New Mexico Military Institute graduate brings back a childhood icon
By Christina Stock
It is a sweet and sentimental journey when people look back to their childhood. It might be the memories of a toy or a family visit to an entertainment park that triggers these memories. While details are forgotten, fragments such as birthdays or holidays remain clear as time passes. For one New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI) graduate, Jared Sanchez, his favorite memory was visiting a Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant with his family. Here he met the “King.” Every year, he begged his parents to have his birthday party there, just to see his favorite singing robot. One year, the little boy returned with his family and friends to celebrate his birthday again, only to find his icon gone.
For those unfamiliar with the chain, in the ’80s and ’90s, the “King” was a 9-foot tall animatronic lion that was dressed up to mimic the human “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Elvis Presley.
During a visit for his 20th high school reunion, Sanchez reached out to the Daily Record to tell his story of finding his “Kings;” becoming a YouTube performer and being contacted by “America’s Got Talent” TV producers.
“It’s good to be back,” Sanchez said. “I usually come back every year, sometimes every two years, just to visit. It (NMMI) taught me a lot as far as ethics and integrity goes.”
Sanchez said that he was raised in Bosque Farms before joining the Institute. After graduation, he signed up to serve in the Navy.
“At 18, you want to go somewhere where it’s tropical,” he said. After his service, he decided to remain near the ocean. “I went on and became a licensed optician in the state of Florida (Tampa). That was a big feat for me. I put myself through school/college to attain that. Then I went and developed a practice management software called Opti Manager — for opticians. I never was a programming engineer, it was self-taught.”
Back when he was a kid, Sanchez said that he developed a talent of mimicking other accents. During the interview, Sanchez easily slips into the different characters and accents of people he talks about.
Sanchez said that he remembers the day when he found out that his “King” was gone as if it were today. “In 1992 — I was 11 years old — and the King was not there,” Sanchez said. “It was empty and there was a lady sweeping the floors.” He asked the woman, “Ma’am, did you move the King to another part of the restaurant?” She said, “Darlin’, they threw that thing out weeks ago. It was so broken, it was pitiful.”
Years passed and Sanchez became a student at NMMI where he first had access to computers and the internet. He remembered finding in eBay in 1998. “I would always look for it (the King); … and as the story goes, I put up a search and in 2006 it actually popped up as available. It (King) is very rare, known as the ‘Holy Grail of animatronics,’ when it comes to non-Disney, because every company destroys everything, they don’t just throw it away. But with Chuck E. Cheese, they franchised out, by franchising out and going bankrupt in 1984, a lot of those places just got bought out and that’s who bought my King. They were manufactured in 1982 and 1983,” Sanchez said.
A dream came true for Sanchez when he bought that first King, though it was in poor shape. It took him one year to reconstruct. His dream was to put up a show, but therein lay a multitude of challenges. “The metal was good, but I had to sew,” he said and chuckled. “I went and bought a sewing machine and I made Mickey Mouse-shaped hands; I bought fur fabric. It became a whole brand new King, and I still wasn’t satisfied. It needed a voice, it was horrible at first. This thing was a giant with 700 pounds — it is a pneumatic machine that is intricate and has large cylinders, and when you don’t do things right, it’ll cut your finger off and quit working.
“I had to build it from the inside out. When I got it, it was in tethers. The face structure was still good, but completely rotted. I had to learn — I didn’t know anything about pneumatics. I had the original controller, but it was a reel-to-reel. That’s how they did it back then,” Sanchez said.
He found a company specializing in Halloween animations where he got help and a modern controller. The next challenge Sanchez faced was to coordinate movement with the music.
“It is painstaking because whatever song you are going to program it to, you got to do the eyes and then you got to do the mouth. There are 18 movements per song. That’s when you are satisfied with your first round, which usually you are not. I perfected it from the eyes blinking — they move pretty darn natural, you would think there is a human in it — I love the movements and a lot of that is due to the engineering. When I am pressing that button for the cylinder to go off, in my mind, I am looking about how much air it needs to get certain moves. I am working in unison with several things, I have to program the lights also. All this, I am able to do through Hotbots (the robot animation company).”
After this first King, other owners got in touch with Sanchez, who today has four of the Kings, each one being a little different, having received a “voice” from Sanchez. One King sounds like Elvis Presley, another has a weight problem and speaks in a Southern drawl. The fourth King is still in the works and Sanchez is not yet sure which kind of character he is giving him.
One of the final steps Sanchez took before launching his new career as an entertainer, was researching the copyright. After all, he said he didn’t want to be shut down after all the hard work. “I paid an attorney in September 2018, because I couldn’t find a copyright on it. Since I essentially became the characters, and am producing, I want to make sure it’s not for nothing,” he said. According to Sanchez, he had invested over the years $50,000 in the Kings and the show. “It takes a lot to make the type of productions I make,” Sanchez said. “People just see the happily finished product, but there is a lot more. I found out it (Kings) wasn’t trademarked nor copyrighted. I filed for trademark and got it, that was a year-long thing.
“I wanted to take it to the next level,” Sanchez said. “Nobody has created something like this before, that makes it so interesting. I want to create a positive reinforcement. I stay away from politics and religion — it’s a dancing robot. I try to create a positive thing. I like to integrate autism awareness and all that stuff. I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), but there are people that have worse conditions. I am a licensed optician, a software developer and now this. Anything can happen if you put your mind to it. That’s what my message is in the videos, and to be more accepting. Everybody is special even if they have a deficiency somewhere.”
With the passion and talent, it is no surprise that the local newspaper in Tampa and a TV channel featured his show and achievements. This media attention reached the talent hunters of the TV show “America’s Got Talent,” who reached out to Sanchez.
Asked what the next step is, he said, “It is passing through the network right now, that’s what the producer told me and I don’t want to bug him too much. They told me that others will reach out to me because they look at America; to look out for ‘Australia’s Got Talent,’ ‘Romania’s Got Talent’ or ‘Japan’s Got Talent.’ If it would be a no, I would have heard it a long time ago because it’s easy to say. Everything, as it stands, looks pretty good. It would be something different for that show. Up until they emailed me, I didn’t think twice to email them. I don’t watch that much TV.”
One subject is very important to Sanchez. “This is a one-man show that is going to be eventually my full-time career,” he said. “My goal is just getting people to see it, that’s it. With anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 (subscribers), I will be able to jump ship and do it full time. I don’t do it for the money, I love doing this, doing the voices, the programming — it’s an art form,” Sanchez said.
For more information, visit thekingrobot.com, THE KING YouTube channel or email firstname.lastname@example.org.