The Deptford Chuck E. Cheese will very soon start a remodeling project which will mean the end of the beloved life-sized animatronic character stage show.
Yes, the “Munch’s Make Believe Band” herky-jerky robot stage show which entertained (and scared) children for over 30 years in the Deptford area, will be gone before the year is out.
You still have a few more weeks to catch the show one last time. I’ve been told unofficially that some time in mid-December the stage will be shut-down as the remodeling progresses. The full Deptford location makeover is set to be completed in early 2023.
This is part of a nationwide remodeling effort for Chuck E. Cheese, targeted at bring the pizza and arcade restaurant experience into the modern era.
Gone will be all of the animatronic stage shows… and in their place will be a dance area with light-up dance floor, which also will be centerstage for a Chuck E. LIVE show every hour.
The change in direction for the company was initially discussed back in 2017 as an experiment, and it became official in 2019. As a multi-year project, progress on the remodeling of over 500 locations was slowed by the pandemic.
“The kids stopped looking at the animatronics years and years ago, and they would wait for the live Chuck E. to come out.”Chuck E Cheese then Chief Executive Tom Leverton in 2017, to CBS News on why they are moving away from the animatronics.
The folks at Chuck E. Cheese Corporate were kind enough to confirm the change for Deptford, and of offer the following official details:
The remodel is set to be complete in early 2023. As for the animatronics, it will be going away as part of Chuck E.’s ongoing investment in technology, improving the guest experience through convenience, simplicity, and ease of use. New features include: an interactive dance floor, a large format video wall and screens and audio connected throughout the venue to provide a more immersive experience for guests and parties. A fresh, vibrant, and contemporary look that is appealing to kids and kids at heart.Chuck E Cheese Communications team
They will also be offering enhanced technology around ordering and game award tickets. Pass/Playbands, E-Tickets, self-service kiosks and apps will make planning visits easier!
Online reports and YouTube videos show that remodeling crews are finishing up a conversion in Edison NJ right now. Deptford is scheduled to start preliminary work this week, presumably as crews roll of the Edison effort.
And of course everyone wants to know what are they doing with the animatronic characters once removed? Well other online reports state they will not be saved at all, unfortunalely.
It is my understanding that the Deptford location will remain open during the remodeling.
Deptford Chuck E. Cheese – 30 Years of the Make Believe Band!
But do I really need to tell 42Freeway reader where they are located?
The Deptford location opened 31 years ago this month and I can almost guarantee that if you live in this area and are aged 3 to 80 years old, you have been inside the Chuck E. Cheese at least once in your lifetime. As a kid, parent, or grandparent. Maybe as all three!
Kid’s that went to Chuck E. Cheese in the 90s with their parents, are now bringing their own kids to the pizza place.
Honestly, is it possible for kids to make it through a grade school year without being invited to at least one Chuck E Cheese Pizza Party each year?
And I would expect that hearing the news that the stage show is going away, many families will be flocking in to catch the show one last time!
The Deptford location had an interesting start… well it almost didn’t start!
A very common arcade model that we are all familiar with is to win tickets playing games, and exchange them for prizes.
Would you believe back in the early 90s this was illegal in New Jersey? Probably connected to the legalization of Casinos in the 70s.
Chuck E Cheese had to change their model for the Deptford store so that the awarding of tickets were not skill based! (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 1991)
That article goes on to say that at the time several Deptford Council members were concerned that winning tickets playing arcade games would be associated with gambling. “It may not be wholesome for families to eat pizza and watch their kids play games of chance”
It was just a different era back then!
I am not a Chuck E Cheese expert but online comments about the Deptford location seems to indicate there is something special about the stage show there.
Even before the remodels hit the state, the stage was indicated as the last of its style in New Jersey.
And in the realm of Band setups, it’s said that the Deptford performers are very well taken care of and in really good shape. During the slower 2020 pandemic year, the location employees added some extra holiday pizzazz to the performers! (YouTube)
So beloved is are they that I just found a Change.Org petition where someone is trying to raise support to stop the band’s removal!
The Deptford Chuck E. Cheese Experience
For the few who have not been to a Chuck E. Cheese, they are a family pizza restaurant, which also provides an afternoon of fun for kids and their families.
By they way, there are a LOT of people who legitimately think Chuck E. Cheese pizza is awesome. My adult daughter is one. I must investigate further!
Within the restaurant they offer a variety of arcade games and activities for everyone!
Over the years they were also famous for their in-store climbing gym and ball pit (which are not in Deptford any longer)
The signature fun feature though has always been the Munch’s Make-Believe band stage show.
The Deptford show features five furry robotic characters (Chuck E, Helen, Munch, Jasper, and Pasqually) all lined in a row across the stage.
They are set up as a band with the three right most stage performers positioned playing instruments, and Chuck E and Helen standing to the left.
The characters are mechanically animated and controlled via computer programming.
New programmed shows and songs are rotated in throughout the year, with many featuring the current season.
Munch’s Make Believe Band
The movements of the band are not as fluid as what you see in Disney World. This is old-school animatronic tech.
At times there is an extra bit of jerkiness to the motion when it should be smooth, and then at other times there is extra movements when things should be a little more firm.
But that’s all part of the charm!
And that’s also part of the reason they animatronics are being retired. It’s becoming more and more difficult to maintain the characters. Parts are becoming very scarce!
The band is clearly loved by many, and has a cult-like following.
The internet is filled with websites and YouTube videos chronicling the history and every detail of band and characters.
A large and very detailed wiki site is setup up to capture every detail of the pizza show business. It covers the entire genre of robot show pizza places… there were a few.
We learn that the Deptford show is from older “Stage 1” technology, but it features 2-Stage backdrops. The wiki page shows there are only about 25 “1-stage” configurations left.
Someone even noted that in October 2020 the Deptford flat-screen TV which is positioned behind the stage suffered glitches. Now that’s focusing on details!
For many it’s just the fun of the show that attaches them to the band. For others it’s the memories of being there as a kid or taking your kids.
And for the geek’s like me.. it’s the technology of the animatronics that captures there attention.
The robots are sophisticated requiring both computers and mechanical movement… but it always feels like “hmmm with a $1000 and month of time I know I could make one of these”
In fact one earlier competing animatronic band “The Rock-afire Explosion” has made it’s way into private hands and a few can be found in a few bars, restaurants and private collections around the world. How about an animatronic band signing Shakira?!
Which further gets us back again to the reason the former CEO gave for the removal of the animatronics.
There are tons of fans of the shows, but according to published articles over the years the company believes parents today want good quality pizza for their kids, and the kids seem more excited about meeting the real Chuck E than watching the show.
The rest of us are just holding on to memories of the band.
Atari and Chuck E Cheese!
As I was doing some research on Chuck E Cheese I stumbled again on a really cool history item of Chuck E Cheese. Something that 20 years ago I think everyone knew but has since fallen to the wayside in common lore.
Nolan Bushnell founded the Atari video game company. For those under 35 you may not be aware of him or Atari.
Nolan is famous for inventing the first widely played video game. Pong. Not only did he create the game, he packaged it into an arcade style box with a system to take quarters and distributed them around the country.
I seriously remember playing the original Pong game in the 70s with my Father, at a very small wedge shaped bar in Brooklawn which sat across the railroad tracks from the American Legion. (yes I am old!)
The Atari company went on to create what was really the first successful home video game system, the Atari 2600. It’s simple graphics (by today’s standards) amazed kids with the ability to play video games at home! I actually had his system before that which had Breakout, Pong and a basic pinball game!
Your Xbox and Playstation games at home.. all have Nolan to thank for that, for being first.
So what does that have to do with Chuck E Cheese?
Well Atari is not all that he created.
Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and the creator of the viable video game business… created Chuck E. Cheese, the arcade concept and the animatronic band!
In an interview with michaelcavacini.com he explains how the new business venture came about:
…at Atari, we were selling coin-op machines for around $1,000 to $1,500. And in their lifetime, they would earn $30,000 to $50,000. So it didn’t take rocket science to say, “Hey, I’m on the wrong side of this equation.” And that’s really the genesis of Chuck E. CheeseNolan Bushnell founder of Chuck E Cheese to michaelcavacini.com
The quote matches up to my experience of first playing Pong, I only saw the game because my Dad took me into a local corner bar at 8 years old (Thanks Dad… my computer career started in that moment!)
Pizza Time Theatre was the original name for Chuck E Cheese, and Bushnell started the chain of family restaurants in 1977 as a division of Atari!
According to an article in The Atlantic, the pizza chain was actually supposed to be Coyote Pizza.
Nolan attended an amusement trade show and purchased what he thought was a costume of a Coyote. He knew his Atari engineers could build the animatronic robot with the costume as the outer shell.
But he found out later what he purchased was a Rat costume. With that they simply changed the them to being a mouse. The unplanned theming change was obviously for the better. We all know mice love cheese!
To round out the restaurant he pulled together family fun activities such as skeeball and the few video games of the era, to make it a fun place for families to hang and have delicious pizza.
Being an engineer at heart, he chose Pizza as the key food item as logically it seemed the easy and fastest to make.
And all this fun and good food was happening… while parents loaded the machines with quarters!
Early on Atari was sold to Warner to help fuel the home game system, and Warner wasn’t interested in the pizza business… so Bushnell purchased Chuck E Cheese from Warner so that he could run it independently.
Links and Locations
Chuck E Cheese Deptford NJ (Remodel Starting)
Court at Deptford
1500 Almonesson Rd
Deptford NJ 08096