Like many kids in the early 1980s, I remember the Inspector Gadget franchise pretty fondly. While it lacked the fantastical elements I craved in my daily He-Man fix and the over-the-top do-gooder ways of Superfriends on the weekends, it was always a treat to visit Metro City’s bionic crime fighter, his niece and the true “brains” behind the operation; Brain the dog.
Naturally over time, the charms of the show faded to the recesses of memory and when rumors of the 1999 live-action version began to circulate, I was immediately doubt-stricken. To me the whole Inspector Gadget concept was birthed on the principles of cartoonism: The laws of physics are intermittent at best, bombs are always of the black cherry (with lit wick) variety, dogs (well one in particular) walk upright and do their best to talk- it just wasn’t the type of stuff made to be taken seriously.
Well of course the movie came and went and somehow so did a sequel but the true vibe of the cartoon seemed doomed to fade into absolute obscurity. When, in 2005 it was announced a computer generated animated feature film would be released once again centering on the good Inspector and his pals, some hope was restored.
After finally having had to enjoy the film, I have to say that fans of the original incarnation will certainly find much more to be pleased about here than they would have in either of the live action incarnations.
For starters, this piece was created by Canada’s Mainframe Entertainment. If the name doesn’t ring any bells, rest assured these guys were doing the CG cartoon thing even back when Pixar was primarily a software company. They pioneered the format with their show Reboot in the early 90s then continued to do their thing steadily throughout the years: Transformers Beast Wars & Beast Machines, Max Steel, a dozen Barbie and Hot Wheels direct-to-dvd CG pieces and even a full-length feature designed to keep Pixar and DreamWorks honest in 2008 (The Nutty Professor). All told, they’ve been busy!
The 67-minute movie actually borrows a few elements from the live-action movie version of the mythos (like the talking Gadgetmobile and scientist love interest for Penny) but the narrative is undeniably inspired from the original cartoon. The pacing is brisk and the silliness of the absent minded Inspector gets underway literally within the first couple of minutes of the film.
The story centers on Dr. Claw escaping from MC Pen with a little assistance from the hilariously Scottish henchman Bombaboy, leaving a crater in the earth where once existed a maximum security prison. While scoured the scene in typical Gadget fashion, the Inspector finds minimal clues to Claw’s whereabouts (though evidence is a plenty) and instead uncovers an un-hatched dinosaur egg.
Penny and the scientist Looney deduce it must belong to a long-extinct species called “Iguana Giganto”; which immediately sends Gadget on a campaign to arrest as many pet Iguanas as possible. Newly introduced character, alien obsessed Mayor Morty Markumr, views the discovery as a sure-fire tourist attraction and the newly freed Dr. Claw realizes a flying dinosaur could be precisely the type of minion he’s been lacking all these long years.
The egg hatches, a metal eating dinosaur emerges and sheer chaos ensues. Rest assured, if this all sounds silly- it certainly is! But like I discussed earlier in this critique, such silliness has always been the cornerstone of the Inspector Gadget experience. Fortunately the formula still works here, even after all these years.
The animation is a bit stiff and the background & texture detail show nothing to get Pixar or DreamWorks nervous but it is quite a treat to view the characters and their city in 3D. Voice work is solid throughout and it’s always a pleasure to encounter CG films actually animated to accompany an English vocal track as mouth flaps and timing is impeccable.
The comedy here is slightly mixed- while much of the zany slapstick that was a staple of the original cartoon survives here, the writers arguably went a bit far in making Gadget a bumbling fool. It’s always been the low-key efforts of Penny and Brain that have resulted in Gadget’s success, but this film is one of few examples where the two of them may truly have been better off without the good Inspector around.
Make no mistake though; there are many solid gags here: The Gadget Copter being used to cut the grass, a criminal gathering where a lively game of pin the tail on the mayor ensues (and a piñata of Gadget’s head). A few gags (like Inspector Gadget unable to remember which hand contains his integrated cell phone function) get a little tired but then the film redeems this with a quote like, “Huh dead already and I left my elbow in the charger all night”.
In all, a recommended romp in the unique world of Inspector Gadget that, while it cannot replace the charm of the original series on which it’s based (no need to, the original series is still out there for those who wish to seek it out), the concepts here are undeniably fun.
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