Tuesday, July 17, 2012

IS Cheese funner?

I'm not particularly passionate about Chuck E. Cheese's, I'll admit, but recent developments certainly merit comment.
If you're reading this, you probably already know about the radical redesign that their now-iconic mascot has been given.

My personal opinion is peculiar, really, and I have to say: I do actually like him. He's cute, the animation is nice, the subtle touches that make him more mouse-like, such as the fur texture, his animal-like lips, and his translucent ears appeal to the animal-lover in me. He's bright-eyed and energetic, which more closely matches the kids he's supposed to appeal to, and making him a guitarist more accurately portrays what kids are into, as opposed to the fairly narrow world of extreme sports. Music is vastly more universal.
Pop punk, for whatever reason, seems to be a popular style for kids' music. Hiring Bowling For Soup to do the jingle makes me convinced that they're hoping it'll have the same appeal as the Phineas & Ferb theme song, to see if lightning will strike twice.

But it's a little more complicated than that.

To be honest, I never liked the design Chuck E. had the previous decade. Recently, I've come to appreciate Duncan Brannan's voice work (especially his- quite frankly- beautiful singing), but the whole skater thing seemed lame to me when it was new and it still seems lame now. The purple and green color scheme just screams '90s RADICAL DUDE even though they introduced the look in the early 2000s.
I never got much of a chance to really become intimately acquainted with the restaurants, though, due to budget limitations, so it's hard for me to get angry about it.

So while I believe the new design is an improvement on all levels, there's only one major problem: it's WAAAAYYYY too drastic and sudden.
It'd really only work 100% if you had never seen Chuck E. before in your life, or never cared or liked what he looked like before until now. Within the context of a 30-year-plus gradual evolution, it feels like we're losing something, and I'm sure there are many people who're outraged and/or saddened.
I'm particularly concerned about the kids. Let's say you were introduced to Chuck E. as a five-year-old three years ago, and you grew to love him. As an eight-year-old (a rocky age, no doubt), you now suddenly have to deal with this new-fangled CG thingumywhatter, and possibly never see the character you loved ever again. Wouldn't that make you cry? Wouldn't that make you never want to go back there ever again?

There's also the matter of updating the restaurants to incorporate the new design, something pointed out by other fans. It's gonna take thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of designing new animatronics, recording shows, replacing signs and building the animatronics and walk-around costumes. It's not as if they can just replace Chuck E.'s hat and outfit like before.
And then there's Chuck E.'s new size- he's now the size of a real mouse. Are they gonna make new animatronics this size? I seriously doubt it- the only animatronic of comparable size is the interactive Remy from Ratatouille they're using in Epcot. That wouldn't be visible from a stage, and the walk-around costumes aren't gonna be that size anyway. It's sort of like how Mickey is only three feet tall in the cartoons, but it takes a five foot person to wear the costumes- you just accept it. But I suppose if Chip and Dale can be the size of a small adult in the Disney parks, Chuck E. can do the same.

I'm reminded of a previous, notorious attempt to modernize a beloved, iconic cartoon character: in 1955, Disney attempted to update Mickey Mouse's design, and used his new look in a commercial for Nash cars:
The response was devastating for Walt- he soon received a letter from a heartbroken child, who wanted the old Mickey back again. (The kid also apparently had the absurd notion that modern art was communist, but that's besides the point.) They never tried using that design again.
When the team behind Epic Mickey attempted a thinner, taller, less-rounded Mickey decades later, they too received a negative response from test audiences- "Don't mess with the mouse," one tester said.

Why doesn't this apply to Chuck E. Cheese? Maybe it does, and maybe they'll drop the new design like New Coke. These sort of 180ยบ changes never work. In some ways it's unfortunate, since the new look, standing on its own and out of context, is a very strong character design.
Chuck E. certainly is incredibly different from his original personality; a sleazy, deliberately hokey and cynical cigar-chomping shark-of-a-rat- and he was once a rat, mind you- who is now a friendly, playful, good-natured mouse of a much younger age, but this was a gradual change.

It's like if you jumped from Garfield circa 1985 to the live-action movies. I don't think the new Chuck E. Cheese is going to catch on, unless we're all so complacent that we'll buy pizza from any talking rodent.

UPDATE: Unless I'm missing something, I have to say- audiences certainly are apathetic.