Pixar’s WALL-E is an inventive and fun movie, but many robot lovers may find WALL-E reminds them of films of the past. In fact this is intentional. The title character, WALL-E, was specifically modeled after the robot Johnny 5, a cute and intelligent robot with deep feelings that was featured in two films, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2 in the mid to late 1980s.
Those who remember the Short Circuit films are likely to remember the appearance of Johnny 5, initially called Number 5 but later self-named Johnny. He has caterpillar tracks, much like a tank, flexible eyes very similar to WALL-E, and speaks in a near human voice. Originally designed for military use, Johnny 5 suffers a short circuit during a power surge and loses much of his programming that would keep him on a military base. Instead the robot becomes much more self-aware and through a series of incidents escapes, and is “adopted” by a young woman named Stephanie (played by brat pack star Ally Sheedy).
The little robot’s appearance sets off a dangerous quest for Stephanie and the robot’s designer, as they attempt to escape the military that wants to capture Johnny 5. In particular, Johnny 5 fears “disassembly," because in his early antics, he accidentally kills a bug and now values “living.” He has no desire to become an all-powerful robot in service to the military, and would much rather spend his time reading, and watching television shows like The Three Stooges.
Some near famous features from Johnny 5 include his constant thirst for knowledge, with the line “Need input!” which he utters frequently to Stephanie. He can read an encyclopedia quickly. He’s also adept at acting out some of the Three Stooges moves in attempts to escape the US military that badly wants to reclaim him. In all many people consider him very charming.
Short Circuit was especially enjoyed for its extensive and realistic puppeteering. The film’s creators used both a remote controlled robot for long shots, and a puppet style robot for close-ups. Actor and puppeteer Tim Blaney gave Johnny 5 his memorable voice.
Like many robots, Johnny 5 is in some ways intellectually superior to humans, but has more trouble understanding the complexity of human emotions. He is frequently confounded by his own emotions, and his viewpoint in the first film attempts to capture what it must be like to try to study and grasp the human condition. The character is at once knowledgeable and naïve, with a childlike charm that continues to please lovers of comic films.