Inspector Gadget was a cartoon that ran from 1983 to 1986 and spawned a film as well as various other TV series, most of which are now more well-known than the original. That said, the first animated series deserves credit for paving the way for the title character, introducing to audiences the bumbling cyborg detective and his slapstick antics that would go on to spawn a multiplatform media franchise.
It all started in 1982 when the popular French production company, DIC Audiovisual, decided to expand into the global market. Because of this, they produced their flagship series, featuring a bionic investigator – one which drew inspiration from the likes of The Six Million Dollar Man and the character of Inspector Clouseau, crafting a pilot episode to showcase this new hero and his cast of acquaintances.
The first notable part of the Gadget character was the way in which he was designed. Featuring a body full to the brim with “Go, go gadget” equipment, the animators were provided with countless opportunities for jokes that would help further the plot and on-screen fluidity. These included periscopic neck implants and mechanical arms, to name but a few. The character came to life thanks to a design based on the protagonist of the spy comedy series Get Smart, a show whose lead actor Don Adams lent his voice to the tech enabled animated detective. The creators believed the voice would be the perfect fit seeing as Gadget was based on the actor’s famous character already.
After the pilot, DIC produced 85 22-minute episodes. They were written and storyboarded in Toronto and animated in both Japan and Taiwan by a few talented groups, including animation giant Toei, who contributed inking and painting to some episodes. The voice cast – including Frank Welker (Fred and Scooby in Scooby Doo) – and soundtrack helped to boost the series’ quality further. The theme song was developed by Shuki Levy and has become a fondly remembered opening that has stayed with the franchise to the present day.
The show’s animations were heavily inspired by the likes of Robocop and Iron Man, other famously mechanically enhanced characters. Meanwhile, Penny, the niece of Gadget, contributes heavily to the plot of each episode, with her and her faithful dog Brain actually doing most of the detective work – an ongoing gag that keeps the show formulaic yet exciting. Through Penny, the series puts a strong-minded female hero at the forefront, something quite uncommon in the 80s in animation but slowly became mainstream. The three protagonists play off against each other very well, boasting a strong, comedic dynamic that often drives the series.
Another fascinating element of the show is the villainous Dr. Claw, a never seen Blofeld expy leading the majority of the evil schemes Gadget becomes involved with. For their shadowy big bad, the animators created a character who is essentially just a pair of hands and a voice. That said, we can see subtle movements in the way Claw moves his fingers or strokes his cat. From these simplicities, we somehow fully understand his mind and emotions.
Through its witty storytelling and distinct style, this animated series launched a household name, a character which later went onto headline spinoffs in both animation and live action, along with video games and toys galore. Inspector Gadget was a powerful player in 80s animation. Its hero has been a powerful player ever since.