Say Goodbye To The Pizza Time Players: Chuck E. Cheese Retires Its Band

Aug 23, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 3:41 pm

First, it was The Supremes, then The Beatles, then The Police. Now there is news that another enduring band is breaking up: Chuck E. Cheese's The Pizza Time Players.

Chuck E. Cheese — a large rat puppet with a New York accent — along with his fellow animatronic pals sing and shake their mechanical limbs to cover tunes in about 500 pizza restaurants nationwide.

Tom Leverton, the CEO of the company that runs Chuck E. Cheese and its sister restaurants, Peter Piper Pizza, says the animatronic characters have been in the restaurants since 1977.

"Back then, kids' expectations of technology were much, much lower," he says. "A child today has such high expectations for entertainment that the animatronics, even at their absolute best, can't live up to those expectations."

Now, in case you've never been to one, children flock to Chuck E. Cheese restaurants to fill up on pizza, french fries and soft drinks — and then burn off all that pent-up energy playing video games and dancing to the Pizza Time Players.

The animatronic characters are equal parts charming and creepy. In some older Chuck E. Cheese locations, it's hard to hear the music over the creaking and clacking sounds made by the mechanical gizmos inside the puppets. One YouTube video celebrates the 10 best Chuck E. Cheese animatronic malfunctions.

But many parents who have an appreciation for things that don't age well still have a warm spot for Chuck E. Cheese and his friends. The problem is, says Leverton, "what we need to focus on is creating that magic for the new generation of kids that are coming in for the first time."

If you're worried you might have missed a farewell performance of Chuck E. and friends, fear not. The mechanical bands will be gradually phased out over a few years — and a Pizza Time Players "reunion" concert may be closer than you think. Leverton says some Chuck E. Cheese fans have "purchased or found a lot of our old animatronics and built the full band in their garage and they programmed the animatronics to play with their music. It's exciting to see that as someone who grew up with the concept."

So Chuck E. Cheese, we raise a slice of pizza to you. Rock on.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

First it was The Supremes and then the Beatles, then The Police. Well, now there's news that another enduring band is breaking up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As Chuck E. Cheese) And now presenting the Pizza Time show, starring me, Chucky E. Cheese.

GREENE: That's right, Chuck E. Cheese and the Pizza Time Players are being disbanded. Chuck E. Cheese is a disturbingly large robotic rat puppet with a New York accent. He's equal parts cuddly and creepy. Chuck E. and his animatronic pals sing cover tunes in about 500 pizza restaurants nationwide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PIZZA TIME PLAYERS: (Singing) Joy from the fishes in the deep, blue seas. Happy birthday from Chuck E. Cheese.

TOM LEVERTON: The animatronics have been in the restaurant since 1977. And back then, kids' expectations of technologies were much, much lower.

GREENE: That is Tom Leverton. He is the CEO of the company that runs Chuck E. Cheese and also Peter Piper Pizza.

LEVERTON: A child today has just such high expectations for entertainment that the animatronics, even at their absolute best, can't live up to those expectations.

GREENE: Now, if you are not a child, you should know that Chuck E. Cheese restaurants are destination locations for kids. Full disclosure, I had birthday parties there in the 1980s. First you fill up on pizza, French fries, soft drinks and then after about an hour in these cathedrals to carbohydrates, you burn off all that pent up energy playing video games and dancing to the Pizza Time Players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PIZZA TIME PLAYERS: (Singing) I used to think maybe you loved me, now I know that it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We love you, Chuck E.

LEVERTON: The animatronics have a nostalgic value for parents. But what we need to focus on is creating that magic for the new generation of kids that are coming in for the very first time.

GREENE: But not so fast. Chuck E. is not finished quite yet. You did not miss a farewell performance. The mechanical bands are going to be gradually phased out over several years. And the Pizza Time Players concert might actually be closer than you think.

LEVERTON: There are different kinds of fans that have actually found a lot of our old animatronics and built the full band in their garage and they program the animatronics to play with their music. It's exciting to see that, as somebody who grew up with the concept.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PIZZA TIME PLAYERS: (Singing) Pizza time hoedown. Honky-tonky (ph) USA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.