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Old image of Chuck E. Cheese given the pink slip for hipper looking mascot

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Chuck E. Cheese has been given the pink slip.

The company that operates the chain of children's pizza restaurants is retiring the giant rodent's outdated image — and the man who voiced its character for nearly two decades. CEC Entertainment Inc. says it plans to launch a national ad campaign Thursday with a revamped image of Chuck E. Cheese as a hip, electric-guitar-playing rock star.

It's just the latest makeover for the 35-year-old mascot, which started life as a New Jersey rat who sometimes carried a cigar.

CEC Entertainment, based in Irving, Texas, is struggling to revive sales at its more than 500 pizza restaurants, which offer games, prizes and a musical variety show.

In May, CEC said revenue at its locations open at least a year fell 4.2 per cent in the first quarter and lowered its outlook for the year.

According to ShowBizPizza.com, a Chuck E. Cheese fan site, the man who voiced the mascot in commercials since 1993 learned of his replacement only after coming across "Chuck's Hot New Single" online and realizing it was sung by someone else. The fan site late last week published a Facebook post by Duncan Brannan, the mascot's former voice.

Brannan could not be reached for comment. But in the post, he writes that part of his assignment when he first took on the role was to transform Chuck E. Cheese from "a joke-telling, sometime off-colour New Jersey rat" to a lovable, mainstream mouse.

He notes that there were various signs in recent months that suggested he was being pushed out, but that he was assured by the company that he was still the voice of Chuck E.

The Facebook post was republished by The Dallas Observer this week.

CEC Entertainment says that Brannan wasn't fired but that it simply "chose to utilize new voice talent."

The new Chuck E. Cheese that launches this week will be voiced by Jaret Reddick, the lead singer for the pop-punk bank Bowling for Soup. The Chuck E. Cheese Facebook page now shows a silhouette of a cartoon mouse playing a guitar. The details of Chuck E.'s new image will be unveiled this week.

The first Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre location opened in 1977 in San Jose, Calif. According to ShowBizPizza.com, the idea for Chuck E. came from a generic mascot costume that was acquired by the founder, Nolan Bushnell, who also co-founded Atari and Pong. Executives originally considered calling the restaurant "Rick Rat's Pizza" but a PR agency figured a rat would be a bad mascot for a pizza chain.

The name Chuck E. Cheese was selected because it downplayed the mascot's species and forced people to smile when they said it, according to the site.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

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