During a test of a group of new prototype military robots, a storm breaks out. Lightning strikes some powerlines, which causes a surge that grounds itself in one of the robots. Surprisingly, the robot doesn’t appear to have been damaged, and with the test aborted the group of robots are ordered back inside. However, it soon becomes apparent that the affected robot – Number 5 – may not have been completely unaffected after all. Number 5 starts to get distracted by things, and eventually ends up being accidentally knocked into the back of a garbage vehicle.
Meanwhile, the absence of Number 5 has been noted, and the military base is locked down. This is done too late however, and the garbage truck leaves with Number 5 still aboard. Number 5 doesn’t stay on the truck for long though, and falls off whilst investigating a butterfly. The security forces from the base track Number 5 down eventually, but in attempting to catch him knock him off a bridge. Luckily Number 5 has a parachute as part of its gadgetry, and it sails down to land on the roof of a catering van owned by a young woman called Stephanie Speck.
Stephanie manages to get home without noticing Number 5, but hearing noises later that evening she goes outside to investigate and comes face to sensor with the robot. Initially believing it to be an alien, Stephanie invites Number 5 into her home. Number 5 is curious, and demands “input“, so Stephanie lets him read her books. Finishing off her book collection in but a few minutes, Number 5 is hungry for more data, and not knowing what else to do she lets the robot watch TV. She retires to bed, and wakes the next morning to find Number 5 has watched TV all night and is now imitating TV programmes and adverts.
She takes Number 5 outside, who is scared by her pet dog and topples over, which allows Stephanie to realise the robot is of human creation, thanks to a manufacturing plaque on its underside. Stephanie calls the base to let them know she has their robot. Outside, Number 5 is mimicing a grasshopper, and accidentally crushes it. He asks Stephanie to “reassemble” it, but she explains that the grasshopper is dead. Number 5 begins to freak out, as he has come to the conclusion that he must be alive, and that if he were to be returned to his makers they would try to dismantle him, which could potentially kill him.
The rest of the film continues with Stephanie and Number 5 trying to escape capture by the military, whilst trying to convince Number 5’s creator, Newton Crosby, that the robot is in fact alive. Crosby obviously refuses to believe this, and intends to return Number 5 to his lab for further study, but he is finally convinced when Number 5 hears a joke and bursts out laughing. This display of a sense of humour finally convinces Crosby that the robot may be telling the truth, and he finally helps Number 5 to escape being disassembled again. Finally, Number 5 decides he should have a name since he is alive, and decides upon Johnny 5, after hearing a song on the radio.
The Number 5 robot was a very clever piece of robotic puppetry. The amount of emotion it could convey just through two movable “eye-brows” and a cock of the head is amazing, in fact it is very similar to the way in which Gromit the plasticene dog conveys his mood without actually speaking. Short Circuit is a fun film that despite being over 20 years old is still a heap of laughs for all the family.