune-up in motion, lighting, and sound for the "residency's" official start in November 2023, ensuring that it feels like a loving tribute to the retiring cast instead of a dusty relic.

Original founder Nolan Bushnell was present at the announcement, telling KTLA “I actually am glad that it’s going to be in a restaurant and not some museum. I think it’s good to be able to come here and experience what we started in 1976, having it in a restaurant is an appropriate way to give homage to our legacy."

Next time you visit Disneyland or Universal Studios Hollywood, you might just want to make the side trip to Northridge to see the very last Munch's Make Believe Band around... If history tells us anything, it's that you never know when a great band will decide to call it quits for good.


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