Review: The Rock-afire Explosion


I remember when I was still small, going into my favorite pizza place for a birthday party or something and seeing that the animatronic band that played onstage was different, I shrugged it off and continued on my way; little did I know the change I had simply shrugged off was a world changing event for others and those others are the focus of the documentary The Rock-afire Explosion. In the southern United States during the 1980’s Showbiz Pizza was an institution for children looking for pizza and entertainment in the same location, the centerpiece of the restaurant chain was the animatronic animal band, The Rock-afire Explosion. For many this band was a huge part of their childhood that they refuse to let go of no matter what others may think.

The film focuses most of it’s attention on two people in this story; the first is Aaron Fletcher, an engineer who was responsible for creating the characters and the show. They tell his tragic story in great detail; from his career high when the anthropomorphic band was in it’s heyday to his struggle with the company when they merged with Chuck E. Cheese in the 1990’s and got rid of his characters in order to make way for the new ones. Fletcher refused to give up his fight, retaining the rights to the characters he fought to the bitter end all the while his once great company crumbled around him. The other character is Chris Thrash who actually lives in the neighboring town to my hometown in Phenix City, Alabama. Thrash’s story is a bit more hopeful, like others in this documentary his nostalgia for the band was great, but his was so great that he saved up his money for so long that he was able to buy the robot band from Fletcher and set them up in his basement. Though not shown in the movie, he actually did try to reignite the passion for the chain by opening his own Showbiz Pizza in Phenix City to little success. Now the Mountain Dew addicted man keeps the mechanical band operational and uses them to entertain others and share his love for a great part of his youth. It even covers how Thrash has sought to reignite the passion others who grew up with this musical memory may have by posting his band’s performances of Youtube.

This documentary, seemingly about adults who refuse to let go of childish things actually touches on a deeper idea; what’s wrong with being passionate about something. Thrash and other Rock-afire fans are shown as people who are passionate about what they enjoy, and I do not see anything wrong with it. It’s acceptable for wrestling fans to pay $50 to watch Wrestlemania and comic book fans can go to conventions; but if you’re passionate about something much more obscure you have to be creative in how to enjoy it. The way I see it if get entertainment out of something no matter how strange or different it may be, then so be it as long as you’re happy; and ultimately this film seems to be a celebration of just that. I leave you now with the most popular video of Chris Thrash’s.