ANIMATION ANECDOTES
November 1, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

Eating at Bullwinkles

Suspended Animation Extra

As an uncle with two nieces and two nephews I am quite familiar with Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlors with its barely edible pizza, pitchers of soda and noisy arcade games.

However, one of my regrets is that I was never able to take them to enjoy a more upscale but similar experience with Rocky, Bullwinkle and their friends. Of course, they weren’t even born when Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘N’ Fun restaurant was at its prime and weren’t familiar with the Jay Ward classic cartoons.

Not much has been written about Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘N’ Fun restaurants except for some anecdotal memories so I am going to try to share what little I know about them and maybe readers of this site have more information.

Family Fun Centers was an indoor/outdoor amusement company started by twin brothers John Huish and Jim Huish in 1974 and featured outside activites including a go-cart track, batting cages, bumper boats and eighteen holes of miniature golf.

Starting in 1983 some of the locations started including an indoor Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘N Fun restaurant location attached to the outdoor venue.

Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of the video game company Atari, had a dream to open an interactive family entertainment restaurant that would combine dining with the feeling of being at a carnival. He wanted to expand video arcades beyond just adults and teenagers to a more kid friendly atmosphere.

Al Kilgore decor!

His first idea was a pizza parlor (because of how quickly and cheaply the food could be made) with talking beer barrels.

However, he was inspired by Walt Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Country Bear Jamboree to include a character audio-animatronics show all produced by his in-house staff on a stage at the end of the dining area.

He had ordered a costume that he thought was a coyote but it turned out to actually be a grey rat with a snout and buck teeth. So instead of his first choice of Coyote Pizza and then Rick Rat’s Pizza, he was convinced to theme the restaurant to a mouse who would love the cheese on pizza.

The first Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre opened on May 17, 1977 in San Jose, California and was immediately popular. It expanded into additional locations and inspired a host of imitators including Showbiz Pizza Place with mascot bear Billy Bob Brockali.

Voice artist Paul Frees who supplied memorable voices for Jay Ward characters suffered later in his life from multiple ailments, including arthritis and diabetes, and had complained about constant pain.

A Bullwinkle token

Three years before his death, he was looking for other sources of income so pitched the idea to Jay Ward to license his characters for a similar pizza entertainment parlor featuring the Ward characters.

Ward and Peter Piech licensed their characters to these pizza parlors so in addition to Rocky and his friends, the characters in the restaurant included Tooter Turtle, Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog.

Ward was ambivalent about the idea but decided to go along with it since he was closing his studio the following year (1984). He was still enjoying operating the Dudley Do-Right Emporium on Sunset Boulevard next to his studio that had opened in 1971.

The wide variety of eclectic Ward themed merchandise was popular to those who were able to find the shop open. The gift shops in the restaurants offered the opportunity to sell similar items like the “Wossamotta U(niversity)” sweatshirts and Bullwinkle watches as well as other items unique to the location.

Bill Scott wrote the scripts and songs for the shows that would be performed every fifteen to thirty minutes. In between the stage shows, there was a water fountain show with color lasers in front of the red curtain to entertain patrons either waiting or eating their food.

Scott and June Foray who had provided the voices for the characters in the original cartoons returned to Jennifudy Studios on May 21, 1982 to record the tracks along with Corey Burton who filled in re-creating some voices.

The audio-animatronics were built by former Walt Disney Company Imagineers who had opened their own company, Only Animated Design and Display Company located in North Hollywood.

Bullwinkle’s Family Food ‘N Fun opened its first location in Santa Clara, California in 1983. The exterior was designed like a log cabin to reference Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties and the serving staff initially was dressed in Mountie uniforms and hats. Outside were fifteen to twenty foot high character totem poles with Bullwinkle and his extended antlers at the top.

The interior walls and support beams were made of logs and the floor had red carpeting. The dining area had long wooden tables with wooden benches.

The menus were filled with cartoon illustrations of the characters. There were such food items as Bullwinkle’s Famoose Pizza and Rocky’s Remarkable Burgers. Desserts included Rocky’s Road, Frostbite Falls, Snidely Whiplash’s Sundae and Bullwinkle’s Mousse.

While waiting for the food, there were arcade games with brass game tokens featuring the image of Bullwinkle the Moose.

The Eagle’s Nest stood ten to twelve feet tall and looked like a gun powder keg and was usually reserved for birthdays. The restaurant like Chuck E. Cheese was very popular for birthday parties.

Dudley’s Den was an area like a sports bar with a big screen television to watch sports. A photo opportunity inside the restaurant had a life-sized Snidely Whipslash figure in a cage.

The audio-animatronics show featured Bullwinkle sitting center stage with a banjo. Rocky stood next to him with a wooden homemade cello. Up above the proscenium arch were the faces of Boris Badenov and Natasha who talked carved into a totem pole. On small side stages were full figures of Dudley Do-Right and Underdog.

By the end of the 1990s, the restaurants were failing for a variety of reasons and the Huish family sold out their interests. Some of the places became Boomers.

The restaurant underwent several extensive renovations over the decades but three still exist in Wilsonville, Orgeon; Edmonds, Washington and Tukwila, Washington.

Even more of a mystery was Gadgets that opened in 1984 in Long Island that had audio-animatronics Looney Tunes characters putting on a twenty-minute show in a restaurant venue. Apparently, there were several different shows. There were other locations in Springfield, Ohio, Baltimore, Maryland, and Ocean, New Jersey, Niles, Ohio and Westberry, New York.

Mel Blanc provided all the voices for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird and Sylvester, Henery Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil and other audio-animatronics created by Advanced Animations of Southbury, Conn.

21 Comments

  • I suppose if you removed the outer skin from an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese robot, it would look like a metal-munching moon mouse….

    There’s a Bullwinkle’s Pizza and Pasta in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, apparently unaffiliated with the chain discussed in this post. They don’t use any of the Jay Ward cartoon characters in their décor or advertising. Wossamotta them?

    When I was at Indiana University in the ’80s, the main gay bar in Bloomington was called Bullwinkle’s. It was in a former Loyal Order of Moose lodge building, hence the name. There was a nightclub upstairs from Bullwinkle’s called the Second Story where my girlfriend and I used to go dancing. I have no idea whether Jay Ward ever knew about it — this was around the time that his studio closed down — but I rather doubt it.

  • The Westbury (not Westberry) location of Gadgets was the Long Island location. I remember going there once. It didn’t last long. It has been several restaurants since. Today, it’s a Buffalo Wild Wings.

  • Hmmmm… not exactly on-model.

    But then again, neither was Popeye’s Fried Chicken.

    In other news… Candice Adams! — ROWRRRRRR!

  • There was a Bullwinkle’s restaurant here in Myrtle Beach – or maybe still is. I’ve never been to it as I don’t have kids. I do love cartoon themed restrurants – especially when I was younger.

  • 40 years ago next month I celebrated my 15th birthday at the original Santa Clara, California location! There is still a location today in Wilsonville, Oregon.

  • You can credit Covid-19 for this: Bullwinkles is coming back (to Southern California, anyway)! The Huish family didn’t sell off their land to the Boomers! chain of fun centers, they leased out the land the parks rest upon. Boomers! declared bankruptcy, due to the pandemic, and the land lease was reverted to the Huish’s. Boomers! had gutted the animatronics shows under their reign, so they won’t be coming back, but the characters will be festooned upon the walls and menu items. And although the Wilsonville, OR location serves alcohol, it’s not likely the Upland or San Diego, CA locations will do likewise (maybe beer and wine).

  • Whoa, they mixed Total Television characters in with Jay Ward creations?

  • Wow! Is that Hoppity Hooper, the red-headed stepchild of the Jay Ward oeuvre, I see there?

    • Yes, as soon as I clicked “Post Comment”, I thought, “GREEN! Green-headed stepchild!”
      Really need an “Edit” feature on here. 🙂

  • That Underdog in the photo at the top is kind of like expecting a coyote and getting a rat instead. Yes, it’s clearly a cartoon dog, but could they not find ANY visual reference for what Underdog really looks like? It does seem kind of sad that Paul Frees pitched the idea to Jay Ward, but he ended up not being one of the voices they used.

  • Thanks for posting the videos of the restaurants, Jim. Well, now I’ve seen everything, BAM! The writing in the Rocky and Bullwinkle segments was so poor I couldn’t believe Bill Scott had anything to do with them. Getting people to sing along to a song that nobody ever heard of in a restaurant, in complicated harmony, would be IMPOSSIBLE. I didn’t hear anybody singing, did you? The Looney Tunes characters in the Gadgets restaurant looked bad and moved worse. What a waste of Mel Blanc’s precious time and talents! It’s a mercy that these “shows” died out.

    • I didn’t think the writing was that bad. I did like the “Moose Code” joke that was used in another show.

      Also, Gadget has some interesting tricks on their Looney Tune show:
      1. There are multiple Speedy figures used in the show to make him appear to “speed from part of the stage to another.

      2. Sometimes when Daffy’s curtains close and a gunshot is heard, he can be turned around, revealing another Daffy figure with his bill shot off!

  • What a crossover story that would have made: Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog, etc., meet the genuine Jay Ward characters, with only the Gamma animation studio in common. Worthy of Commander McBragg, who could have claimed to have brought them together. Only Tooter Turtle can’t handle it, so he keeps yelling for Mr. Wizard to get him out of it. And I guess the great Hans Conreid was no longer around to include Uncle Waldo in the fun.

    And how come nobody can draw these characters anymore?

    • Very funny. You’ve outlined a tantalizing crossover story… Can’t some enterprising underground cartoonist develop that idea?

  • An animated related fact about Chuck E. Cheese: The current voice of the rodent (he was a rat before he was a mouse) is Jaret Reddick, the lead for the band Bowling for Soup that did the theme song for “Phineas and Ferb”.

  • That brief mania for franchises with animatronics assumed the existing technology was robust, easy to maintain, and economical. And that the limited movements of a figure you saw for a few seconds on a ride would suffice for one doing extended routines for a seated audience.

    My memory of Chuck E. Cheese is the characters looking and moving like old battery-powered toys. Maybe they were robust and all, but they got boring very fast. On a years-later visit noticed they had added monitors showing the characters singing and dancing (via costumed performers) to supplement the now antique-looking “live” show.

    You’ll note that Disney management deployed serious animatronics very sparingly outside of actual attractions, and hardly at all outside the theme parks with their supporting staff and resources. It’s probable they would have placed a figure or two in the early, lavish Disney Stores if it were as practical as the various restauranteurs thought.

  • And if you make it to Alaska, be sure to check out Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor. Google Bullwinkle’s in Alaska and check out all the fun you can have! I was there a few years ago while on a Disney Cruise to Alaska, and enjoyed their lunch time pizza buffet!

  • Later showtapes for Bullwinkle’s were produced by Bill Broughton at his studio in Glendale, California. The songs include Bullwinkle’s Ballad (Be Happy) in which Bill Broughton provided a deep singing voice for Bullwinkle, Let’s Be Happy, Fill Your Basket, South of the Border, Wossamatta U., We Brake for Squirrels, Hot Dog, and Statehood for Mooselyvania.

    • Bill Broughton passed away in 2019. He migrated to Australia around the same time I did, and while I didn’t know him (we were in different states), we had some mutual friends. His brother Bruce Broughton composed the main title theme to “Tiny Toon Adventures” as well as the soundtrack to “The Rescuers Down Under” and other Disney productions. Like many top brass players, they came from a Salvation Army background.

  • I was at the opening week of Bullwinkles in Santa Clara. The design of the building, show features and overall theming was amazing. I couldn’t figure out why it was 8n Santa Clara, it was that good. This was as good as anything Disney had out, and the Pizza was pretty good too. This place was fun to go to for adults as well as kids. The show was really well produced, funny and engaging. Went back for years, and I was sad to see it close.
    I should also say that the mix of Jay Ward and Total Television characters worked together seemlessly. I should also mention that this was in the early days of Silicon Valley. Intel, Apple, HP were minutes away. And Chuckie Cheese was truthfully, a nightmare.

  • I’d like to add one additional note. I think the limited animation of the Jay Ward productions lent well to the Bullwinkle Pizza animatronics, which also had limited movements. But, The well sculpted animatronic characters really captured the style of the cartoons. So, similar to these shows the combination of great voice talents, script, music, sound effects and carefully sequenced animated movement worked perfectly together.

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