It’s a truth universally acknowledged that animatronics are fucking creepy. No matter how charming and whimsical their family-friendly personas are, there’s no way of getting around that. Their Uncanny Valley-like movements and soulless eyes have always made even the most innocent animatronics seem like nightmare-fuel, but Five Nights at Freddy’s took that to a whole other level.
Any fear we might’ve had of animatronic, humanoid animals before has at least quadrupled since the Five Nights at Freddy’s games exploded onto the scene. And the Five Nights at Freddy’s new movie based on these violent, evil animatronics only makes this threat seem more real.
So, as the video game movie brings the likes of Freddy Fazbear to live-action, we dug into some of the inspiration surrounding Five Nights at Freddy’s. Is it based on a true story? Well, the answer is a bit more complicated than that.
As we know, the FNAF animatronics (which possess the souls of murdered children, by the way) were originally designed as a form of entertainment for Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. The likes of Bonnie, Foxy, and Chica could be found entertaining the kids as part of an on-stage, springlocked band, with Freddy Fazbear as lead singer.
But an animatronic band of friendly animals in a themed children’s pizza place isn’t an entirely fictional concept. Since 1977, popular family pizza chain Chuck E. Cheese has had its own animatronic band, including Chuck on lead vocals, a guitar-playing dog (Jasper T Jowels), and a proud moustachio’d pizza man (Pasqually P. Pieplate) on drums. Originally dubbed ‘The Pizza Makers,’ the robotic trio soon became a five-piece, with chicken cheerleader Helen Henny and purple monster Mr Munch joining the mix.
The band was renamed Munch’s Make Believe Band, and from then on, the animatronics would entertain patrons every hour and a half. This went on until 2017 when the group and animatronics as a whole were phased out in favor of a dancefloor and a rebrand. Well, that’s what they say. The fact these animatronics were deeply unsettling to look at probably played a part in the decision to phase them out, and let’s face it — the idea of them being nightmare fuel isn’t exactly far-fetched.
So, it’s pretty obvious that a twisted version of Munch’s Make Believe Band was at the forefront of game creator Scott Cawthorne’s mind when he set out to create the first FNAF game. But the similarities don’t stop there. Fortunately, Chuck E. Cheese never had their own Bite of ’87 scenario (their animatronics never had springlocks), but a couple of disturbing events have led to the FNAF fandom drawing parallels.
In 2012, the parents of a three-year-old girl were horrified to learn via local news that she was missing. The youngster had slipped back into a Chuck E. Cheese after finding a token once the rest of her group had left, and was stranded in the restaurant without her parents even realizing she was gone until 11pm.
She was returned to her family safe and well, and while she chilled with the animatronics after hours, she wasn’t left alone with them — police and restaurant staff waited with her, too. Still, with Afton’s tendency to lure kids away from their parents with charming animatronics and lone child Gregory being the protagonist of Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach, the similarities are clear.
The other event fans like to link to FNAF is a 1993 incident at a Chuck E. Cheese in Colorado. On December 14, a disgruntled ex-employee returned to the establishment and shot five people in Chuck E. Cheese — with four of those five ultimately succumbing to their injuries. Although the people murdered were adults, many video essays and theories point out that the number of people shot in this real-life tragedy is the same number of Missing Children possessing animatronics in the first FNAF game.
Yet, despite these superficial similarities, Cawthorne has never confirmed whether his games were based on these two events. But it makes sense as to why the fans would make these connections, and either way, you only have to look at FNAF to see that the Chuck E. Cheese animatronics as a whole were a clear influence.
Ironically, in an interview with Indie Game Magazine, Cawthorne said his main inspiration behind Five Nights at Freddy’s was actually spite. He said he was inspired to make the horror franchise after a largely negative response to his family-friendly game, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co.
“I’d made a family-friendly game about a beaver before this, but when I tried to put it online it got torn apart by a few prominent reviewers,” he recalled. “People said that the main character looked like a scary animatronic animal. I was heartbroken and was ready to give up on game-making. Then one night something just snapped in me, and I thought to myself: ‘I bet I can make something a lot scarier than that.'”
Nearly a decade on from the first FNAF game’s release, the franchise has become a global phenomenon. And now it’s getting its own horror movie! So, I think it’s fair to say Cawthorne got his own back on those who doubted him.
For more on FNAF, check out our guides to the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie release date and Five Nights at Freddy’s movie cast. Or, if you want to dive deeper into the world of horror, you might be interested in our listicles detailing some of the best movies in the entire genre, including our guides to the best slasher movies, best body horror movies, and best monster movies.