andrew on animatronics

31 03 2008

Via bee enthusiast Andrew Hall.

Concerning the Rock-Afire Explosion:

Throughout the 1980s, before Chuck E. Cheese took control of the remaining restaurants, ultimately more successful, there was Showbiz Pizza, which delivered much of what Chuck E. Cheese did: pizza, arcade games, screaming children, probably a ball pit, and horrifying animatronic bands. I’d write about the band from Chuck E. Cheese, but I haven’t felt any need to yet. On Why?’s excellent new record Alopecia, Yoni Wolf makes mention of his “fear of the bear at Showbiz Pizza when [he] was six.” Given that I’m a tremendous nerd, I decided to see what exactly he was talking about, and the two most reliable sources available to us as users of the internet – YouTube and Wikipedia – provided me with more than enough information.

The bear from Showbiz Pizza is called Billy Bob Brockali. He plays the bass guitar, as seen here most clearly at about the 2:25 mark. If nothing else, seeing the assembly process, as well as watching five bears moving completely in unison, has certainly left me frightened. Unfortunately, it took quite a while to find a video to provide me with adequate evidence that the bear from Showbiz Pizza was frightening. Perhaps this video, showcasing only Billy Bob and one additional member of the group in a more intimate house show environment, is a bit more convincing. If nothing else, it leaves me wondering what one would do with a bunch of terrifying animatronic animals occupying so much space in one’s living room.

This is maybe part of a Rock-Afire Explosion show from 1983. I don’t really know. According to a rather thorough resource on the band, Looney Bird “was a notorious drunk and was always getting into Billy Bob’s ‘gasahol.'” While I really did want to find footage of Looney Bird being drunk on gasahol, I failed, so there’s just this baffling exchange in which he learns that there was no one named Frank in the Beatles.

Speaking of the Beatles, there’s also this five-minute tribute to the best-promoted rock band of the twentieth century. I think this is made by the Showbiz Pizza people, given that it involves people in costumes in addition to the animatronics. Between the footage of a mouse in a cheerleader costume mowing a lawn to win a bear’s affections, along with the segue into “A Hard Day’s Night,” which appears to have a member of the band wearing a hand puppet, in addition to comments from YouTube users like mic1ne, who state “that gorilla freaked me out when I was about 5,” it would really seem as if people were genuinely frightened by the Rock-Afire Explosion.

The sentiment seems pretty similar on the commentary on “Showbiz Pizza Wolfpack 5 – Part 1“, which gives off a nearly Lynchian vibe for some reason. I blame it on the big curtain behind the band, the close-ups on the animals’ faces, the hellish organ music, as well as the wolf, who can’t stop shaking. YouTube users are also concerned, as evidenced by “ru4ru486” who asks “Of all things, why did hte company invest money into those weird machines? Where the h*ll did they buy them from, who made them?” and “unbornkourt,” who tells us “When I was a kid this scared me so freakin’ bad I ran out of the place screaming and crying and begged my mom with my life not to make me go back into that room that warped me…” Perhaps the best summary comes from “synthwerk,” who says that “it looks like some sort of sex crime will take place here.” The camera pan to a nearly-empty room isn’t helping much, either.

Things came to an end with the band’s tragic breakup in the early nineties, as Chuck E. Cheese absorbed Showbiz Pizza. There’s a three-part, 24-minute video explaining how to transform one animatronic rock band into another in the name of “Concept Unification.” Part one opens with preparations atop overwrought piano music and slowly moves through which props need to be removed and destroyed. Parts two and three, sporting straight-up unbearable early nineties smooth jazz, move through the reassembly process, ultimately resulting in a new group called Munch’s Make-Believe Band, as shown here. As much as I don’t really like these things, there is something rather depressing about watching this equipment as it’s torn to pieces in real-time, particularly when their faces are taken away or when the narrator mentions to “be sure to destroy [this stage part] when you’re done,” leaving the discarded robots naked, with rectangular mouths stuck wearing an expression a little bit like a scream, for all of eternity.

Of course, there are also enthusiasts. As shown by the video consisting of bear and bird in someone’s living room, many people have taken it upon themselves to preserve and reprogram surviving Rock-Afire Explosions, as evidenced by this video from a place called Odyssey Fun World in Naperville, IL, preserving the same basic idea despite twenty years of declining relevance. Unfortunately, this also meant that someone had to go and make the fucking things play an Evanescence single, as shown here, reminding me simultaneously that these things were in fact terrifying, Evanescence is still bad music, and Daredevil is still a terrible movie. And at that point, I’m finding myself rather comfortable with the fact that these things have all but disappeared from the world.

However, I do rather like this video, simply titled “The King,” which consists of a character from the Chuck E. Cheese band and a child who seemed to be more than a little enthusiastic about him. This becomes clear as he stands in the seemingly empty room at the edge of the stage holding two flags, waving them and screaming, perhaps out of excitement, as if he were seeing his actual favorite band and they were actually playing a high-energy set of his favorite songs, his love of the performer fueling it rather than electricity, the idea of concept unification, pizza, tickets, or children’s tears.




3 responses

2 07 2008
men in my life « upside down again.

[…] the most brilliant writers I’ve ever met. He contributed a few pieces mostly about music and about animatronics. I’m relatively confident he is the next David […]

5 03 2010

fun games downloads downloads downloads.

9 03 2010
Zachary, how do you do it?

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