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Inspector Gadget 2

Before home video, studios had to be choosy about what movies received sequel treatment. But now in an age where computer graphics make special effects less and less costly, and the profits from DVD and VHS sales are really where the money is at, even a mediocre film like Disney's Inspector Gadget can merit a follow-up.

Good thing, too, because Inspector Gadget 2 is so surprisingly fun, it pretty much obliterates the bad taste left by the original.

It's still not a work of genius, but IG2 does take advantage of all the elements that made the cartoon a hit, or at least well-known. The first film tried to break away from all but the most superficial elements, at one point in the process trying to bring adult themes to bear.

Disney got skittish about that idea, chopping it out where it could, and then speeding up the editing so nobody would notice the resulting plotholes. They ended up with an Inspector Gadget who was a cartoon character, all right, just not the one they'd paid to adapt. As played by the quavery Matthew Broderick, he was a sincere family man, and a little too aware of his own shortcomings.

For the sequel, writer/director Alex Zamm keeps the few elements that worked, mostly in the form of the comic minions, and then returns to the original cartoon for inspiration. It may not have a lot of depth, but sometimes, a cartoon should just be a cartoon, even when it's, um, live-action.

Yes, the plot ends up being the same one from every episode. Dr. Claw (Tony Martin) escapes from prison and hatches a scheme to steal a lot of money and embarrass Gadget (French Stewart). Luckily for the cyborg detective, his niece Penny (Caitlin Wachs) and dog Brain are on hand to crack the case.

But Zamm throws in a little twist. Despite Gadget having rid Riverton of all crime, the police department has paid to develop a better version of him, in the form of G2 (Elaine Hendrix), all-robot and to Gadget's circuitry-filled eyes, all woman.

Don't worry; knowing that kids really don't want the love stuff, their relationship only barely progresses past platonic. Through most of the movie, Gadget operates outside both the law and G2's respect.

Taking over the title role from Broderick, Stewart brings a persona much closer to Don Adams' original voice. Everything that goes wrong for Gadget he blames on glitches in his programming, not on the genial overconfidence with which he approaches every situation. Stewart also has a flair for physical comedy; despite computer enhancements, at the base of the humor stands a gifted comic actor.

In many ways, IG2 is a throwback to the comedies Disney made in the sixties, like The Love Bug and The Boatniks. The humor is broad but never lowbrow, and though it has a few adult jokes, they're not "adult" jokes. (More just subtle pop culture things - at one point Gadget tells his car to alert him to anything suspicious, like a Trekkie with a girlfriend.)

None of it can be taken seriously, nor obviously should be. But if you were burned by paying money for the first, give this sequel a chance. It towers above its progenitor in quality, and Disney might be smart to lock up Zamm for either future installments or just whatever he has in his head.

It also looks like this was originally meant for theatrical release. The DVD features outtakes, deleted scenes, and many of the behind-the-scenes features one would associate with a good run in the theaters. You can skip the commentary, but for a change, the set top game actually varies from the usual Disney "trivia about the movie" motif.

It's worth noting because the game combines a little action, problem-solving skills, and value judgments. If any parents are reading this far, you want to play this game with your kid.

And believe me, after so many rote games on other Disney DVDs, this is a big change.

Inspector Gadget 2

Derek McCaw


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