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The Rock-afire Explosion: A Strange Trip to An Animatronic Past

Showbiz Pizza

If you’ve never seen the Rock-afire Explosion documentary, you really should give it a go.

Is it weird? Yes. Does it, at points, make me feel uncomfortable? Yes, yes it does. But as someone who still has vague memories of birthday parties at ShowBiz Pizza Place, of wasting coins on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 arcade cabinet and never quite having enough tickets to actually get anything worthwhile — it’s like cracking open a years-old corroded can of soda you found somewhere behind a couch.

You recognize it, you remember it, you might even miss it. It probably isn’t something you should drink, anymore. But you take a sip anyway for nostalgia’s sake.

If you need a quick primer: The Rock-afire Explosion was a robotic band — featuring a number of singing bears and a gorilla on keyboard — at the back of every ShowBiz Pizza Place from 1980 to 1992. Those joints were later renamed to Chuck E. Cheese, and the original band was replaced with different animatronics, but they still have their strange place in Americana pop culture.

They’re the inspiration for the Five Nights At Freddy’s series, and the upcoming Nicolas Cage film Willy’s Wonderland. You may also recognize Billy Bob Brockali from his appearance with Dick the Birthday Boy a few years back.

In 2018, a retro arcade bar called Rock-afire opened up in Midtown Kansas City, but closed not even a year later. I guess the market for retro arcades with anthropomorphic singing robots is a bit niche these days.

Written By

Founder and editor-in-chief of Atomic Lagoon. Spends his time changing aquarium water, feeding cats, and watching old monster movies in 3D.

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