Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

At long last, an oral history of Chuck E. Cheese's nightmare robots

Illustration for article titled At long last, an oral history of Chuck E. Cheese's nightmare robots
Screenshot: YouTube

Brian VanHooker of Mel Magazine, we salute you. You have gone where few would dare to tread. You have willingly looked for the monster in the closet, the fiend under the bed, the shadowy figure crouched behind the billowing curtains. You saw a nightmare, and walked up to it to find out what its whole deal was. You, Brian VanHoooker, saw the nightmare animatronics at Chuck E. Cheese, and somehow, you dared to ask, “what the hell?”


VanHooker is the writer behind Mel’s expansive new story, “An Oral History Of Those Creepy-Ass Chuck E. Cheese Robots,” which is exactly what it says on the tin. If your paths never crossed with Jasper T. Jowls or Pasqually P. Pieplate, here’s a little taste:

The piece, which is worth reading in full, gets into the origins of Chuck E. Cheese (“I said to myself, “I got it! They have Mickey Mouse, I can do Chuck E. Cheese, it’s sounds the same, see? Mick-ey-Mouse, Chuck-E.-Cheese.” So that’s where I got it from. And Nolan had a rat costume in his office, so it worked out.”) as well as the initial idea to use animatronics (also Disney-inspired). But it starts getting really good when VanHooker takes us through the great pizza wars of the 1980s, and the arrival of rival force Showbiz Pizza—and that battle leads to the decline of both businesses, which in turn leads to the creepiness, which is why we’re all here.

As they get older, they do the same thing as humans. When you’re born, you’re cute as hell, but as you get older, you just get creepier and creepier. With animatronics, it’s no different. They’re going to get creepier and creepier if you’re not keeping up with it. So if you go to a place like Billy Bob’s Wonderland where they’ve still got their show — man, I don’t know how they do it, but they got the creepiest show I’ve ever seen.

Things are falling apart and they let it rot anyway. The eyeballs are completely turned around in the head, the arms are hanging off. They wrapped duct tape around Billy Bob’s hand to keep it from falling off, and the duct tape is coming loose. The faces are so creepy it’s almost become art, you know?

We cannot do this wackadoo story justice. It’s worth the click-through, we promise.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!