Chuck E. Cheese's is a chain of family entertainment centers. The concept centers around a basic sit-down pizza restaurant, complemented by arcade games, small rides, animatronic characters, and other popular diversions for young children such as climbing equipment, tubes, and giant slides. Its logo and mascot, Chuck E. Cheese, is an anthropomorphic mouse (before a 1995 "facelift", the Chuck E. Cheese character was identified as a rat). The "E" in Chuck E. Cheese stands for entertainment.
The parent company, CEC Entertainment, Inc. is headquartered in Irving, Texas, and as of November 2006, they operate 524 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Chile, Guatemala, and other countries. Chuck E. Cheese initially franchised their restaurants, but are currently not offering any new franchise opportunities, instead concentrating on adding new company-owned stores, as well as acquiring existing franchises.
In November 1978 Nolan Bushnell left Atari and purchased Pizza Time Theater from them. As it became increasingly successful, he started to franchise. In 1979 Robert Brock of Topeka Inn Management signed a co-development agreement with Bushnell, receiving exclusive franchising rights to open Pizza Time Theaters in sixteen states across the southern and midwestern United States. Topeka Inn Management also created a company subdivision; “Pizza Show Biz”, to develop the Pizza Time Theaters.
In November 1979 Brock met Aaron Fechter of Creative Engineering, Inc. Concerned that Fechter’s animatronics work would be too strong a competition for Bushnell’s work, Brock requested that Bushnell release him from the co-development agreement, citing misrepresentation. In December 1979, Brock severed his business relationship with Bushnell. Brock then created “Showbiz Pizza Place Inc”, a joint company with Fechter. It was conceptually identical to Pizza Time Theater, but would utilize Creative Engineering Inc animatronics. Showbiz Pizza Place opened its first location on March 3, 1980, in Kansas City, MO.
Upon the Showbiz Pizza Place opening, Bushnell sued Brock and Topeka Inn Management over breach of contract. Brock immediately issued a counter-suit against Bushnell for misrepresentation. The court case began in March 1980 and was eventually settled out of court, with Showbiz Pizza Place agreeing to pay Pizza Time Theater a portion of its profits over the following decade. Topeka Inn Management also changed its name to Brock Hotel Corporation during this period. Both Pizza Time Theater and Showbiz Pizza Place experienced increased success as the video game industry became more robust. Their lead characters, Chuck E. Cheese and Billy Bob respectively, were promoted heavily. To maintain competition, both franchises continually modified and diversified their animatronics shows.
Pizza Time Theater went public in 1981. However, the evolving video game industry resulted in significant losses for Pizza Time Theater; it lost $15 million in 1983. By 1984, Bushnell’s debts were insurmountable, and Pizza Time Theater Inc. filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Showbiz Pizza Place then bought the floundering company, recreating itself as Showbiz Pizza Time Inc. After the merger, both restaurants continued operating under the different titles. In 1985, Richard M. Frank joined the company as president and began major financial restructuring. During this period, Creative Engineering began discontinuing its work with Showbiz Pizza Time (it officially left Showbiz Pizza Time in September 1990). Frank currently remains a chairman and CEO of the company. Showbiz Pizza Time became publicly traded in 1988, and sales increased 8.3%. It began unifying its mixed characters, and in 1992 all restaurants assumed the name of Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza. In 1995, renamed itself CEC Entertainment, Inc., and in 1999, bought out its competitor Discovery Zone.
|The following voice actors performed as animatronic characters from the Chuck E. Cheese show over the years.|
The company's current three shows that are installed into all new stores, "Studio C" consists of a single animated Chuck E. Cheese character alongside large television monitors, lighting effects, and interactive elements. In some markets, the company has also tried a new store concept that omits the animated show.
The first version of the animatronic show as found in the San Jose location was referred to as the "Pizza Time Players", and featured Crusty the Cat, Jasper T. Jowls, Pasqually, and the Warblettes performing with Chuck E. Cheese himself in a "theater" where customers could eat their pizza with the characters in picture frames overhead. Later restaurants also added "Cabaret" shows in separate rooms of each restaurant. Cabaret performers began with Dolli Dimples, a blues singing hippo; others included Artie Antlers, The King (Elvis tunes), The Beagles (Beatles), and The Beach Bowsers (Beach Boys).
In its early years, the company frequently changed out the sole female character in the main animatronic show. This involved a cosmetic change to the existing robot as well as change of stage backdrop to match the performer, for example, Harmony Howlette, a country singer received western stage decor. The early recordings were written and produced by Robert "Bob" Black. Mike Hatcher was the original cyberamic robotics animator with James Barnes functioning as second cyberamic robotics animator and audio engineer.
The characters were also featured in the movie, Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000
A person dons the full body costume of Chuck E. Cheese and is generally seen walking around the gameroom and showroom. Chuck E is not allowed to speak and can only imply his intentions with hand gestures. In stores that hire or promote a full time walk-around character, this employee has several extra duties that include getting the Chuck E. Cheese costume professionally dry-cleaned and washed, cleaning the Chuck E. room before the end of every shift, and fixing broken parts of the costume.