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Inspector Gadget 2 DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Alex Zamm / Writers: Ron Anderson, William Robertson, Alex Zamm (screenplay); Andy Heyward, Jean Chalopin, Bruno Bianchi (characters)

Cast: French Stewart (Inspector Gadget), Elaine Hendrix (G2), Caitlin Wachs (Penny), Tony Martin (Claw), Sigrid Thornton (Mayor Wilson), Mark Mitchell (Chief Quimby), D.L. Hughley (Voice of Gadgetmobile), John Batchelor (McKible), James Wardlaw (Brick), Bruce Spence (Baxter), Jeff Glenn Bennett (Voice of Brain)

Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: G / DVD Release Date: March 8, 2003

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); White Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
THX-Certified with Optimizer tests

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A movie makes enough money to be qualified a financial success. It's an outcome that only the rare filmmaker dreads. Talk arises of doing a sequel. The articulate artist may think, "The original was really embraced by audiences. It will be quite the creative challenge to live up to or maybe even surpass that kind of response, especially while staying fresh and true to the universe created."

For the businessman, the follow-up may trigger different thoughts.
He could be content that the project gets to lean on a popular, profitable entity which ensures some degree of interest and an easier marketing campaign. Or he could decide, "Let's just cash in on the proven brand name and make a sequel at a fraction of the cost."

That sounds crazy, but it happens. Such rationale has been summoned for over a decade at Disney, ever since The Return of Jafar set sales charts ablaze in 1994. Tepid reviews and a tight production budget did little to hinder the Aladdin sequel's earnings. On a direct-to-video effort, the original film's characters and a reasonable marketing push may be enough to hook customers. The sequel itself could be a disaster, but by the time viewers find that out, they've already bought or rented it. Neither is an action that's easily undone.

Inspector Gadget is back in "Inspector Gadget 2", only this time he's played by French Stewart. Chief Quimby (Mark Mitchell) is happy to upstage Gadget with G2 (Elaine Hendrix), a new and improved all-robot cop. She's essentially Robocop, only dressed like a woman to double as love interest.

Such an unfortunate collision between art and business is more likely to offend when the original is truly and widely loved. Movies like George of the Jungle or Air Bud: Golden Receiver may have left viewers feeling sufficiently entertained. But few would consider sequelizing these well-received family comedies an outrage. For those that do, the worst case scenario is the rental or blind buy that yields grave disappointment and perhaps some unintentional amusement. For most others, merely pretending the sequel doesn't exist may be good enough.

Inspector Gadget 2 clearly falls into the same class as the sequels of the aforementioned works. Its predecessor, released in the summer of 1999, received fairly cold reviews and disappointed numerous fans of the early 1980s cartoon series it was based on. Still, it collected $97 million at the domestic box office and an additional $37 million overseas. That sum wasn't much next to those of Buena Vista's big blockbusters from the same year (The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, and Tarzan) and barely exceeded the film's substantial reported budget of $90 M. But for a Disney-branded live-action flick, the performance was significant, putting Gadget in the range of 101 Dalmatians and George of the Jungle, fellow cartoon-to-live-action adaptations of the 1990s that brought in dough regardless of critical disdain.

Rather than gaining admission into the small but presently growing class of theatrically-released live-action Disney sequels, Inspector Gadget 2 was put on track for small screen treatment as part of the studio's even smaller class of direct-to-video non-animated sequels. Only D.L. Hughley returns from the original cast to again voice the Gadgetmobile unseen. The film was shot entirely in Australia, roughly 7,500 miles away from Disney's Los Angeles headquarters. Curiously enough, it is where several of the company's direct-to-video animated sequels (among them, Bambi II and The Lion King 1) have been produced.

Penny (Caitlin Wachs) and Gadget (French Stewart) once again share a central relationship. Here, they talk current events in Gadget's lime-colored home. As in the cartoon series, Dr. Claw (Mark Mitchell) can never be clearly seen.

When the movie opens, Riverton, Ohio has become almost completely free of crime. This leaves Inspector Gadget (French Stewart, "3rd Rock from the Sun"), the part-man, part-robot behind the town's clean-up, spending his time making unnecessary arrests. Further reducing Gadget's status is the fact that he is so plagued with glitches that his standard gadget-summoning process ("Go go [gadget name]") inevitably yields difficulty and often disaster.

When the news breaks that Dr. Claw has escaped from prison, Gadget assumes he'll take the case. (Like the cartoon, Claw remains shrouded and in shadow, his face -- the face of Australian actor Tony Martin -- never fully seen.) But Chief Quimby (Mark Mitchell) surprises his go-to inspector by unveiling a new crime-fighter.
G2 (Elaine Hendrix, 1998's The Parent Trap) is a new and improved all-robotic officer who is designed to work alone. Not troubled like the older model, G2 appears to be an emotionless, unstoppable opponent of evil. She also appears to be a pretty human female. (Love interest, anyone?) Gadget is crushed when G2 gets assigned to the Claw case.

Gadget, trying to assist and impress G2, only makes matter worse, allowing Claw's band of minions to slip through the cracks repeatedly. Out of a mix of manipulated malfunction and sheer clumsiness, Gadget's actions have him booted from the force and thrown into a depressive fit filled with menial new jobs. Meanwhile, the only one who can figure out what Claw and company are up to is Gadget's pre-teen niece Penny (Caitlin Wachs), whom he insists is too young to get involved. It's probably clear from what I've already written where this is heading; this sequel certainly plays out in a pretty predictable fashion on-screen. The mystery is pursued, obstacles arise, romance is considered, there are a lot of gooey spills and splatters. Oh yes, world domination is also attempted, time stands still for most of Riverton, and a dog talks in perfect English.

G2 is designed to kick butt and also to launch colorful items from above her forearms. Oh no, the eye-patched hoodlum gets stretched!

Though not too distant in tone, Inspector Gadget 2 is more juvenile and cartoonish than the original movie. It does remain more faithful to the cartoon series being adapted, but in doing so, reveals that moving from animation to live action requires some translation. As far as comedy goes, this one is even heavier on physical gags than the first film was. It attempts to get as much mileage as humanly possible out of gooey liquid being splashed on people. Maybe the very young will find this funny once or twice, but it doesn't supply the steady stream of laughs it seems to think.

The cast is almost uniformly inferior to that of the original film. In the lead role, the often-squinty French Stewart is not very likable and his Gadget is basically a doofus we have no reason to sympathize with. Playing the answer to his fumbling, Elaine Hendrix does about as much as she can as a robot that isn't expected to feel emotion. Caitlin Wachs (who has appeared in as many direct-to-video Disney projects as Air Bud, her two-time co-star) fares well replacing Michelle Trachtenberg, eschewing annoying child actress status while driving the mystery angle of the plot. The remaining actors are almost all local Australian professionals, which is why they won't be recognized by most American viewers. Sadly, they don't add much to the proceedings. The baddies, in particular, feel much less interesting without the comedic pizzazz of Rupert Everett, Andy Dick, and Michael G. Hagerty. At least the American accents are always convincing.

From the biker bar beatdown to the shameless McDonald's/Coke product placement, from the erratic results of liberally-employed CGI to plot points that are introduced purely to resurface later as a quick fix, Inspector Gadget 2 never feels like anything but a second-rate production. But, and maybe this is just my unavoidable reaction to the mind-blowing amount of genuinely revealing bonus features, it doesn't feel like the effortless, vapid, cheap cash-in it appears to be. Those involved with the film may have had their minds in the right place, wanted admirably to do things their own way, and given their all into making this sail. But at the end of the day, it's still a straight-to-video sequel to a cartoon-to-live-action film and it's never able to ascend beyond the feeble limitations of such an undertaking.

Gadget and Penny share their thoughts on an anonymous tip that's prepared like a ransom note. Claw's minions (played by John Batchelor and James Wardlaw) aren't nearly as much fun this time around.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Inspector Gadget 2 appears in what the case calls "Family-Friendly" 1.66:1 Widescreen. Assuming that the term implies a shortage of offensive black bars invading one's television, Gadget is actually not as friendly as 1.78:1, since it's enhanced for 16x9 displays
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and thus 4x3 TV owners are treated to two sets of black spaces: the normal top and bottom ones in addition to slight ones on the sides that make up the difference between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1. Of course, even if your TV has a tiny bit of overscan, you're not likely to see much of the side bars (maybe a few pixels at most), but then you can take small consolation in the fact that you're not losing any precious picture to overscan as you usually do.

As for the video itself, it's obviously no disaster. But, though little hinders it, the transfer still falls a bit short of perfection. The picture could look a little sharper, there's some slight hazing and very minor ringing around some edges. There's also a little bit of grain. Perhaps compression has to be cranked up in light of the hours of bonus material. Though nothing major, the presentation is not without some faults. On the plus side, the vibrant colors practically leap off the screen.

There's less to complain about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Quite active and nicely designed, this mix could easily rival that of a theatrically-released film. Dialogue, effects, and music are sufficiently balanced and all perfectly crisp and clear. Five secondary soundtracks serve French speakers, commentary enthusiasts, and fans of movie scores. (More on that below.)

The legs of G2, seen here, are one of eight aspects of the robots profiled in "Illustrated Gadget." With the Gadgetmobile providing all the help you need, you use your remote to avoid trouble in the Gadget Training Simulator. Warning: if the sight of French Stewart bald and wrapped in a plastic bag might give you nightmares, avoid the many "Behind the Scenes" featurettes, or at least the "Stop Sign" piece.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

As most of Disney's direct-to-video films have been accompanied by one or two short bonuses and the overwhelming majority of the studio's live-action family films are lucky to get anything at all, you'd probably expect Inspector Gadget 2 to have a light menu of extras. On the contrary, it's pretty dang loaded by any set of standards.

First, Illustrated Gadget is an interactive feature in which inventor Baxter (unseen and not reprised, of course) discusses four useful design elements of each of his two robotic cops, IG1 and G2.
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Covering devices like the wrist nozzle and the laser hole-cutter, visual aids aptly accompany the mildly amusing voiceover descriptions.

Narrated by Gadgetmobile (not D.L. Hughley), Gadget Training Simulator is a three-level set-top activity which prepares players for the Gadget Task Force. It does this with multiple-choice "what would you do?" questions regarding hypothetical and graphically depicted situations. Though brief and never varying on a return, it's clever and well-designed to provide a short stretch of entertainment and not just for the young.

The listing "Behind the Scenes" may lead you to expect a 5-minute EPK (electronic press kit) puff piece comprised of congratulatory sound bites. What you actually get are a series of thirteen featurettes which truly delve into the making of the film with yes, sound bites, and also genuine (often fly-on-the-wall) behind-the-scenes footage. Each insightful piece runs about minute or two and focuses on a specific aspect of the movie. The subjects are: Go Go Gadgetmobile, Claw's Claw, Extendo Arms, G2 Fight Scene, Flying Fox Rig, Restroom Madness, Shaky Dance, Penny and Brain, Claw's Laser, The Chase Sequence, Stop Sign, Go Go Gadget Bubble Gum, and Gadget and G2. With the provided "Play All" feature, this section runs 31 minutes and 50 seconds in full. It may not be as enjoyable as an all-encompassing production documentary, but it is much preferred to the standard back-patting fest. From design to staging, it's plenty informative while also entertaining.

You see, there are downsides to having lots of gooey humor in your film. Penny cracks a science class mystery in this lengthiest deleted scene. Elaine Hendrix cracks up in the Outtakes reel.

A group of twelve deleted scenes (presented letterboxed and in two-channel stereo) runs 10 minutes and 57 seconds with the "Play All" option. A few are mere extensions or alternate versions, many feature Penny, most are self-contained, all are fairly short, and some include moments as funny as the stuff in the film. These excised scenes are introduced by writer-director Alex Zamm, who also provides optional audio commentary on them.

A montage of Outtakes (2:52) is set to music, which underscores just how funny (or not) they are. Mainly a series of post-"Cut!" laughs, it's interesting how these would have somehow been more entertaining on a better movie.

"Audio Commentary" actually holds two full-length commentary tracks. The first one finds writer-director Alex Zamm joined by stars French Stewart and Elaine Hendrix. Theirs is a bouncy, spirited discussion, flowing with laughs and production anecdotes. The actors do most of the talking and thus the discussion is largely from their point of view, though Zamm also finds ways to inject remarks about technical matters or dramatic intent. The second commentary lets Zamm fly solo and while there's some overlap, he still manages to fill the air with lots of information and in a serious but compelling manner. He does succumb to name-dropping (everyone is "great" or "amazing") and he may be a little heavy on facts (pointing out practically every filming location), but he is articulate, insightful, and someone who you believe truly had a vision for the film.

Who would guess that this would be one of the rare movies treated to a Music-only Soundtrack? While I can't imagine there was much demand for such an inclusion, you can't complain over something there was enough space for. Those appreciating the active punctuating-every-beat score by Chris Hajian should enjoy at least excerpting its two-channel stereo presentation unmarred by otherwise ubiquitous dialogue and sound effects. It's also good for those wondering what kind of silent actor French Stewart would make.

Rose Falcon's music video for "Up, Up, Up": who knew French Stewart likes to chauffeur teenaged girls while wearing a trenchcoat? The Storyboard-to-Film Comparison: We get it, they look alike. The animated Inspector Gadget 2 DVD Main Menu. Click the selected IG2 logo for an alternate main menu screen.

The music video for end credits tune "Up, Up, Up" by Rose Falcon (2:55) interweaves footage of the spunky young singer's "normal life" with clips from the movie. I've got to give props to any video that creates the illusion of French Stewart hanging out with teenaged girls while wearing a trench coat.

"Storyboard-to-Film Comparison: Bridge Scene" (1:50) presents a climactic sequence, as you'd expect, with a split-screen showcasing how the final product compares to pre-filming sketches.
The lesson being that even subpar movies require extensive planning, at least for action scenes.

The customary disc-launching previews begin with a "Zoog" Disney Movie Surfers look at the original, not-yet-subtitled Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They continue with promos for Treasure Planet, Atlantis II: Milo's Return (numeral later dropped), George of the Jungle 2, Bionicle: The Movie - Mask of Light (middle part later dropped), and The Lion King: "Special" Edition. All of these spots, as well as ones for Finding Nemo and "Kim Possible", can also be found in the Sneak Peeks menu.

Like everything else about this DVD, the menus are surprisingly creative. Not only do we get transitions punctuated by French Stewart recordings ("Go Go Scene Selection", etc.) and different music accompanying each screen, but there's an entirely different Main Menu scheme that can be uncovered from the default screen. (Select the IG2 logo at the top of the screen.) There are also a couple of actions which can be triggered from uncovering unmarked selectable spots. The disc's only other Easter Egg, found from the Set Up menu, is a series of DVD credits which reflect the surprising amount of effort that went into this release.

G2 and Gagdet stand together to fight crime! Fight it though he may, French can't keep his deadliest weapon under wraps the whole time. Go go squinty eyes!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As you'd probably expect, Inspector Gadget 2 is a bad movie. Though it opts to stay closer to the original cartoon series than its lukewarm predecessor did, it also boasts a far less proficient cast and script too filled with childish sight gags. If you're a fan of either the first film or the '80s show, you may be interested to see this. If you can get past the fact that this clearly pales next to either, you may not be utterly disappointed. It's hokey and predictable, but it's also plenty watchable and even slightly diverting, not merely as unintentional laughing fodder.

It boggles the mind to say this, but Inspector Gadget 2's DVD is one of Disney's most supplementally sound releases of a live action film. Of all the beloved works in the Mouse's catalog, this is an odd choice to treat to several hours of extras, but one can't complain.
Well-produced and revealing, the bonus features thoroughly serve anyone interested in the film rather than catering to a narrow demographic. To a heavy watcher of Disney DVDs, this one offers an interesting case study as one of the rare standard movies the studio has entrusted to outside producers, who have delivered a package which blows away the norms.

If you like the movie, this is pretty much an ideal presentation, especially now at half the original list price. I'd be quite ecstatic if the writer-director's My Date with the President's Daughter or the Disney Channel's thematically similar Not Quite Human trilogy came to DVD with even a fraction of the neat supplements and remarkable care found here. I have more trouble getting excited about such hubbub for Inspector Gadget 2, but if you're an extras junkie, you may be able to overlook the movie's shortcomings and, in some ways, the many insightful bonuses help you to do that.

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Reviewed March 23, 2007.