Inspector Gadget 2 (2003) | Is it Closer to the Cartoon?

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Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7SlIxthcP4

When a movie based on a cartoon spawns a sequel, the question that immediately comes to mind is, “Is it any closer to the cartoon this time?” Now we’re all aware that the first Inspector Gadget movie from 1999 pretty much got everything wrong, but did the sequel.

So I would like start this off by asking, “Is Inspector Gadget 2 closer to the cartoon?”

The short answer is… Yes, I think it is much closer to the show. But now, allow me to break it all down for you and give you the long answer. After thinking it over, I feel it would be best to do this discussion on a topic-by-topic basis, allowing for certain elements to cross over; that way it can be a complete analysis.

Firstly, I’d like to mention something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t when discussing live-action Inspector Gadget: that being the Inspector’s appearance on the Super Mario Brother’s Super Show. You see, when the Super Show had Gadget appear on as a live guest, they decided to cast voice-actor Maurice Lamarche as his live-action counterpart because they already knew that he could do a dead-ringer impression of Don Adams (the original voice of Gadget). In fact, Maurice would often double for Don when he wasn’t available for an episode or two.

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And since Maurice was probably easier to convince to do the job than Don was, they had Maurice come in with the coat and the hat and perform the first live-action Inspector Gadget. And it’s actually stunning how close his impression is of Don Adams. You almost can’t tell the difference when you listen to both.

The interesting thing about this initial live appearance is not just that the voice was accurate to the character, even though it doesn’t have to be; but that the costume was already wrong from this point forward. Now I understand that Gadget’s costume is all gray, and that finding an all gray trench coat and matching hat is a little hard to come by for a cheap sit-com lead-in for a cartoon series. In fact, they actually succeeded in making Gadget look like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther films: what with his coat being the regular tan, and his hat being a dark brown rain hat. Well okay, I suppose that was the whole point; but they still didn’t make his costume gray. And as you’ll see, they never did.

 

Then the first movie happened. And even though they now had a far superior budget to work with where they could have designed any costume in any color that they wanted to: they decided to go with the simpler approach and boil his costume down to the same old tan trench coat you can find just about anywhere, and then they gave him a brown short-brim fedora. He didn’t even wear gloves this time! I really don’t understand this decision.

 

Why the hell isn’t his costume gray? Seriously, why can’t it be gray? There should be no excuse for this. But you want to know what the very first thing is about the sequel that’s actually an improvement? They made his hat a closer color to his coat, and they make it a unique shape. At least that is some progress. Now he actually feels like Gadget.

But trust me when I say, it gets even more promising from there. So let’s dive right in.

First good change, Doctor Claw:

In the first Inspector Gadget, Doctor Claw was portrayed as Sanford Scolex: a quirky, good-looking businessman slowly losing his mind; who then turns into Doctor Claw once he loses a hand to a falling bowling ball. He was manic, smarmy, presented himself as an eligible bachelor to Ms. Brenda Bradford (Inspector Gadget’s initial love interest); and was all around NOT like the cartoon.

Inspector Gadget 2 does us all a huge favor by retconing nearly the entire first movie, and returning Doctor Claw closer to his former roots. Now Claw is almost entirely in the shadows, and you barely ever see his entire face except maybe in wide-shots. He also laughs a lot more, he’s an out-and-out villain; he uses an escape pod to evade capture at the end of the movie, and the director actually uses the M.A.D. Cat insignia that was signature to Claw’s organization throughout the film. But his presentation here is still different.

Now he’s shown as a pimped out, fedora wearing mobster boss who sounds like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises if he were played by Denis Hopper. Kinda weird but workable in his own way. Or perhaps he sounds more like Doctor Claw from the cartoon when Don Francks played him for a few episodes. He still doesn’t run a “world-wide” evil organization. But at least they hint to the fact that his organization may have been bigger before he was put in jail at the beginning of the story.

Second good change, Inspector Gadget:

 

French Stewart is a far better live-action counterpart for Gadget than Matthew Broderick was. For one thing, Stewart is closer in “character” to the cartoon Gadget. In the show, Gadget is a bumbling, self-absorbed, easily fooled, prone to glory hogging, and easily distracted/careless person. But we love him because he’s a dork and his niece loves him to bits; and at least he always does right by her. In the first movie, the writers clearly cast Matthew in the hopes of making Gadget a sympathetic and lost-puppy sort of character: more of an “adorable bumbler” where you feel pity for him rather than laughter and a little irritation at his irrational conclusions and actions. French Stewart on the other hand is closer to the cartoon Gadget because he jumps to conclusions; makes irrational and foolish arrests of good, law-abiding citizens; he’s a little ego-centric, and over-confident, but he has an honest heart behind it all.

Secondly, French Stewart has a closer “performance” to the cartoon Gadget. Stewart is a little bit like your poor-man’s John De Lancie; and the way he plays his lines and speaks his words is actually reminiscent of Don Adams’ performance as the original Gadget: with his emphasis on certain words and his stretching of vowel sounds; except without the rise in pitch. And Don Adams didn’t actually talk like that all the time either; he was only doing that voice initially for his signature role in Get Smart: sort of his own exaggerated impersonation of classic actor, William Powell. And of course the voice just stuck to Don like glue after that. It became his persona for any character he played.

Stewart also has a more distinct and quirky looking face: the long nose, an expressive mouth, and a general facial expression that spells over-confidence and says “oh yeah… I got this.” With Broderek, it was nothing but wide-eyed innocence and child-like curiosity that just looked like he was dressing up as Gadget for Halloween rather than legitimately playing the character. Stewart also seems more adept at the physical comedy and playing up the gags better than Broderek was. Broderek would usually look stunned at everything that happened to him; but Stewart looks annoyed, ticked, surprised, curious, confounded; and many other varied expressions and emotions.

Third good change, the Theme Song:

I can agree with Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) that being able to hear the Inspector Gadget theme on the big-screen back in ’99 was cool: “the first time.” But afterwards you realize that it just doesn’t stand up to that amazing grungy synth sound that the original had. It was always sort of weird and dark, but catchy and fun all at the same time. The version in the first movie was a watered down and lazy rendition with rather poor backup singers; and not a single bit of synth to speak of.

In Inspector Gadget 2, they change it up quite a bit by making it a horn heavy tune with low trombones and clarinets, high brass, and some tooting oboes for good measure: all backed by a hip-hop percussion section and the sounds of ratchets and mechanical screwdrivers. Now it has character, now it has flavor, and it represents the tone of the sequel perfectly. This theme has spunk, and lots of it.

Even the version of the theme used in the sequel’s trailers and DVD menu is a better remix than the version from the first movie.

Now onto the sort-of good, sort-of bad changes. Starting with The Chief:

Originally known as Chief Quimby, the Chief would follow Gadget to where ever he went in order to give him important messages about his next assignment personally. And in a similar vein to M and James Bond, Charlie and the Angels, or Major Monogram and Agent Perry from Phineas and Ferb; Chief Quimby and Inspector Gadget were part of a world-wide investigative operation that was tasked to follow Doctor Claw wherever he went in order to stop his evil plans and try to bring him to justice once and for all.

But when the first Inspector Gadget movie came out, all of that M.A.D. Organization, World Domination, and world traveling stuff went out the window. Instead of Gadget going anywhere to track down Doctor Claw, like James Bond going after Blowfeld; Gadget now stays grounded to one single city known as Riverton, and goes out serving justice to the regular small-time criminals plaguing the city. This then turned the Chief into a regular police chief rather than someone similar to The Chief in Get Smart, who could send Gadget anywhere. Gadget thereby becomes less interesting because he isn’t an international hero, and the Chief becomes less important because he turns into just your regular run-of-the-mill “angry police chief,” fed-up with Gadget’s goofy antics.

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Chief Quimby was never like this in the show: he always supported Gadget, he always trusted him with solving the crime and saving the day; even when Gadget nearly kills him in every episode tossing those exploding notes in his general direction.

The one nice thing I can say about the changes made to the chief from the first movie compared to the sequel; is that the chief is a little bit more goofy and cartoonish here. He’s played by an actual character actor with an active voice and round face, rather than the stuffy and stand-offish Dabney Coleman from the first film.

Penny and Brain:

Once again, Penny just “barely” resembles her cartoon counterpart. She attempts to be more involved in the crime-solving business this time around, but she comes off more like Emma Roberts in Nancy Drew (2007) than Penny. In fact, the chief in this movie makes fun of her by calling her Nancy Drew. Penny in the cartoon was tech-savvy, she could build her own personal gadgets and tools, she had a talking dog for Pete’s sake; and she was always the one that solved the crimes: not her uncle Gadget. So why is it that the movies can’t still do that?

The show was called Inspector Gadget, yes; but that didn’t mean that Gadget was the one calling all of the shots. At least in this sequel they allowed Penny the chance to seek out some clues and solve a rather substantial piece of the crime, rather than end up as a nearly useless background accessory like she was in the first film. They got the freakin’ girl from Harriet the Spy for Pete’s sake, and they didn’t think to use her more?!

Brain is still a normal dog, however; and he does not have his voice translator necklace from the previous movie’s end credits. But in an odd extraneous retcon, the writers repurposed that voice translator collar for a later scene where Gadget’s mechanic, Baxter, is working on designing one; which is then used later by Gadget to translate Brain’s barks into English. But this translator collar can also be found in Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, during a scene where Wayne Szalinski and his brother are taking a tour around the laboratory that they work for.

The Plot – The Good, the Bad, and the Different | Movie 1 Compared to Movie 2:

Now instead of comparing the sequel’s plot to the original cartoon, I’d like to compare it to just the first movie for a moment.

The first Inspector Gadget movie set up Gadget as a human security guard, who was turned Cyborg in order to save his life. And because of his newly implanted augmentations, he has abilities that allow him to do special tasks that no other officer on the force could do. Funny thing, though, the Chief of Police; after weeks and months and years of pre-planning and designing and a butt load of tax-payer dollars; has no intention of putting Gadget on high-profile and highly dangerous cases that he would clearly be more qualified to handle than your typical officer. Instead, he relegates Gadget to the small-fry issues and general public disturbances. What a load of bull! If you’re going to go through all the trouble to create the Gadget Program, then actually use the man for something useful.

In the sequel, the Chief still doesn’t trust Gadget (and somewhat rightly so) on big assignments, and keeps him working on the small cases and the minor issues. That is until they unveil their newest Gadget Program model, G2: who is one-hundred percent entirely cyborg, and is more than capable of handling any case, big or small; making Gadget stand as the prototype model. It sort of turns Inspector Gadget and Inspector Gadget 2 into the Robocop and Robocop 2 of family films. Same premise, same set-up, and similar sequel. The only difference is that Gadget gets a girlfriend. But oh, wait a second, he already had one.

That’s right, in a surprising turn of events, the makers of Inspector Gadget 2 decided to not only retcon Doctor Claw so that he could be closer to the cartoon, but they retconed Brenda Bradford from the movie’s universe so that Gadget could be closer to his cartoon counterpart, and fall in love with his female replacement: sort of a Bride of Frankenstein kind of thing.

Now while in most cases I get pretty pissed off when the love interest from the first movie gets deleted from history in the sequel, despite the protagonist working so hard to win their affection in the first place: I don’t mind that so much here. At least here they changed a lot of different things to make that one change not seem so out of place: and all of the changes are for the better. And I actually really like G2, played by Elaine Hendrix. We’ll get to her in a moment.

Something else I like about this sequel is its CGI. You might call me crazy for thinking so, but even though the CGI looks obviously fake here, at least it’s fun, at least it has creativity and energy. It allows the world of Inspector Gadget to not be too realistic and serious. All of the gadgets have big white gloved hands on them, their bright and multi-colored (even more-so than the first film); the gags that they do with the gadgets aren’t nearly as dumb (quite a few are actually humorous), and the animators had more fun with the Inspector’s extendable head and arms. Even the integration of the CGI into the live-action footage doesn’t look half bad: it feels like everything digital is affecting the real environment. The lighting and the textures might not be up to snuff, though, but that doesn’t really matter to me in this case.

Believe me, sometimes it isn’t always because the makers of the film are lazy. Sometimes they’re just doing the best with what they have. They only had $12,000,000 to make this movie you know.

Now the first film wasn’t trying to be realistic with its gags and CGI either; but it had a bit more grit and edge to it that I didn’t care for. Things looked too freaky and creepy and dirty: like when Sykes was trying to flush that robo-foot, or when Evil Gadget had that Tarantula come out of his mouth. I do like edge and grit, but it has to be the right kind, and that just wasn’t it. Here at least they went all cartoony (in all the right ways) and had some wholesome fun with the world, the characters, and the dialogue. They were TRYING to be like a cartoon.

The Plot – The Good, the Bad, and the Different | Both Movie’s compared to the Series:

Now what if we DO compare the first movie’s plot with the show, and then the second movie’s plot to the show? Which would be closer?

Well let’s see:

The first movie’s plot was about Inspector Gadget proving himself the perfect police operative while also trying to win over his crush, Brenda Bradford; as Sanford Scolex (aka Doctor Claw) was attempting to steal prototype Cyborg technology in order to fashion together his own evil robotic army and take over the world.

Yeah. Really. That was his plan.

For some reason I never actually noticed what his plan was. I just sort of thought things were happening and Claw just wanted to mess around with Riverton for a bit with his Evil Gadget clone. And in hindsight, it just sounds so stupid to think that pouty-faced Rupert Everett would want to take over the world with an army of robotic minions. He’s no more able to be taken serious here than he was in Shrek 2 or Shrek 3 as Prince Charming.

Also, we only ever see one piece of this supposed robot army come to life; where-as in most Inspector Gadget stories, Doctor Claw has the majority of his plan ready to set into motion, only until Gadget comes bumbling in to mess it all up and destroy the whole thing.

Now the sequel definitely takes things much further and comes up with an evil scheme that only someone like Doctor Drakken or Doofenschmirtz could come up with: a time-freezing laser-weapon. It’s absurd, yes. It’s ridiculous, yes. There’s absolutely no science behind it, yes. And the diamond being a prism through which the laser has to fire in order to work has been done in a ton of other stuff including The Power Puff Girls and Looney Tunes Back in Action, yes. But at least there is a clear beginning, middle, and end to this plan. At least Claw actually has clear-cut ambitions and we actually see him succeed for a few scenes. That’s how you’re supposed to make it work. Otherwise the villain doesn’t look like he/she has a plan at all, and it doesn’t look like he/she knows what they’re doing.

The New Addition, G2 – The Female Gadget:

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G2, played by Elaine Hendrix, is thankfully a nice “original” addition to the film. She may not be the most convincing robot in a film: Anthony Daniels as C3-PO, Peter Weller as Robocop, or Alan Tudyk as Sonny from I, Robot were far superior. But in a film of this caliber, she clearly enjoys her role and she gives the performance you would expect. Appearance-wise, she’s good casting for her size and stature; very straight-laced and generally attractive facial features to mirror what one might do when designing a female robot. Although someone like the Major from Ghost in the Shell is more physically buff.

The costume is also a nice touch. This time G2 is a fully designed robotic operative rather than an augmented human; so they were able to design a full costume for her that would be permanently part of her physiology. I like the metallic blue tons, I love her long cuffs, and I really love the hat.

The one question I’d like to bring up is, isn’t G2 Gadget’s sister? They’re part of the same line of robots, they both run on the same chips and technology. So then why shouldn’t they be related siblings? Why do they have to become lovers by the end? I know it still sort of works and that they removed Brenda Bradford, so making G2 Gadget’s new girlfriend was the obvious course of action. But by this point in the early 2000s, the Bride of Frankenstein thing has been done enough, and making the new female robot/creature/thing be the protagonist’s sister rather than mate would be a good change of pace.

Final Thoughts:

Between the two Gadget films, there’s no denying that the spirit of the show has a stronger hold in the sequel. The 1999 film with Matthew Broderek attempted to make the show cinematic by changing too much and reducing elements to their basic form in order to alter them to fit a more Hollywood-style script. If a movie about Gadget had been made in the 1980s, then perhaps it would have been a bit more accurate. They might have even gave him his trademark all-gray suit and brown gloves.

Now for those of you out there who think the first movie is stupid, but who also think this movie is even stupider: Have you ever stopped to think for a minute about what you’re really complaining about? Not every movie that has dopey gags or actors that chew scenery or CGI that might look unfinished has to be brutally criticized or universally hated for not being as impressive as something else. Sometimes movies like these are made by people who love what they do, who have fun doing what they do, and are proud of their work when it’s finished. We love Tim Currey when he does it, we love Christopher Walken when he does it, and some of you out there enjoyed Pee-Wee Herman and Earnest when they did it. So what’s wrong with French Stewart doing it? And you know what? This movie does not insult me.

The Scooby Doo movie insults me with its weak casting, the Yogi Bear movie insults me with its lame premise and lame villain, and the Smurfs and the Chipmunks movies insult me with their endlessly annoying protagonists; but this movie does not. Why? Because out of all the possible ways that one could adapt the world of Inspector Gadget, this is probably the best way it could have been done. You really can’t expect much more than this. It is possible to get even closer to the cartoon, but it’s very unlikely that anyone other than a group of fan-filmmakers could give you such a movie. But even then, you aren’t always guaranteed to get the version that ”you’d” want to see.

Just look at the recent Sonic Fan Film. That project had way too much live action footage, way too many cameos of famous internet celebrities, and really lousy CGI. It’s pretty much exactly the same as any other Hollywood adaptation, unnecessary changes and all. The most accurate that film ever got to the games was with Robotnic. Everything else was either modeled after Sonic-X and Sonic Adventure; which I don’t think Old-school fans are really clamoring for. It should have been modeled after Sonic Sat-AM or the original games. I’ve always really wanted to see a Sonic movie that accurately recreated the fun and adventure of Sonic 1, 2, and 3/Knuckles. But that still hasn’t happened.

So for an Inspector Gadget film, this sequel is not only a better representation of its source material, but I think it does a better job of it than a Sonic Fan Film representing its source material. And it’s the best we’ll get for now.

Creating a live-action cartoon is never easy. Live-action actors don’t always have the physicality to pull off the cartoonish movements or the facial expressions; and often live-action screenwriters don’t have the same sensibilities as cartoon writers. But I think out of a ton of different cartoonish movies out there, I can easily put Inspector Gadget 2 in the same category as The Mask and the first two Spy Kids films. It honestly isn’t far off.

Inspector Gadget 2 has good casting, decent direction, impressively wacky stunt choreography, and just plain ole’ good fun. And it is so much more worth your money than the first film. Trust me. You just have to have an open mind about it.

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