Pop Pedestal: Penny Gadget
We’re going kid-cartoony for our fourth week of Pop Pedestal, where we give a shout out to pop culture personalities we admire. This week is all about the force behind Inspector Gadget… Can we get a Go-Go Penny!?
The Pedestal Profile: Penny is Inspector Gadget’s whiz-kid niece on Inspector Gadget, an '80s animated TV series about the blunders of a bionic PI and the mucked up messes he gets himself, Penny, and their bipedal dog Brain into around the world. Gadget’s gadgets are the envy of the evil and mysterious Dr. Claw, who, with his fat cat MAD Cat, masterminds the MAD organization. Never an episode goes by without Gadget’s over-the-top antics getting in the way of his ahem… crime-stopping skills. But, leave it to Penny to pick up the pieces. And, Pronto! Girl power cracks the case.
Admirable qualities: Penny’s the brains behind Gadget’s cyborg brawn. Always the one asking questions, she’s the operative unraveling Dr. Claw’s schemes. When something didn’t seem right, she spoke up even when her infamous uncle, the greatest detective in the world, was oblivious to her astute assertions. How many cartoon gals did that back in the day? Unlike her uncle’s gaudy gadgets, Penny’s pigtails never got in the way of her problem-solving. How they managed to stay in place was a feat in itself, at least that’s what I thought as a six-year-old whose mom grumbled under her breath every time she redid the elastics on my ponytail.
Penny was tech-y too. She was Jobs before Steve. I wanted a wrist video watch to dial up my younger brother to tell him what to do. And, Penny was the first girl to teach me never to judge a book by its cover, ‘ cause hers turned out to be an awesome computer. She used it to set up remote radar, detect Dr. Claw’s pawns, and protect her unassuming uncle. I still wonder how she lugged that thing around in her messenger bag. She could even drive her uncle’s Mantra Murena. Well, sort of. She took control of the steering wheel when her uncle wasn’t watching the road.
Remember when she pulled the old switch-a-roo with the ruby? Here's a clip where she swaps a fake ruby for a real one, shorting out a super laser and defeating Dr. Claw in the process:
She did have some state-of-the-art equipment for a kid her age, but her secret weapon was always reason. And her reason was never the kind that magically happened somehow somewhere. Nope. Penny shared her reason aloud. She’d talk things out to herself, to her dog, and to us. She didn’t shy away from working out her problems. Dishing out deduction was the name of her game—quite radical for a ‘toon gal, eh?
She was quick on her feet too. Penny was always three steps ahead of Gadget—that’s where Brain came in, following Penny’s command to keep watch of her clumsy uncle. Meanwhile, Penny stayed home reading. Reading! No dolls, no makeup, and certainly no dress up. She didn’t have to because she was color-blocking before it was hip again in the '80s (and this season, apparently). Seriously, who wouldn’t want to wear a red and white tee with green pants and red sneaks? Cute, comfy, and fun. When she did travel with her uncle to far off places, she’d keep him level-headed from start to finish. Remember when she called him out for getting distracted by the thought of seeing Lana Lamore, the sultry movie star hired by Dr. Claw to lure the bionic dope into MAD domain? Penny was perturbed, “Uncle Gadget aren’t you forgetting our assignment? She’s the MAD Agent!”
But what I most admire about Penny was her selflessness. It was never about me for Penny. It was always about us. Being a six-year-old with two younger brothers, I can tell you that I was no perfect Penny—there’s only so many crayons a sister can share while making a masterpiece. For Penny, stopping Dr. Claw from destroying the world was a joint effort, even when it was all her doing the stopping.
She never boasted, leaving that for her uncle and his I-did-it-all-by-myself attitude. Penny even credited Gadget for a job well done because, you know… he was the world’s greatest detective. That’s a lot to live up to even for a cyborg. (Is that why Gadget never got it quite right? Too much stress on the job?) Huh… so, Penny’s positive reinforcements kept Gadget going. She’s perceptive too. Cool! Maybe in some round-about way, Penny had something to do with the kinds of people I like to be around today. Yeah, yeah, I know she’s just a cartoon. But, none of my closest friends are people who take all the credit and gab about it nonstop. We’ve all had that friend or relative, the one who’s happy to talk, but never listen. So, Go-Penny-Go!
Her influence: Penny speaks several languages since the show’s syndication. She’s even been given a new name for German and Spanish audiences – Sophie. I prefer Penny, though. Silvia in Barcelona has a Penny post on Escucho la llamaaaada de los Gnomos… It's in Spanish.
Penny and Inspector Gadget were seen at the Manitoba Comic Con a few years ago.
Nice! But where's Brain?
She’s also been Simpsonized. By Groening himself? I’m not sure.
And then there’s the musician’s theme rendition à la beatboxing flute-cum-Axel F variété. Check out Greg Pattillo from PROJECT Trio do just this:
That’s not all: Inspector Gadget: Season 1, is on Netflix. Check it out! No Netflix? YouTuber yourstapler has an homage to Penny, "Inspector Gadget Minus Gadget 1," dubbed "The Exciting Adventures of Penny Gadget." She's flying a pilot jet! Wowsers! Penny has finally received the recognition she's deserved—and it's only taken twenty-some-odd years!
Think of her when: Well, when you need a little go-to inspiration to solve the day’s dilemma. Or, when you want to empower your inner-child and watch a girl use her wits to stake out evil and save lives.
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