Did you know that Christopher Nolan based his screenplay for Inception on a Scrooge McDuck comic? Were you aware that James Cameron got the idea for The Terminator by ripping off a few Harlan Ellison short stories? Cameron might have gotten away with the unacknowledged plagiarism if he hadn’t shot his mouth off about it an interview around the time of the film’s release.
Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places. Take for instance the upcoming summer 2015 blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. The titular villain is a robotic menace (played by James Spader) originally created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to serve as a global peacekeeping program so that he and the other Avengers can breathe a little. When Ultron becomes self-aware and declares that the human race is the real enemy Earth’s Mightiest Heroes must come together to save the world from the horror that Stark has inadvertently wrought.
“Robot Rumpus” is a cartoon that was produced and aired in 1957 and starred the hugely popular and influential children’s character Gumby. In “Rumpus” Gumby programs a bunch of robots to do his household chores so he and his lovable pony pal Pokey can kick back and enjoy life for a while. The plan goes awry quickly when the robots begin to rebel and cause destruction around Gumby’s house so his mom calls his firefighter pop Gumbo to come and save the day.
Unfortunately the robots dump Dad in the trash, leaving it to Gumby to clean up his own mess. He defeats the last robot with a crane, and the cartoon ends with Gumby forced to do the chores he should have done in the first place while a robot head hangs triumphantly above the family garage. The End.
“Robot Rumpus” was mocked on a ninth season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that aired on August 29, 1998 on the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) and featured the movie The Screaming Skull.
The plot similarities between “Rumpus” and Age of Ultron are interesting, but then again stories about machines openly rebelling against their creators have been around almost since the dawn of the Industrial Age. From the I, Robot stories of Isaac Asimov to the sentient thermonuclear bomb made to believe it is God in John Carpenter’s 1974 debut film Dark Star, the theme has been one of the most widely exploited in the annals of speculative fiction.
Don’t take this seriously, folks. I’m not inferring that writer/director Joss Whedon ripped off a Gumby cartoon for Age of Ultron. We’re having some fun here.
I have included the original Gumby short as well as the MST3K version of “Robot Rumpus” below for your viewing enjoyment.