Robby the Robot

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Robby the Robot was a fictional character who made a number of appearances in science fiction movies and television programs from 1956 onward.


Description and overview

Robby the Robot was a 211 cm [6-foot, 11-inch] tall fictional robot originally designed for the 1956 MGM movie Forbidden Planet [1]. It quickly became a science fiction and fantasy icon.

Forbidden Planet was inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Robby was in turn inspired by the spirit Ariel in that play. The first known use of the name "Robbie the Robot" was for a mechanical likeness of Doc Savage used to confuse foes in the 1935 adventure The Fantastic Island. That was followed in 1940 by the Isaac Asimov short story "Robbie", about a first-generation robot designed to care for children.

As Dr. Morbius demonstrates in Forbidden Planet, Robby was programmed to obey the Three Laws of Robotics. This becomes important near the end of the film when Robby refuses to kill the "id monster" because he realizes that it is an alter ego or extension of Dr. Morbius. The Laws of Robotics were adapted from I, Robot, published in 1950 by Isaac Asimov.[citation needed]

Robby's character in Forbidden Planet

In Forbidden Planet, Robby exhibited artificial intelligence, but with a distinct personality that showed a (probably unintentional) dry wit, presumably inherited from Dr. Morbius. In addition to the basic laws of robotics, he was also instructed by Morbius to be helpful to the starship crew, as in his synthesis and provision of lead shielding to the starship's crew. While the film poster depicted a fierce character abducting a maiden, no such scene was actually present, and Robby only carried another character when he was mortally wounded by his own actions. In fact, his speaking "mouth" was a monochromatic light organ synchronized with his synthetic voice, the large band below the transparent upper portion.

Reuse in other productions

The "Robby" robot suit in Forbidden Planet was later reused in the less-popular movie The Invisible Boy. It made several further appearances in other movies and TV shows over the next few decades, including an episode of The Thin Man and The Addams Family. While Robby's appearance was generally consistent, there were notable exceptions, such as the 1962 Twilight Zone episode "Uncle Simon", where he was given a somewhat more human "face". At other times, Robby usually retained the working gears inside his bubble head, although the details of his "brain" and chest panel were sometimes altered. And in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Robby's bubble dome was used as part of a regeneration machine. Robby made few television or film appearances since the 1970s, although he made a cameo appearance in the 1984 movie Gremlins, where he can be seen standing in the background and speaking some of his trademark lines. He was also featured in a 2006 commercial for AT&T.

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