Herbie the Perfect Comedy Vehicle
When it comes to the Herbie movies it is easy to say well these are just fun family movies about a cute little VW Beetle with a mind of its own. And to be honest there is nothing wrong with saying that but watching "The Love Bug" recently for the first time in more years than I care to remember it hit me that at least this first movie was more than just simple fun. There is a scene in "The Love Bug" where Herbie heads to the Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy night, depressed from Jim having no faith in him, it's actually a little dark for a family movie but it is one of the reasons why this isn't some mindless bit of predictable fun, in fact that scene and many more are why "The Love Bug" and Herbie is still so loved.
On the surface the story to "The Love Bug" is a simple one, down on his luck racer Jim Douglas (Dean Jones - That Darn Cat!) finds himself buying a VW Bug which as he discovers does strange things as if it has a mind of his own. Whilst his buddy Tennessee (Buddy Hackett) feels that the car he names Herbie has a mind of his own Jim thinks otherwise and when they start winning races he thinks it's all him. This leads to Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson - Mary Poppins), a rival racer trying to wreck Herbie because Jim and the car keep on winning. That is 108 minutes condensed down to a few lines and whilst covering the overall picture does little justice to the movie because it has a lot going on.
You could say it all starts when Jim ends up with car showroom assistant Carole in the car with him and mischievous Herbie gets up to no good. So we watch as he races other cars along the street, takes them to a drive thru diner as well as to a notorious make out point, locking the doors on them, stalling and generally meddling. It puts a huge smile on your face to watch Herbie mischievously bring these two together whilst squirting oil at those he dislikes.
So we have the mischievous side which leads nicely to the rivalry between Jim and Thorndyke who becomes increasingly more riled by the old VW Beetle especially as he was the one who sold it to Jim in the first place. We watch as he tries to sabotage Herbie, have it stolen and often tries to lay bets so that he can get his hands on it just so he can scrap it.
And this leads to plenty of races where Jim and Thorndyke scrap it out on the race track especially when it comes to the big final race full of dirty tricks. From fuel tanks full of water to spare tyres cut into pizza slices there is plenty of deviousness on and off the track.
Now the thing about all of this is, firstly it is fun thanks to enjoyable performances from Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson but also because the clever people at Disney make Herbie a character we love. Just the fact that Herbie is a cute VW Beetle is clever because it makes him adorable, add the fact he is mischievous and also squirts oil at nasty people makes him a good guy and the fact he doesn't give up makes him someone to champion. You may think I am barking saying that but because Herbie has fighting spirit as well as being full of tricks makes him someone we get behind. Although it has to be said that whilst a certain scene on the Golden Gate Bridge has a humorous and emotional pay off it does add a darker element to what is essentially a family friendly movie.
What this all boils down to is that "The Love Bug" whilst now over 40 years old is still one of Walt Disney's great family movies. There is something simply fun about Herbie with the mind of its own making a fool out of David Tomlinson whilst bringing Dean Jones and Michele Lee together.