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Associated Press
The new Chuck E. Cheese has a new look, a new guitar and a new voice.

Chuck E. missing cheese in rebirth

My daughter may be getting a little too old to want parties at Chuck E. Cheese, but she’s still young enough to feel a little protective of Chuck E. Cheese.

After watching a TV commercial featuring the latest revamp of the titular spokesmouse, she gave her succinct three-word review: “I hate it.”

CEC Entertainment Inc., the Irvine, Texas-based owner of the chain of pizza-serving arcades and game-offering pizzerias known as Chuck E. Cheese, decided recently that its marketing mascot of the same name needed some freshening up.

“(Chuck E. Cheese) is ditching the backward baseball cap and fingerless gloves and re-emerging as a rock star with a guitar,” intoned the Los Angeles Times

The new Chuck, voiced by Jaret Reddick of the pop-punk band Bowling for Soup, is thinner and dingier looking and sings about as well as Reddick does – which is to say, not well at all.

In the new Chuck E. Cheese theme song, Reddick entreats children to, “Say cheese; it’s funner,”

I think I speak for all children-of-all-ages when I reply, “We’ll take it under advisement.”

Now, there are those of us who believe there is no problem that can’t be fixed with soup, and there are others who believe that there’s nothing that can’t be ruined by Bowling for Soup.

I won’t tell you which camp I fall into.

What I will tell you is that I am one of those rare parents who has always enjoyed the hours I have spent at Chuck E. Cheese.

My love of video arcades will survive the closing of the last video arcade, and my daughter once believed there must be some real magic behind the animatronic Chuck.

Of course, defending the artistic integrity of any incarnation of Chuck may be a little like defending the artistic integrity of paintings on velvet.

But every so often, a columnist has to muster up the courage to come forward and shed some black light on an unsolved C.A.M. (Crime Against Mascot).

Most of the articles about this revamp have pretty much taken the information in the news release at face value, declining to challenge CEC Entertainment’s assertions that the old Chuck was “outdated” and that the new Chuck is “hip.”

I might go so far as to argue that gazing upon the old Chuck is like holding up a mirror to America, as long as everyone declines to challenge my C.A.S. (Crimes Against Subtlety).

The old Chuck was chubby and goofy and wore ill-fitting clothes handed down to him by his older brother, Spray.

Sure, Chuck’s shirts and hats looked monogrammed, but didn’t you just know in your heart of hearts that the “C” stood for Costco?

Chuck was a child of the recession, not to mention the period we’re in now, the Anguish Formerly Known as Recession.

The old Chuck seemed to think of himself as a pop singer. The new Chuck carries a guitar.

I watch a lot of kids’ television these days and one thing I never see is a guitar.

What I do see is an unending and seemingly inexhaustible array of characters – animated and fleshy – who want to be pop singers.

Do most kids in the demographic that CEC Entertainment most covets even know what a guitar is?

I wonder how many of them could tell a guitar from a sitar. I wonder how many of them could tell a guitarist like Reddick from a sitarist like Ravi Shanker.

Incidentally, I think Shankar would have made a great Chuck E. Cheese.

After all, did he not once take George Harrison aside at his house in Varanasi and whisper, “Say cheese; it’s funner”?

OK, probably not.

The point is this: The new Chuck appeals to none of the people CEC Entertainment should care about pleasing – not the children who are understandably unmoved when they see a cartoon guitarist doing windmills; nor their parents, who may remember loving the old Chuck when they were kids, but who are unquestionably as sick of pop-punk music as I am.

I understand that these are tough economic times for CEC Entertainment, but they should never forget that nerdiness and dweebishness and clunkiness are part of the charm of Chuck E. Cheese.

CEC Entertainment, I implore you: Bring back the cheese!

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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