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Pop Pedestal: Penny Gadget

Cartoon character Penny Gadget, a white girl with blond pigtails wearing a red and white tee with green pants and red sneaks

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?

two people dressed up as Penny and Gadget at the Manitoba Comic Con 2007

 

She's also been Simpsonized. By Groening himself? I'm not sure.

A Simpson-style drawing of Penny

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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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

this feels like fate. i

this feels like fate. i watched inspector gadget for the first time in the longest time yesterday. got nods from my bf for my rendition of the theme song. i was pretty proud, but seeing that guy do it i feel a little on the back foot ... he's wicked.

for me, the best thing about penny was not her selflessness, it was her wicked life! she got to hang out with her dog, go on adventures, make a big impact in the adult world, play with these amazing inventions (her computer was so like an iphone), contact people on her watch. most importantly though, she was serious and clever but she also knew how to have fun. she and brain laughed a lot. she never judged inspector gadget for being ditsy, she just did what she could do and enjoyed what talents he did have (like laughing).

penny was a good one. i would have done quite a lot to be her. maybe still would ...

thanks for sharing your memories and thoughts! :)

Agreed! All of those

Agreed! All of those qualities made her one of the coolest cartoons! Why aren't there more cartoon heroines like Penny??

For sure!

... must be in the stars, punksocks. Penny was a good one and she did have a wonderfully wicked life. Funny you mentioned her going on all those adventures because going on assignment with Gadget to far off places when one is a kid doesn't happen to everybody - Penny made it look easy, another admirable thing, "she just did what she could do."

Thanks for sharing too.

Agreed

I always loved Penny too. But I have to say, I remember watching that show as a kid and getting annoyed that Inspector Gadget always got all the credit at the end of every episode!

That's part of her charm though

She always makes sure he gets it on purpose.

Gadget without Penny

Would be way more boring than Gadget without Gadget.

Name

"She’s even been given a new name for German and Spanish audiences – Sophie. "
In fact, Sophie is not the new name given for spanish and german audience, it's from the beginning her name as well as Penny, as the cartoon had been thought for english-speaking and non-english speaking audiences all the time (producer were american, canadian, japanese and french). As captain Obvious as I am, i'd add Sophie comes from greek sophia (wisdom) and (extrapolation, but before 90's you couldn't in France name a kid Sophie without this coming to the mind) from french ultra-sexist and autoritarian 19th century book "Sophie's Misfortunes".