logan g. fowler looks back on one of his favorite cartoons from childhood …
“Don’t worry, Chief. I’m always on duty!”
With those words uttered, the hero sprang (no pun intended) into action, using all his inner equipment to take down the bad guys and save the day. The hero that I’m referring to is, of course, Inspector Gadget.
Launched in 1983, Inspector Gadget ran for three seasons, then went into rerun mode until the late 1990s. The hero wasn’t always the most intelligent; in fact Gadget (voiced by Don Adams, who had a knack for playing a bumbling crime-solver thanks to his role as Maxwell Smart in Get Smart ) was extremely clumsy, none too keen, and rather silly when it came to “inspecting.”
Each episode consisted of a pretty similar formula; Gadget would get notified by Chief Quimby that the evil Dr. Claw (voice by Frank Welker in the majority of the series’ episodes), accompanied by his pet, Mad Cat, was up to no good, and that the Inspector would have to foil the villain’s plans. There was much travel involved for the protagonist, but wherever he went, Gadget’s niece, Penny, and their dog, Brain, would find a way to join him. Normally Gadget would confuse Claw’s henchman (known as M.A.D. agents) for locals of the place he was visiting. No matter what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents were up to, Penny would always do the work for her uncle, while Brain would go undercover to aide Inspector Gadget, even though most of the time he would mistake the dog dressed in human clothes for a bad guy a lot of the time. But during the course of the show, Penny would use her cool computer book (something that I’d love to have in real life) to solve the case, with Dr. Claw departing from that episode’s featured locale, Quimby congratulating Gadget, and the final segment of the half hour program being a safety lesson for the kids watching at home.
But what was so gadget-y about Gadget? Well, as memory serves, his hat had a hand come out of it holding items useful for lots of situations (like an umbrella), or become a helicopter. Binoculars could also pop out of it so that he could scope out a nearby situation. On Gadget’s coat, he could pull a button in order to inflate. Being someone who fights crime, handcuffs are necessary, and they would come out of the hero’s forearm. Gadget’s hand could also become a phone, where his earpiece is the thumb and the mouthpiece is his pinky. His arms, legs, and neck all had metallic extensions that could stretch to great lengths. His feet sported skis, skates, and springs, and except for the phone (which Chief Quimby calls Gadget on), his arsenal of inner mechanics could be activated by yelling “Go Go Gadget,” followed by the gadget in question. For instance, if he wanted to use his helicopter hat, he would yell, “Go Go Gadget ‘Copter!” There were some many other gadgets that the Inspector had, but those were the basics seen the majority of the time over three seasons. Also belonging to Gadget was the Gadget mobile, which at first glance, was a short, compact car that would transform into a longer, sleeker looking racecar of sorts.
With a lot of cartoons that hit it big in the 1980s, a feature film featuring the Inspector was not too far behind. In 1999, Walt Disney Pictures released Inspector Gadget, a live action version of the cartoon. Matthew Broderick took on the role of the bumbling uncle to Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), and Dr. Claw (Rupert Everett) is completely showcased here while in the cartoon, you never got a glimpse of the character’s face (at least I don’t remember that happening; the cartoon’s action figure of the Dr. is a different story). The film provides Gadget’s origin story, and while all the major players are there (including Dabney Coleman as Chief Quimby), Broderick never matches his cartoon counterpart in looks and actions, Everett is too over the top, Brain is just a typical dog, Quimby doubts the Inspector for the whole movie, and the Gadget mobile becomes kind of annoying after a while (being it talks, something that never happened in the cartoon). While the special effects look pretty good for the time, the live action format of the cartoon fails, and my 16-year-old self (yeah, I gave it a shot based on my love for it) could not rekindle that spark for the cartoon I loved basically due to the film’s shortcomings.
But the movie interpretations didn’t stop there. A straight to home video sequel was released, and in Broderick’s place was French Stewart, who brought a touch of more Gadget to the character, but still looked nothing like him. Added to the proceedings is a female version of the inspector, named G2 (Elaine Hendrix). The basic plot line of the movie have G2 and Gadget tripping over each other while Dr. Claw (Tony Martin) tries to steal some gold, and when Gadget and G2 finally come to terms with each other, they save the day with Penny (Caitlin Wachs) and Brain, and Dr. Claw escapes.
While no better than its predecessor, the Inspector Gadget sequel featured points where it was closer to the cartoon. For instance, Dr. Claw’s face is never seen, much like that on the tv series. Also, Inspector Gadget is way goofier in this film than he was in the first, much like his counterpart in animated format. The M.A.D. logo appears on the transportation used by Dr. Claw, as M.A.D. was never referenced in the first film. All these touches impressed me; as I caught the film on the Disney Channel one night, I couldn’t help but notice the attention to detail. While the special effects seem cheesy, I dare say I appreciated the flick more than the first because of those elements. However, it’s really simplistic in plot, and the actors add nothing to the proceedings. With both films viewed, I became disappointed in Hollywood’s handling of such a simple and engaging character, but that seems to be the protocol for that type of films these days.
“I’ll get you next time, Gadget. Next time.”
With a brief run on television, two feature films, some “next generation” home-video takes on the character, and of course merchandise that still exists today (including a t-shirt that I own featured on the right), Inspector Gadget wasn’t a huge market hit, like say that of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, or Transformers. It shared a common element with those cartoons as it was released in the ’80s, but it didn’t have a massive toy line to help sell the show. It had some toys, but I was always disappointed I didn’t have more (maybe a new ebay thing to look into).
But whatever the case, Inspector Gadget was a staple of my childhood. It was zany, quirky, and definitely different, as the titular character was a human robot with organs that doubled as appliances. The movies didn’t taint my love of the cartoon, as I purchased the first volume of the program not too long ago. However, I recently passed it on to a child who loved the heck out of it when I let him view it. On that note, I own a lot of cartoons on DVD from my childhood, but Inspector Gadget was the only one I gave away to someone. Not that it wasn’t bad, but guess it was a childhood memory that I wanted to pass on a piece of my life to someone who would love it as much as I did. “This message will self destruct.”