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the rock-afire explosion

the rock-afire explosion at showbiz pizza, created by shithead idiot aaron fechter in 1989, is my absolute favorite piece of animatronic history.

the rock-afire explosion animatronic band at showbiz pizza. the band is on three stages set before rows of booths, and all members are anthropomorphic animals. a wolf is stage right, on the left, holding a yellow puppet aloft in front of glittery streamers and an applause sign. center stage is made up to look like the outdoors. left to right is a dog on drums, a gorilla on keys, a polar bear on guitar sitting aside him, and a mouse with cheerleaders. on stage left, on the right, is a bear standing in front of a fake gas station with an oil barrel of goofy gas beside him, in which a red bird's head is visible, popping out.

the rocka-fire explosion primarily consists of five members: pictured here left to right is earl schmerle (the puppet), rolfe dewolfe, dook larue, fatz geronimo, beach bear, mitzi mozzerella, billy bob brockali, and (the) looney bird.


billy bob brockali is the brown bear hillbilly mascot on bass with his candid friend looney bird, who sing, chat, and read fan mail together. they "work" at smitty's super service station where they sell "gasahol," renamed "goofy gas," which is both a fuel and a drink, of which looney bird imbibes a lot. billy bob shy, gentle, sensitive, and very empathetic. he's my personal favorite, and so it sort of saddens me when he's the most frequent target for "spooky animatronic content." also, he is gay, and i am not kidding. aaron fechter wrote a song for him about how he isn't, which means he is. i have a plush of him and it is one of my most prized possessions.

next is fatz geronimo, the sardonic keyboard-playing gorilla who runs the band. he's a some-nonsense kind of guy, very gruff and sarcastic, but generally pretty good-hearted. he has an older vibe than everyone else, except for rolfe, who is washed up and tries to keep his pride by picking fights with fatz.

then there's beach bear, the dry-humored, laid-back surfer dude on guitar who brings a sort of "older brother" energy to the group, because they need it. there's also dook larue, the ever-exhausted, spaced-out, drums-playing "junkyard dog" dook larue. there's mitzi mozzarella, the Girl One(TM), who i believe owes all of her very sweet and responsible "teen girl" characterization to the actual teen girl who voiced her, and finally rolfe dewolfe and his handpuppet earl schmerle, a side-stage comedy act where rolfe tries to take the piss out of the band only to get the piss taken out of him by his handpuppet.

incredible, right? i know you're dying to know more.


like i said, i have a love for janky-looking animatronics, and the rock-afire explosion is the most charming to me. if fnaf wanted to be scary on grounds of its animatronics having certain "quirks," it should have taken pages out of aaron fechter/creative engineering's book. hey, kids! sorry beach bear's face is melting; it's made of a latex mix developed in fucking 1980 and needs to be replaced and sprayed with plasticizer every so often because the kinetic energy of his cross-eye animation and extra blinking generates friction and that heat makes his face literally melt off of him way faster than everybody else's.

melted beach bear mask


anyway, their dialogue is more enjoyable than anything i’ve seen of chuck e.’s. their showtapes have a very impromptu, conversational style that can actually convince you that these characters are really friends! which is a real credit to their voice actors, and, begrudgingly, their engineering -- your average everyday still-surviving chuck-e-bot has only half the movement capabilities these old fucks do. they’re sarcastic, they insult each other, they have in-jokes, they shake their heads and gesture at each other and wave. they have a pretty strong approximation of soul. i don’t hate chuck e. cheese’s or anything, but they have the sad effect of living into the modern era and being pushed thoroughly through the ever-narrowing chute of what’s acceptable for children. that and i (and everyone) has to cope with the fact that they support autism speaks – not that rock-afire is more moral, but it is too dead to make seriously injurious moves anymore. you feel me?

shame we'll never see what robotic children's bands could look like in modern times since it's just not good financial sense to deal with their maintenance costs. it’s sadly cheaper to pay a high schooler $7.25 to dance in a sweaty fursuit than to own and maintain a robotic puppetman. oh well.


these sincerely delightful characters' bodies are rotting in a number of places, except for smitty's super service station, which keeps them delightfully well-preserved. it saddens me to see them in such states of disrepair (be it in a warehouse or billy bob's wonderland, a restaurant featuring the band that's more of a graveyard than a revival for the group), but in some way it almost feels like it's a curse tied to aaron fechter for being such a shithead.

the goodness and charm that existed in these characters and what they represented in the minds of children lives on in me and every other seriously autistic young or old adult who keeps them in their mind and heart -- as well as all across youtube.

other favorites

    a scene from the carousel of progress' last section proposing a future. an animatronic boy sits on a counter wearing a vr headset while an animatronic dog sits in the foreground and another humanoid animatronic stands in the background
  • the carousel of progress: this is probably the biggest stand-out given my taste for fucked=up looking guys. i don’t like white americana or ephemera at the best of times, but i do like when rich people are wrong. i enjoy the appearance of the animatronics and have a fondness for audio-animatronics, outmoded they may be. i wish i could have seen a more fun, imaginative, cheesy set-up like the rock-afire explosion with hydraulic animation, but the pneumatic actuators’ racket is fun.

    i was also really intrigued by the death of the hostess at lookalike attraction america sings when i was a child, but “true crime” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. what should be remembered is the negligence involved in her death and the greed that let it occur.

    fun fact: the bird mary poppins sings to in, uh, mary poppins, was present in the original version of the carousel shown at the world’s fair!

    an enormous brown yeti with matted fur and gleaming eyes
  • the expedition everest yeti: this bad boy has 19 actuators to swipe at the guests on their way up the mountain and can’t use any of them because his 25’ ass is so big he’d wreck the 199’ plastic monolith. so, instead, they play a roar and throw strobelights on him.

    while you’re here, don’t climb everest or endorse people who do. it’s racist and selfish and you’re gonna end up leaving your trash and your corpse there for nepali people to deal with. don’t.

    a green-colored sea monster animatronic, lizardlike in appearance with an open mouth, sunken into water
  • the bunyip: the bunyip is a monstrosity of an animatronic in murray bridge, australia. he’s apparently now free and button-operated, multigendered, and just, frankly, really gross. cosmetics don’t hold up well underwater as a rule, and he receives more vandalism than maintenance. she was installed in 1972, and was given a baby ten years afterwards of which few records remain. the one pictured here is the 1972 version, but she was given a makeover in 2018.

    it was apparently made as a “tribute” to the ngarrindjeri legend of the bunyip, a man who was overfishing and drying out the river against the wisdom of elders, and was thus turned into a fish-man for it. i don't buy it and as a general rule severely oppose using aboriginal mythos for anything if you yourself aren't indigenous and of the culture itself.

    a sea serpent animatronic, green in coloration, with a snout like a seahorse. its noodle-like body sits in putrid water
  • 20,000 leagues under the sea serpent: a component of the 20,000 leagues under the sea "submarine" disney ride closed in 1994 which was left behind, along with numerous other props. look at his goofy ass.

    the lagoon was extant until 2004 when it was finally drained. the dragon got that long of a soak, rotting away in the water for ten soggy years.

what's so great about defunct animatronics anyway? they look weird.

that's the thing! there's just something about that weirdness, i guess. it's the same sort of charm as seeing "the year 2000" next to flying cars in an old movie, or seeing tomorrowland exhibits at disney. making an animated puppet that is such a hard-fought impression of life for the express purpose of entertaining children -- no higher -- is just very charming to me. it's sweet, i think, to try and breathe life into such an obvious facsimile of sapience, and to miss the mark so tremendously. especially since this is using top-of-the-line innovative technology at the time, even though pneumatic tubing and latex masks look so primitive to us now.

i think i interpret the uncanny valley different from most people, either because i'm physically disabled or autistic. i think there's something very heartwarming about something that is trying very, very hard to resemble human life, but failing somewhat. i feel a sort of connection to that, and when it's being done for the sake of making money entertaining small children, it gives me some kind of a cozy feeling.

aaron fechter is a shitbag and so are walt disney and nolan bushnell, so i discourage any generous readings of their interior machinations in developing animatronic entertainment, but i truly think there is something beautiful in investing so much effort into creating an impression of humanity that is safe and fun for children, limited only by the rudimentary nature of your technology at the time.

and yes, they're a little creepy. they're a little ugly. their manufactured personalities are hilariously out-of-touch with what children enjoy, and what remains of animatronic bands are being forgotten, bastardized, and left to rot -- and i think that's just as intriguing. if i can put my hyperempathy for objects aside for a moment, i think it's a fascinating end for something that for a forgotten period in history was "THE FUTURE," something designed to engage children and which failed terribly due to both the faulty nature of their not-quite-close-enough robotics and the unpredictability of the market that allowed franchises of robot entertainment to exist in the first place -- after all, chuck e. cheese started with the idea of creating a band that would not need to be paid and would never rest, and i think that’s an important part of remembering these relics and their place in history.


"what about fnaf?" you might ask.

well, i won't lie and say i got into animatronics without being autistically obsessed with fnaf like a gateway drug. the first one came out on august 8, 2014, and i was freshly 12. it was one of the first fandoms i was in -- not THE first, but a foundational one nonetheless that cemented an interest in supernatural horror for me.

however, what got me into fnaf is absent from its recent releases, and given scott cawthon's immoral and unsavory politics, i find it important to say i no longer consider myself a fan in any capacity. i never purchased any of his games anyway, and was only interested in the lore. (womp-womp). naturally, i grew increasingly frustrated with the franchise as its lore devolved in a manner one would expect from a burnt-out christian gamedev working with no creative ambitions but his previously-demonstrated obsession for over-the-top science fiction not seen in mainstream media since the time of his youth.

i think it's obvious to anyone that the only reason it remains in the cultural zeitgeist is because the people who make the viral content of it are simply old enough to continue to be attached to it, and pass that on to younger generations to create the bland, senseless feedback loop that is "mascot horror." just like the youtubers who made it popular in the first place, fnaf is given special privileges to be, generally, pretty unexceptional these days, because it was "first."

but what DID i like about fnaf enough to spark an enduring love of mechatronics? amazingly, the initial themes of child horror. as a physically disabled and physically abused child -- and, frankly, like a lot of children, fnaf presented an avenue to explore grotesque, macabre themes for the first time. anyone my age who would know what neocities is probably had a creepypasta or fnaf phase, but the mystery of fnaf was what had ensnared me. i liked that it was ambiguous what had happened, but that it carried this twisted, horrifying implication of children being traumatized and supernaturally tormented because of one man's cruelty and his company's willingness to look the other way.

that fascinated me and fucked me up a little, especially given my own childhood experiences of physical pain and neglect/abuse at the hands of adults charged with providing a safe environment for me. the theme of not being heard while encased in a torturous body really got my sad little ass.

my patience with scott's decisions to forgo logical linear storytelling in pursuit of "spooky vibes" waned as the games continued, though, and once sister location came out and blasted the original game's dingy forgotten rotten robot shtick out of the water with an underground facility housing a faceplate-having tube-monster 7-foot birthday clown girl for "birthday rentals," my ever-increasing malcontent with the cartoonish designs and limp, vague plot that seemed only to be stumbling AWAY from what gave the first game its charm (aside from its unique-at-the-time game mechanics) completely boiled over. that's sooner than most people, i think -- i didn't actually hate fnaf world that much. in my opinion it's far from having the ugliest designs in the franchise. and even if i thought the “nightmare” animatronics looked stupid, the crying child’s home situation was sympathetic.

in conclusion, scott cawthon bad, fnaf bad, fnaf 1 good. if you want disturbing "childhood interrupted" horror and you've managed to avoid fnaf for this long, i beg you to look elsewhere. where? i don't know; i actually dislike a lot of modern internet horror because it's recently taken its cues from the fnaf franchise, i think, so...uh, good luck out there. maybe consider r/submechanophobia or something in the meantime.