In the continuity of the Disney movies, he was formerly John Brown, a normal shy security guard who became a cyborg after Dr. Brenda Bradford saved his life when he was severely injured in a car explosion caused by his soon-to-be-archnemesis Sanford Scolex (Dr. Claw). Since then he joined the Riverton Police Department as the first Cyborg policeman and has been serving the community efficiently.
Role in the films
John Brown lives with his niece, Penny, and their dog, Brain, hoping to one day become a heroic police officer. However, they keep denying him because he does not have enough experience because he only works as a security guard. He also has a crush on Brenda Bradford, the daughter of Artemus Bradford, one of the lead scientists working at Bradford Robotics Laboratory which he guards. One night, Sanford Scolex breaks in to steal components of cyborg technology known as the "Gadget" program and kills Artemus.
John arrives and sees Brenda sobbing over her father's dead body. He vows to arrest whoever is responsible for this crime. He heads for his car and chases Scolex who is in his limousine, but he activates an oil slick that flips John's car upside down. Scolex's limousine ends up crashing into a Yahoo billboard.
John orders Scolex to surrender, but he lights and throws an explosive cigar at his car, blowing it up and severely injuring him. However the explosion releases a large bowling ball that flies through the sunroof of Scolex's limousine and crushes his left hand, forcing him to get it replaced by a large metal claw, becoming Dr. Claw.
Out of gratitude for his selflessness, Brenda has the hospital staff rebuild John as Inspector Gadget as the first cyborg police officer, completing the Gadget Program. It is thanks to a Neuron Synapse Amplifier chip inserted in his new body that he is able to move any of the machinery now within him; Scolex missed stealing it during the break in. After coming to, John is confused by his new body, but is trained by Brenda to control the gadgets within him. He is then given the Gadgetmobile as a gift, but finds it hard to get along with it. After stopping escaped convicts, Gadget attends a ball in his honor, where he once again meets Scolex (who he doesn't remember due to a concussion suffered during the accident leaving his short-term memory shot) and learns he wants Brenda to work for him. In the following weeks, Gadget is put to work doing minor tasks, such as being a crossing guard and rescuing kittens.
Annoyed, Gadget goes to Chief Quimby and demands to be put on the Bradford murder case, but is flatly refused. Deciding to make his own case, Gadget inspects the evidence from the case and finds two very small letters "SI" printed on a piece of metal. Trying to find out what it could mean, he then sees a Scolex Industries truck with the help of Penny and realizes Brenda could be in danger. Unbeknownst to him, Claw has created RoboGadget, a robotic copy of him, and sent it out into Riverton to cause chaos. Sneaking into Scolex Industries, Gadget warns Brenda about Claw and proceeds to try retrieving the stolen foot. However, he sets off an alarm and gets captured.
Claw tells him about his plan to create obedient robot soldiers and sell them to other countries for profit; through his assistant Kramer wanted to use the technology for more humane and benevolent purposes. To make sure no one else can create them, he disables Gadget and has his NSA chip destroyed. He is then thrown into the junkyard. Brenda, Penny, Brain, and the Gadgetmobile find him. Though it would be impossible for him to move on his own without the chip, following a kiss from Brenda, he awakens and pulls himself together.
Dropping Penny off at home, Gadget chases down Claw's limousine and quite literally breaks into it, attempting to arrest him and RoboGadget. However, his doppleganger knocks him off the car when they reach the bridge. Following a fight with him, Gadget manages to remove RoboGadget's head and toss it into the river (the body runs wild in the city).
Using his helicopter hat, Gadget gets to Scolex Industries once again, but has his means of transportation destroyed by a missile from Dr. Claw's helicopter. He is then stuck one of it's landing skids. Using a pen from his hand, Gadget manages to activate the crushing function of Claw's claw and damage the controls. He and Brenda then plunge from the helicopter until he activates a parasol in his hat to slow their descent.
However, they crash into a statue of Claw, causing a parachute (that would not work when he called it) to open. When Brenda checks on him, Gadget is unaware that his hat is conveying his love for her by showing hearts. He is stopped from explaining himself by the sound of Claw's screaming. The Gadgetmobile catches him as the police arrive and try to arrest Gadget for the damage his doppleganger did. However, Penny clears his name by having Claw's ex-henchman, Sykes, tell the truth.
He then leaves with Brenda while Claw is arrested and shares a kiss with her that night on his porch.
Some time later, Gadget had ended his relationship with Brenda (for an unknown reason) and is being regularly checked on by Professor Baxter of the Gadget Program. By this time, he had been malfunctioning by experiencing several glitches and severe bad judgment (which has him put an old lady who's Chief Quimby's mother in jail for going 0.3 miles over the speed limit) However, he is given hope about the glitches being put to an end by Baxter.
Much to his shock, Gadget learns Claw has broken out of jail and is still holding a grudge for being the reason behind his lack of funds and a good hideout. It is then that the project Baxter said would put an end to the glitches is revealed to be a robotic new Gadget - Gadget Model 2 or G2 for short. Gadget is immediately smitten with his robotic successor, but she finds him obsolete and imbecilic as Chief Quimby tells Gadget to step down from his job.
Attempting to stay on the Claw case, Gadget tries infiltrating the bar where Claw is recruiting minions for the latest Crime of the Century, but ticks off the patrons. He then receives a video recording from Penny of the meeting Claw's original minions Brick and McKibble had with the recruits. However, G2 also sees this and Chief Quimby puts her on stakeout, warning Gadget not to come within 100 feet of it or he will be fired. He uses the technicality in Chief Quimby's warning and stays 101 feet away. However, once the bad guys try stealing power cells, he fails in assisting G2, allowing them to escape.
Gadget is then demoted to cleaning toilets, much to the amusement of Claw (who read about it in the paper) after Chief Quimby has decided to not fire Gadget. He is then sent an anonymous letter from Claw, tricking him into going to the science convention which Penny tells Gadget that this could be a trap. It is there that Claw's minions place a device on his hat that allows Claw to control him to create a distraction for his minions to steal the protoid laser; his gadgets fired off at random and his limbs stretched into odd shapes, including Mickey Mouse's head. He called for the Gadgetmobile to assist him, but the vehicle was sleeping outside, which causes Gadget to make chaos at the science convention. Baxter found the device on Gadget, which he then presented to the infuriated Chief Quimby; however, due to the $100,000 in damages to the inventions and the Mayor's own dislike of Gadget after the Mayor got tarred and feathered in toothpaste, Chief Quimby doesn't care and fires him anyway.
By a week after Claw's escape, Gadget had gotten work as a valet at the museum, where the largest ruby in the world is on loan. However, he failed to notice Claw and his minions when they casually walk out and mentioning stealing it, once again showing incompetence. Because G2 had also failed to stop Claw, she is deactivated for good and the Gadget program is finished. However, Gadget reactivates her and finds Brain is trying to tell him something. Using Baxter's bark translator, he learns that Penny has been taken hostage by Claw and is planning to blast Riverton with a time-displacement ray to allow easy robbery of the Federal Reserve and Gadget realized that Penny was right, but realized that he didn't listen to her earlier. Gadget then barely escapes it and heads back into town. Claw then escapes with Penny while his recruits hide in the reserve to draw in the Gadgets to allow his escape.
Gadget tries activating his helicopter hat, but finds the glitches have gotten worse. G2 then swaps out his glitching chip with one of her own. He chases Claw, but is forced to use his scooter when his helicopter is damaged. Once Claw sees there's no getting rid of him, Gadget is forced to go after Penny, who has been strapped to an explosive cart. Freeing her, he is thrown by the explosion just as G2 and the Gadgetmobile arrive. Recovering, he beats Claw to the bridge and uses bubble gum to hold his truck in place. However, while the minions get stuck in it, Claw escapes in a rocket.
They revert the time-displacement ray, thanks to Penny realizing the egotistical password Claw had chosen for the machine. Gadget, G2, and Penny are thanked by the Mayor and Chief Quimby with Gadget getting his old job back and Gadget and G2 are also put on the case together for their heroism. Once G2 apologizes for her initial behavior towards him, Gadget finds she now likes him as well. They share a kiss that sends rockets blasting out from his hat. However, one of them lands in front of the Mayor and Chief Quimby, exploding. They angrily call to him.
Inspector Gadget is quipped with a unlimited amount of gadgets to help him fight against crime and Dr. Claw. However they are known to have numerous glitches. Each time he names one he wants he will sometimes get its opposite or nothing at all.
- Oil Slick: Activates from Gadget's arm but shoots out toothpaste instead of actual oil.
- Expandable Arms and Legs: Able to stretch out Gadget's arms and legs beyond their natural length.
- Grappling Hook: Activates from Gadget's hat shooting out a hook connected to a line.
- Suction Shoes: Activate from the bottom of Gadget's shoes allowing him to walk on ceilings.
- Phone: Activates from Gadget's hand whenever he gets a call.
- Skis: Activate from Gadget's shoes. (Good for skiing on snow but not on tarmac roads)
- Helicopter Hat: Activates from Gadget's hat giving him the ability to fly.
- Radar Gun: Activates from Gadget's shoulder and reads a driver's speed limit.
- Bubble Gum: Activates from Gadget's hat and shoots out a huge blast of pink bubble gum.
- Scooter: Activates from Gadget's shoes, equipped with rocket jets for a boost of speed.
- Zip line: This particular gadget is one that Gadget didn't even knew he had. It activates from his hat and allows him to zip line across from high places.
- Clippers: Activates from Gadget's fingers, used when cutting wires. There are also extra larges versions that activate from his hands.
- Air Bag: Gadget's trench coat can inflate allowing him to bounce, float, or fly crazy like an out of control hot air balloon.
- Extra Hands: Activates from Gadget's hat and operates as an extra hand for him. It sometimes includes two.
- When his Gadget Zip Line was used, Gadget was at his wits end; he said "Go Go Gadget something to get me over there."
- Gadget was previously seen in live action in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! episode, Defective Gadgetry. He was played by Maurice LaMarche who would become Gadget's official voice actor in the Direct-to-Video Special Inspector Gadget: Gadget's Greatest Gadgets and would later voice the character in Inspector Gadget's Last Case, Gadget & the Gadgetinis and Inspector Gadget's Biggest Caper Ever!.
- In the original animated series, Gadget had a completely different backstory: he was supposed to have been "gadgetized" by a dimwitted scientist after having been sent to the Hospital for a benign injury (he had fallen due to a banana peel). This was never stated in the series proper (though the inventor himself appeared once or twice, without much details); it was revealed in a tie-in novel.
- In the series, Gadget was useless, clueless, and incompetent; Penny and the dog Brain actually did all the work unbeknownst to Gadget, who always got the honor and believed that he'd thwarted the villains himself. In the films, he is still clumsy but he does always succeed on his own.
- In the series, Gadget seemed to be noticeably older than his film counterpart.
- Brendan Fraser originally auditioned for the role of Inspector Gadget, but turned down the role in favor of George of the Jungle. In addition, Kevin Kline, Steve Carell, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin originally auditioned for the role of Gadget.