An Animated Dissection: Thoughts on Inspector Gadget (2015)
As a young child, the one thing that could often rouse me out of bed before 8 am, were early-morning cartoons. One of my earliest memories was waking up at my Grandma’s in California in the mid-1980’s, and turning the TV on at 7 am to watch Inspector Gadget.
The show was simple enough: a bumbling detective with an arsenal of gadgets, would be tasked with solving a case, but it would ultimately be solved by his niece Penny, and her intelligent dog, Brain. Almost all of the cases would involve the unseen Dr Claw, and his evil syndicate known as M.A.D.
Much like Transformers of that same era, my viewings of the series didn’t go beyond it’s first iteration. In the last 30 years, the series has been reworked many times. While many of us know of the film versions made by Walt Disney Pictures, the basis for Gadget would be reworked into numerous other television series, such as Gadget Boy, and Gadget and the Gadgetinis. There were also a couple direct-to-video movies made in the early 2000’s, but from most reviews, their subject matter was pretty terrible.
Last fall, word came out that a revival/re-imagining of Inspector Gadget was happening. DHX Media and Teletoons were working on the production, that was recently picked up to run on Netflix, as part of their Original Series lineup.
Taking place some (untold) years after Inspector Gadget defeated Dr Claw, Claw’s handsome-yet-annoying nephew, named Talon (Claw…Talon…get it?), thaws him out of an iceberg, and plots with his Uncle to rebuild the M.A.D. crime syndicate.
With word of Claw’s return, the organization named HQ, brings Gadget out of retirement to stop him. Currently, Gadget’s niece Penny has worked her way into HQ, becoming an Agent-in-Training, and now officially gets to assist Gadget on his new missions. Given our current tech-filled era, the series has upgraded some of the character’s accoutrements. Gone are Penny’s computer book and wrist watch. In their place, are floating projection screens that she can utilize to retrieve information, or control certain things.
Another plus is that unlike the iterations following the 1999 live-action film, the Gadgetmobile is simply a transforming car (without a voice!). There is even a moment in this series where we see the original Gadgetmobile from the 1980’s…before it crumbles to dust given its age.
There are also some minor character nods to the original series, in the naming of some supporting characters. One notable is Professor Von Slickstein, who was originally an older scientist who had given Gadget his gadgets in the first place. Here, he’s a younger scientist, who also seems to be a little more ‘trendy’ when it comes to certain things. As well, Chief Quimby is back to brief Gadget on his missions, and manages to resemble his first animated counterpart (he’s in orange, in the picture below).
There are some parts of the new series that would have been nice to have a backstory to. Take the organization known as HQ, for example. Much of what the organization does is largely a mystery. They are situated in Metroville (where the original series took place), but it’s not really clear if they are an offshoot of the Metroville Police, or something else entirely.
Each episode is broken down into two 11 minute segments, with the 1st episode (titled Inspector Gadget 2.0) being the only two-parter of the 16 Season 1 episodes.
In this version of Inspector Gadget, Penny is one of the few positives that will definitely stand out. Given how she was utilized in the first series a long time ago, getting her chance in the spotlight will definitely please some of the older fans of the series. Of course, don’t expect rocket science plots here.
The new series attempts to bring Claw moreso away from sitting around, but turns him into a broad comedic bad guy at times, whose banter with Talon, may remind some of the banter between Dr Evil and Scott Evil in the Austin Powers film series.
As the newest character to the series, Talon definitely becomes a little obnoxious at times, and every other episode seems to have him and Penny bantering while fighting, playing on the old animosity-equals-attraction cliche we’ve seen plenty of times.
Probably of all the characters, one who ends up being sidelined the most, is Brain. Maybe he could have been given more to do if the episodes were longer, but with Penny taking up a good chunk of time, Brain becomes the silent tag-along. As well, his character design just doesn’t feel quite right in this computer-generated world.
The voice-cast is also hit-and-miss at times. Ivan Sherry gives Gadget a voice that feels like the result of Don Adams & Dan Aykroyd combined. Tara Strong does manage to channel a little of Cree Summer in her voicework as Penny, but one can almost hear some of Twilight Sparkle coming through.
Martin Roach as Dr Claw is definitely a pleasant surprise. At first, I had assumed they had gotten Frank Welker back, but in the quieter moments, Roach can hit those familiar places…when the script isn’t calling for Claw to get comedic, that is. The show also delves into a style that I can only describe as “2 1/2-D.” While much of the animated world is rendered in the computer, there are a few (quick) hand-drawn “emotional” moments (like the one above), let alone some hand-drawn effects thrown in. The show-runners even have retro-style title cards for each episode.
It’s a given that the new iteration of Inspector Gadget is not going to be a cookie-cutter of its original 80’s series. As well, much of the semi-seriousness of those storylines have given way to some rather eye-rolling slapstick. Plus, one won’t find much in the way of incendiary bombs in this iteration, a sign of our times that explosive weaponry isn’t as funny as it once was.
Much like the Inspector himself, much of the enjoyment is relatively brainless. Then again, the show runners are expecting to get cheap laughs and enjoyment from a younger audience, even though they have gone out of their way to work in some nostalgic ‘easter eggs’ for us old-timers. It’s a pity they couldn’t find a happy medium, and craft a show that could be enjoyed by both parents and children, in the same way that Sesame Street or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has done.
In the end, the new Inspector Gadget is just mindless fluff, but not completely un-redeemable. One surprise was an episode where Penny finds out that a former HQ agent had defected to M.A.D. The reason? The agent was tired of everyone giving Gadget credit for what she had done. Of all the plots, this one was the stand-out, that there could be some interesting things still to be done.
Currently, all 16 episodes of Season 1 can be found in North America, on Netflix. One figures that if Season 1 does well, maybe they could make some improvements in Season 2…as long as they don’t get desperate and bring back Corporal Capeman, or send M.A.D. agents back in time to wipe out Gadget’s ancestors.
Final Grade: C-
Final Thoughts: Giving Penny a chance to be in the spotlight, doesn’t excuse the corny humor, let-alone excising any serious undertones that could have led to the new series being a little more memorable. As well, for those of us who saw the first Inspector Gadget series, the nostalgic touches can only hold our attention for so long.