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Inspector Gadget
The real Gadget is nowhere to be found in this painful remake
Inspector Gadget
Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by David Kellogg
USA, 1999
I'll never understand why Hollywood has such a hard time with adapting cartoons to live-action films, especially summer blockbusters. Consider that most summer movies use the same kind of short-attention-span logic found in most Saturday morning cartoons, and it would seem to be a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, no-brainers are what we tend to get. And, after watching Inspector Gadget, I think I've pinpointed why. Oh, there's the obvious reason--that the absurdity of most Saturday morning shows doesn't translate well to live-action--but the visuals required for something like Gadget are trivial in a post-Jurassic Park world.

The real problem, I think, is that the people who make (or, since this is Hollywood, alter) these films rarely bother to get an understanding of what they're adapting. A particularly glaring example is Joel Shumacher's Batman & Robin, which played more like a homoerotic leatherboy variation on the 1960s TV show than any of the Dark Knight comics that have been on the racks for the last 25 years.

The same applies to Inspector Gadget: it's based more on a superficial reading of the original TV show, rather than any concerted effort at understanding what made it tick.

Case in point: Gadget (Matthew Broderick) saves the day in the movie by--eventually--plotting a course of action quite deliberately, and executing it to the best of his ability. He's not terribly swift, but wowsers, does he try hard. And that's what carries him through.

Hello? As any ten-year-old who's watched the show can tell you, Gadget never solves anything intentionally. In fact, he's usually oblivious to what's going on around him, functioning in his own little universe that only intersects with ours when his niece Penny practically gift-wraps a criminal for him.

Gadget's eternal nemesis, Claw? Don't get me started. Rupert Everett looks like he's having fun camping it up as an evil mastermind, but what kind of mastermind goes completely wiggy when a plan starts to go only slightly awry? Of course, according to the cartoon we're not even supposed to see what Claw looks like, but it seems like no one could bother to use a little imagination to write around that. (Everett didn't have to be Claw--he could have easily been an ambitious second-in-command.)

Of course, all of these would be excusable if they got to the important part of any adaptation: preserving the integrity of the original characters. You know, the ones who got so many people interested in the first place?

How many bombs will it take for Hollywood to realize that what keeps people really happy isn't the patina of superficial plot similarities, catchphrases, and theme songs: it's the characters we've come to know and love (or love to hate). Really, once you've nailed the characters they pretty much write themselves. All the "cool" and "fun" trinkets thrown at the audience to appease them won't help.

I'm sure this advice falls on deaf ears, because North America--Hollywood in particular--relegates animation to kids' stuff, and the prevailing opinion is that kids' entertainment doesn't need any sort of depth or effort. Never mind that shows like Rugrats and Doug, which stress consistency and depth of character, endure. And they manage to entertain adults while they're at it. As I've mentioned before, it's a lack of respect for kids and what's perceived as kids' entertainment.

Oh, and speaking of lack of respect, Inspector Gadget features the Gadget-mobile, a jive-talking hunk of machinery voiced by D.L. Hughley. I can't begrudge Hughley his need for a paycheck, but I thought he had enough sense to realize that this kind of black sidekick is staggeringly out of date, and especially inappropriate in a kids' movie. I'd rather see no black characters in the movie than have the only black character be this throwback. But hey, at least you can't say the masterminds at Disney aren't equal opportunity disrespecters. After throwing this into the pile of Inspector Gadget's annoyances, all I can say is: go go Gadget producers.

No, I mean it. Go.

A Critical Eye exclusive (July 22, 1999)
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