Nostalg-afire Explosion
June 7, 2008 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Searching for animatronics that'll take you out and do you right? Long beyond their glory days, renowned Showbiz Pizza house band, The Rock-afire Explosion, is attempting a comeback. Not that they haven't tried before, but this reunion is driven on multiple fronts: the refocussed creator Aaron Fletcher, the head (and tail) of Creative Engineering; accomplished custom performances by Chris Thrash (previously on Metafilter) and his fellow fan programmer/collectors; and a cameo in the technicolor orgy of an MGMT music video. (Noticed on the fittingly titled Gorilla vs. Bear.) posted by pokermonk (27 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If only someone would modify The Rock-afire Explosion to play along with me and my friends in Rock Band...
posted by infinitewindow at 8:12 PM on June 7, 2008

That's what the animatronics at Rainforest Cafe need. Less roaring, more Usher.

I think this calls for a Meetup at a Showbiz Pizza.
posted by Gucky at 8:17 PM on June 7, 2008

Ah, awesome. I have faint memories of eating at a Showbiz Pizza once. I remember the arcade (which had a vectorscan Sega Star Trek game as well as a Monaco GP machine, one of the few arcade games which can't be emulated). But mostly I remember hating the pizza, which had gritty cornmeal all over the bottom.
posted by JHarris at 8:52 PM on June 7, 2008

that usher video is pretty spectacular, eh?
the young jeezy solo with the ventriloquist is pure gold.
posted by wreckingball at 9:33 PM on June 7, 2008

So I'm sitting there eating bland pizza at a Chuck E. Cheese and watching the surreal animatronic show. In between the musical numbers the characters deliver jokes and puns worthy of Highlights or maybe Reader's Digest.

I swear to God, out of nowhere comes the following knock-knock joke, delivered by Pasqually, the Italian Pizza Chef:


Who's there?


Euripides who?


The joke works of course because kids everywhere know their ancient Greek tragedians...
posted by Tube at 10:27 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

From the Glory Days link: "The world's most advanced entertainement has now joined forces with the world's finest pizza" - other than the pizza and entertainment parts, that seems pretty accurate.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:11 PM on June 7, 2008

I also remember as a child going to both Chuck E Cheese and Showbiz at different times, sitting through their respective animatronic shows, and eating the crappy pizza. I remember enjoying the show even though I was a little too old at the time (I was like 12 or 13 so I couldn't admit to enjoying it without losing my inner coolness). Now that I'm much older, the YouTube videos remind me how fun and silly the whole thing was.

I remember hating the pizza tho, and I don't care if you put strippers on the stage, if you're gonna call yourself a pizza place you better have damn good pizza. Frankly I'm not surprised to learn Showbiz no longer exists, but I am surprised Chuck E Cheese is still in business. Did the pizza ever get better?

Reading the wiki linked earlier in the thread is confusing. So Chuck E Cheese went bankrupt, Showbiz bought them out, and then all the Showbiz pizza places were converted into Chuck E Cheese places. That's pretty messed up right there. Visually, the Showbiz show was so much better than the Chuck E Cheese show. The characters were more lifelike and expressive. I guess it came down to "name recognition" and "Chuck E Cheese" stands out more than the slightly more generic "ShowBiz" name. So who won their little competition? I remember it being a big deal back in the early 90s, but I still don't get who won.

I gotta admit, it's downright creepy watching Billy Bob sing Usher.

I understand Chuck E Cheese has main offices here in North Texas, but I don't recall ever seeing a Chuck E Cheese restaurant in this area. Not that I been looking for one. I'm a sucker for Pizza Hut pan pizza cuz it's consistently palatable. Not always great, but never awful. Good and solid dependable pizza, without an animatronic song and dance trying to deflect attention away from how terrible it is.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:38 PM on June 7, 2008

I used to think Mitzi Mozzerela was pretty hot when I was 8 until a friend dared me to run up to the stage and look up her dress....


This day I'm still not sure what all that stuff is for.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:53 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

...TO this day...
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:53 PM on June 7, 2008

Huh, I guess it must be just me. Oh well.
I quite clearly remember the pizza being fantastic. In fact, better than any other pizza I'd had at the time. I (shockingly) remember quite clearly having my 7th birthday at a Showtime pizza, reading about Dragon Warrior in my Nintendo Power on the long car ride (40 minutes or so) to the closest "big city." Drawn in by the arcade and those jittery abominations, I later became enraged to find that nobody had come to get me when the pizza arrived. Such injustice for such a young age.
Ah, those halcyon days, when 8 bit graphics were jaw dropping and helium filled balloons were more than enough to keep me entertained.
Oh, for the chance to be so easily amused without the use of pot.
posted by GoingToShopping at 12:33 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I haven't been in or even really thought about Showbiz Pizza for 20 years, and the Rock-a-fire Explosion still creeps me the hell out. Animatronic minions of the damned with their stilted gyrations and their horrible googly eyes and their sickly leering grins, lurching through their robotic performances of bad covers of old Beatles and Motown tunes, all the while waiting for the moment to strike, to kill...

And yeah, the pizza was total crap. It was sub-99 cent frozen pizza quality. The arcade was pretty awesome though, and the only real reason kids wanted to go there. I remember playing sit-down Atari Star Wars and Moon Patrol a lot there. Plus the skee-ball and whack-a-mole type games where you played for tickets and redeemed them for crappy prizes, the 8 million ticket top prize being a $5 Chinese clock radio or something. Usually you'd get some crappy miniature plastic toy for 25 tickets that became boring before you even opened the little plastic bag it came in.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:57 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


This day I'm still not sure what all that stuff is for.

Hell, many men can say the same about non-animatronic-mouse women as well. How many of us are really sure what all that stuff is for?

Although I have to ask, what were you expecting to see?
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:11 AM on June 8, 2008

what were you expecting to see?

You know...wires 'n stuff. Certainly not a singing, animatronic pussy.
posted by ryanrs at 2:08 AM on June 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


This day I'm still not sure what all that stuff is for.

At the time, you were too undeveloped to appreciate the spinning saw blades.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:58 AM on June 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Holy Jesus uncanny valley &c. &c.

I remember this nonsense from my Chuck-E-Cheese (usually) and/or Showbiz (sometimes) days. I never really noticed it (I guess I had to grow up a bit to properly appreciate creepiness), since in the next room over there was the Star Wars arcade game. I mean come on, that game was awesome.
posted by neckro23 at 3:19 AM on June 8, 2008

Robot Furries that sing, entertain you, then bring you carbs.
Maybe we should change the demographic from tots to thirty-somethings, put some tits on the toasters, and turn a profit this time.
posted by Dizzy at 4:52 AM on June 8, 2008

Maybe we should change the demographic from tots to thirty-somethings, put some tits on the toasters, and turn a profit this time.

Make sure those tits have shitting dick nipples and you'll have so many socially maladjusted men pack the place that the static buildup from all of those fursuits dryhumping each other will cause an aspieplosion so powerful it forms a baby universe whose fundamental forces are sublimated orgone, hentai, awkward groping, and beef jerky.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:59 AM on June 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, snap, this is bringing back memories. We had a Showbiz Pizza about an hour away from where I grew up and it was the site of several birthday parties in my family. I remember playing a lot of Baby Pac-Man (the video game/pinball hybrid Pac-Man) at their arcade, though there was a pretty nasty flaw in the table where a ball could get stuck and hang up the entire game. The animatronic show was loud and the closer you got to the robot singers, the larger and scarier they looked. They looked all right from waaaay back, but get up close and it was scary.

There were two birthday song programs between which they alternated every time they needed to greet another birthday boy or girl. One song was a rework of the Beatles' "Birthday". The other song was a pop schmaltzy almost-ballad of sorts. In the 6-year-old boy's vernacular, it was "a girl song" or perhaps even "for babies." It was considered extremely bad luck to get the girl song (bad luck in that all your friends, and your brothers, would laugh at you) so when they announced your name over the PA system you fervently hoped and prayed you'd get the rock and roll song or else you might as well just throw out all the Transformers you got and ask for My Little Ponies instead.

Funny the things that are SERIOUS BUSINESS to a second grader.

Oh, and I saved up enough Skee-Ball tickets to get the album. That's right, motherbitches, I had the Rockafire Explosion album on vinyl and I played it all the time on my Fisher-Price record player and you didn't. And wow did you miss out on one of the greatest albums of the 20th century. It was a weird mix of cover medleys (Satisfaction/For Your Love/Born To Be Wild was one of the tracks, and they overlapped all three songs into one giant chorus at the end, take that you 2005 mashuppers) and interstitial skits (at one point reciting the soliloquy from Hamlet before launching into Billy Joel's You May Be Right) and even, oh god, that girly birthday song. There were other original songs about playing baseball and I think there was one about earthquakes, too.

The fold-out section of the album had creepy pictures of the creepy robots and the guy in the bear suit hanging around the recording studio and, in very small print, the names of the guys who voiced all the characters. Most cryptic of all, and this is a line that has stuck with me all these years, was "As of yet, no one has claimed to be the voice of Mitzi." I couldn't fathom that -- didn't they know who was in the studio? Was someone just too embarrassed about it? Was it an inside joke? Come to think of it, a lot of the stuff in the album looked to be inside jokes. The group was a decent bunch of studio musicians, though, and I'm sure they had fun recording, but parts of that album were riddles wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a mystery served with two large cheese pizzas and enough pitchers of Coke to keep you floating.

I haven't heard the album in at least 20 years, after my little brother discovered that records had amazing Frisbee-like aerial qualities and smashed a few against the basement wall before he got walloped by an angry music-loving older brother.
posted by Spatch at 6:11 AM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think the proliferation of YouTube videos is an indicator showing that the demographic has in fact changed. There's a growing number of thirty somethings and forty somethings who look at this nostalgically and would like to see a RockaFire Explosion Reunion Tour. These people who are spending thousands of dollars on making their own Showbiz Pizza showcase using parts bought and sold on Ebay are decidedly middle-agedy.

Rather or not there's profit in it is anyone's guess. I'd guess not, except for those few who are selling the retired animatronics that have probably been sitting in cellars and attics gathering dust for twenty years.

The children today would mostly not be interested. I find the fact that Chuck E Cheese is now dressed as if he were an extreme sports enthusiast rather laughable. Does that marketing ploy actually work on today's preteen somethings?

I believe the quality of the pizza has some sort of mathematically inverse correlation to the need for stuff like animatronics and arcades and the like. The more consistently better the pizza is, the less the pizzaria would need bells and whistles to attract customers.

Granted, this doesn't explain the CiCi's Pizza Buffets that successfully proliferate here in North Texas. They're very popular, and the pizza quality is very touch and go, but aside from the occasional arcade there's no real bells and whistles in those joints. Just cheap pizza.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:16 AM on June 8, 2008

Now in my late 30's I had the Chuck E. Cheese experience a few times as a kid , last summer one of my 6 year olds classmates had a party there. It really has not changed much at all.

The kids really just seem to love the games, especially the whole ticket exchange. The animatronic show is largely ignored after the first two or three minutes, I think they have turned down the volume a bit. The pizza is still crap. The sum of these three mediocre attractions: pizza, animotronics and games add up to just enough to keep the kids interested and Chuck E Cheese in business for the last 20+ years.
posted by jeremias at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2008

That's one vagina that probably would have tasted like 9V batteries. At least 9V.
posted by emelenjr at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had to go to ShowBiz a time or two when I was a young kid (my mother's friend's son absolutely loved the bright lights and loud noises found within), and frankly the whole singing robots thing freaked the hell out of me. Particularly the gorilla. Especially the gorilla. Good lord, that horrible gorilla. Skeeball and the arcade machines were the only things worth partaking there (and yes, that includes the tasteless dry pizza).
posted by Servo5678 at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2008

Actually, since we're talking about animatronic robots on stage here, I might as well share my idea for the best possible modern use of this technology. I envision a franchise of Mystery Science Theaters in which an animatronic Mike/Joel, Tom Servo, and Crow riff movies "live". The robots would sit right up by the theater screen (in silhouette/Shadowrama so we wouldn't have to deal with the uncanny valley issues) and move according to the programmed routine. The best part, of course, is having to walk down the long hallway through the six doors that separate the ticket booth and concession stand from the theater itself.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:15 AM on June 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

emelenjr:That's one vagina that probably would have tasted like 9V batteries. At least 9V.

But would it make your tongue tingle?
posted by dr_dank at 9:37 AM on June 8, 2008

Granted, this doesn't explain the CiCi's Pizza Buffets that successfully proliferate here in North Texas. They're very popular, and the pizza quality is very touch and go

I was once VERY HUNGRY and saw that this was an all you can eat pizza buffet. I was sort of hoping for something like the Pizza Hut lunch buffet I'd had the odd occasion to partake of - some mediocre, but at least palatable food, and most importantly, all of it you wanted.

Instead, it was worse than any Chuck E. Cheese pizza I had as a child and probably worse than my elementary school cafeteria's pizza rectangles, and they run it as all you can eat because you don't want to eat all that much of it. Avoid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:35 AM on June 8, 2008


Yeah. That's about the size of it.

Actually, I have had some positive experiences at a CiCi's Pizza Buffet. The thing is you have to go during the busy time, when the pizza doesn't sit under the lamps for too long. Even then, it's touch and go, cuz it depends on the quality of employees there and whether or not they have been properly trained to make pizza right.

There was one CiCi's I went to sorta regularly many years ago, and they were able to churn out decent pizza during the dinner rush, but if you went there early in the afternoon you were eating cardboard. The best was their desert pizza which was essentially sweetened fruit glop (cherry or apple) poured onto pizza dough with powdered sugar and various other stuff. Again, only good during the rush. If it sat out under the lamps more than half an hour you might as well open up a bottle of Elmer's Glue and drink that.

In comparison, regardless of the time of day, I don't recall ever being able to classify Chuck E Cheese's pizza as pizza. It was barely edible.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:17 PM on June 8, 2008

I don't think you're actually supposed to eat it.
It's more of a "suggestion".
posted by Dizzy at 6:29 PM on June 9, 2008

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