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FAMILY

Dinner and a Show, Kiddie Style

Cartoonsville Eaterie in Brentwood combines a restaurant with arcade games, an indoor playground and live entertainment.

January 08, 1998|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cartoonsville Eaterie and Funhouse, newly opened in tony Brentwood, is the newest in a long line of theme restaurants that includes Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Country Star Hollywood and others. The difference is, this one is aimed at a very small audience. And we don't mean small in numbers.

The concept: Combine a full-service restaurant with arcade games, a playground and a live variety show. What it all adds up to is nirvana for the pint-sized toddler-to-preteen crowd, and more than a few tension headaches for mom and dad.

The restaurant's Harlequin-print high-backed chairs and candy-colored tablecloths are reminiscent of the "Pee Wee's Playhouse" set. Other fixtures are custom-designed cartoon-print carpeting and TVs that show cartoons for kids. A state-of-the-art stereo system pumps contemporary rock music and kids' favorites into the air.

On display are antique Snoopys, 1950s robots and Barbie dolls, vintage GI Joe, Donny and Marie lunch boxes and old animation cels. These curios will appeal as much to mom and dad as to junior.

The menu (prepared by a former head chef of the Hard Rock Cafe) is pretty basic. Pizzas, pastas, burgers and salads are priced under $10, with kids' menu items in the $5 range. There are juices and pink lemonade to drink and sundaes and s'mores for dessert.

A wonderful balloon artist (technically called a "twister") hops from table to table twisting elaborate creations from Little Mermaid to Barney.

But the real trick seems to be keeping excited kids at the table long enough to eat a few bites before heading to the main attraction: the Funhouse.

Part of this is accomplished by the fact that kids cannot enter the Funhouse unaccompanied by an adult. This not only helps keep some semblance of order to the place, but is a good safety precaution.

The Funhouse is composed of a playground and gaming area. The multilevel playground is really a maze of colored hamster tubes for kids to climb through.

Older kids seem to have the most fun on the playground equipment. "This place is awesome," shrieks Chantelle Field, 11, of Calabasas. "I've been here four times already."

But since each of the tubes is suspended in the air (some from heights of up to 20 feet) and spring-loaded to sway and bounce when walked through, some little kids may be frightened. "My 4-year-old got a little scared up there," said Juliet Giglio of Pacific Palisades. "It's too high and too dark."

That's not to say the playground area isn't safe. No shoes are allowed and the floor is padded. In fact, safety is a big priority at Cartoonsville, where every door is staffed by a security guard and parents and kids are rubber stamped with the same identification number at the entrance. No child can leave the building without an adult with the same identification number.

Arcade games such as Skeeball and Cyclone are another feature of the Funhouse area. Tokens are 25 cents each and most games cost from one to two tokens. Kids can win tickets, which they then redeem for prizes, squirt guns and the like.

Live entertainment is another of Cartoonsville's offerings. It consists of the eatery's own cartoon characters, King Iggy, Ballerina Betty and others, performing songs and dances along with wildly dressed waiters and waitresses who get in on the act. The show is not elaborate; we're not talking Disney here. But on a recent visit, young birthday party guests were more than impressed by King Iggy and his antics, happy to clap and sing along, and march through the restaurant in a parade behind him.

Birthday parties are big business at Cartoonsville. Regular restaurant seating does not begin until 11:30 a.m. daily, but birthday parties can be booked as early as 10 a.m. This is quite a deal since it means the birthday party can essentially have the restaurant all to itself from 10-11:30 a.m.

Packages begin at $19.95 per person, which includes invitations, food, a Hansen's cake, game tokens and party favors for each guest. But plan well ahead. Cartoonsville is already booked for weekend parties for the next six months.

The retail store rivals a small toy store with Hello Kitty products and school supplies by Sanrio, and a large selection of the latest Barbie dolls. There is a also a complete line of Cartoonsville brand clothing for adults and children including denim overalls, terry-cloth robes, baseball caps and soccer shirts--all reminders of just how ambitious the owners are.

The Brentwood Cartoonsville, which opened in November, is the first of 12 U.S. locations and one Tokyo-based site planned for the next two years, according to co-owners Steven J. Scarduzio and John M. Rosenfield. Rosenfield is the former curator and director of the Hard Rock Cafe.

Having a firm lock on the young audience, the two restaurateurs are now trying to bill Cartoonsville as a place "for the kid in all of us." Soon there will be a full-service bar opening within the restaurant, where TVs will broadcast sports events.

But judging from the frazzled looks on parents' faces on a recent visit, Cartoonsville should really count on children to be its bread and butter.

"It's a great place for kids," said Leslie Friedman of Brentwood. "But people should be aware it's very loud and hectic."

BE THERE

Cartoonsville, 12121 Wilshire Blvd. at Bundy, Brentwood, (310) 207-6070.

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