If you experienced childhood in the U.S. in the early ’80s, the odds are pretty good you celebrated a birthday, good report card, or other happy occasion at Showbiz Pizza Place. And, if you’re like most people, you don’t remember the experience for the pizza (which was very bad), but instead for the experience (which was very fun).
Every Showbiz was pretty similar, with rows of booths jammed with kids making a mess of their pizza and long lines at the video, carnival, and other coin-operated games. But the main attraction was against a back wall. There a menagerie of robotic bears, gorillas, wolves, and other animals would suddenly come to life under the spotlight and belt out some fun, rockin’ tunes. The band was known as The Rock-afire Explosion.
The band and Showbiz burned brightly for a quick moment, but faded quickly as the chain expanded too quickly and the video game craze went away. But for some people, The Rock-afire Explosion never went away.
A few years ago, The Rock-afire Explosion phenomenon was immortalized in an eponymous film that details not only the robotic band’s growth and popularity, but the intense fan base that still adores the singing robots today. It’s a movie that geeks will appreciate — the Rock-afire’s origins being closely tied to video arcades, the robotics involved with bringing the band to life, and the devotion of the fan base.
It might seem strange that three decades later, The Rock-afire Explosion is experiencing popularity again, but the film attributes much of the reason for its resurgence to a Chris Thrash, a fan who tracked down an original Rock-afire Explosion set of robots, costumes and accoutrements and began programming the robots to play modern songs.
Now, the band’s inventor, Aaron Fechter, competes with Thrash on YouTube, developing videos based on the songs of Nine Inch Nails, The Arcade Fire, The Black Eyed Peas, and others. The resurgence continued when The Rock-afire Explosion was featured in last year’s Adam Sandler movie, Just Go With It.
The movie is nostalgic and touching and if you can remember Showbiz Pizza and The Rock-afire Explosion, it’s definitely worth a viewing. The best part is that you can now watch for free on Hulu or the movie is available on Netflix. If you really want to have a fun time, order a pizza and watch with your kids and watch their faces as they see how video games used to be played and how early animatronics operated. Their expressions will be priceless.