Farewell, Chuck E. Cheese animatronic band

Kendall Maldonado, a self-described Chuck E. Cheese “superfan,” is shown on April 10 with “Munch’s Make Believe Band” in Hicksville, N.Y. (Jackie Molloy/The New York Times)

“Munch’s Make Believe Band” is shown on April 10 at a Chuck E. Cheese location in Hicksville, N.Y. The Chuck E. Cheese in Hicksville is one of hundreds of that will say goodbye to its animatronic band. Will the Chuck E. Cheese experience be the same? (Jackie Molloy/The New York Times)

For decades, Munch’s Make Believe Band at Chuck E. Cheese has performed for countless birthdays, end-of-season Little League parties and other celebrations. There’s been Chuck E. Cheese and Helen Henny on vocals, Mr. Munch on keys, Jasper T. Jowls on guitar, and Pasqually on drums.

The band of robot puppets has been a mainstay at the colorful pizzeria-arcade chain where children run amok and play games for prizes in between bites of pizza slices.


Their final curtain call is coming soon.

By the end of 2024, the animatronic performances — endearing and nostalgia-inducing, if perhaps slightly creepy to their audiences — will be phased out at all but two of the chain’s more than 400 locations in the United States: one in Los Angeles and another in Nanuet, New York. The departure of the band comes as Chuck E. Cheese undergoes what its CEO, David McKillips, recently described as its largest and “most aggressive transformation.”

Out: Animatronic bands.

In: More screens, digital dance floors and trampoline gyms.

The coronavirus pandemic forced hundreds of Chuck E. Cheese locations to shutter, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the summer of 2020. Since then, its leaders have tried to adapt Chuck E. Cheese to a modern era — and children who might be more excited by screens than an old animatronic band with limited movement and shifty eyes.

“Kids are consuming entertainment differently than they were 10, 20 years ago,” McKillips said, sitting in a booth at the Chuck E. Cheese in Hicksville, New York, on Long Island. “Kids, really of all ages, are consuming their entertainment on a screen.”

For now, Munch’s Make Believe Band still performs every day at the Hicksville location, which sometimes hosts as many as 20 birthday parties on a weekend day, starting as early at 8 a.m. But by the end of the summer, the band will have played its last show there.

Then the band will be removed and replaced by a Jumbotron-size TV, more seating and a digital dance floor. (Chuck E. Cheese declined to say what will happen to the animatronic figures after they are removed from hundreds of locations across the country.)

‘The band is in perfect condition.’

Not everyone wants more screens, trampolines and new games. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Kendall Maldonado, 12, of Queens, was dancing next to the band dressed in his own Chuck E. Cheese costume, taking in one of the final performances in Hicksville.

“I grew up on tickets and tokens,” said Kendall, a self-described “super fan,” who has visited dozens of Chuck E. Cheese locations across the New York area and one in Puerto Rico.

Kendall’s mother, Jennifer Molina, 43, said she brought Kendall to his first Chuck E. Cheese when he was 3. Like many young children, Kendall was initially slightly scared of Chuck E., but he later warmed up to the giant mouse.

“He’s been a fan ever since,” she said.

Molina said that Kendall wished the bands could stay.

“The band is in perfect condition,” Kendall said. “Sometimes kids hit them, which is mad disrespectful because they’re just doing their job and performing.”

Since Chuck E. Cheese announced in November that it would phase out Munch’s Make Believe Band, some parents have scrambled to take their children to the final performances.

Kaitlin Rubenstein, 30, the general manager of the Hicksville location and another in Hempstead, New York, said that some recorded videos of the band to preserve the memory.

Rubinstein said it was “bittersweet” to watch the band that had been a part of her childhood being retired.

“To go to Chuck E. Cheese on a Friday night,” she said, “that was a treat.”

Screens are ‘where the future is moving.’

For anyone born since about the mid-1970s, visiting a Chuck E. Cheese has felt like part of an American childhood. As the chain modernizes and ushers out its animatronic band, Kristy Linares, 33, the general manager of the Chuck E. Cheese in Paramus, New Jersey, said not much had changed.

The Paramus location no longer has an animatronic band and was recently renovated with more TVs, a digital dance floor and a trampoline gym, but Linares, who sometimes takes her children there, said that children still eat pizza and play games as always. “Chuck E. Cheese is still the same,” she said.

Employees said they had seen children shift their attention to screen-based games in recent years. Leana Gil, 17, a birthday party coordinator at the Paramus location, said she had noticed that children “gravitate toward things of their time,” citing a much-loved Paw Patrol game as an example.

Rubenstein, the general manager in Hempstead, said interactive screen games were a hit.

“That’s where the future is moving,” she said.

In another adaptation for the digital era, the chain is doing away with numbered hand stamps for visitors, which are checked at the exit to stop kids from wandering off or leaving with someone they did not arrive with. Instead, a family selfie will be taken at the entrance and checked at the exit.

On a recent Wednesday, Maricel de los Reyes took her son Sam to the Chuck E. Cheese in Paramus. It was their first visit there since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the first one without the band.

Did they miss it?

“No, I don’t think that was a big thing for us,” she said, as Sam walked off to play a game. “It was more the games, the food and just hanging out here.

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