The Rock-afire Explosion: 3 of 5 stars

Sentinel Staff Writer

Showbiz Pizzas used to dot the landscape, offering a noisy dinner, games and a show to kids in a pre-Chuck E. Cheese American South.

And the highlight of any evening at a Showbiz was a little piece of Orlando magic. The Rock-afire Explosion was the animatronic band of critters that “performed” original tunes and dazzled and occasionally “weirded out” kids who came to see them. They were the brainchild of Orlando’s Creative Engineering, an Inventions-R-Us firm located downtown and run by Aaron Fechter.

But Showbiz was absorbed into Chuck E. nearly 20 years ago and the Explosion’s days of rocking seemed over. Not for everybody, apparently. Filmmaker Brett Whitcomb found die-hard fans who never quite got over seeing Fats Geronimo (a gorilla) sing at the keyboard, or Beach Bear’s guitar work or Billy Bob, the hillbilly bear bass player. They’re buying the remaining animatronics (Fechter is a real packrat) and setting up shows in their homes. Give “number one fan” Chris Thrash a rural Alabama drawl and a Mountain Dew addiction and he can’t help but be the object of fun.

It’s a little patronizing, as such films about obsessed fans often are. There’s not enough on the tech of it all, the music that Fechter and his team has to master to make this dream work. When we’re treated to a lovely little “Goodbye” ditty at the film’s close, we understand the connection (sort of) fans feel for this mechanized musical ensemble. It needed to come earlier.

Screening at: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 29, Enzian.