The Love Bug (1968) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running time: 107 min.

Cast: Dean Jones, Michele Lee, David Tomlinson, Buddy Hackett, Joe Flynn, Benson Fong, Andy Granatelli, Joe E. Ross, Gary Owens, Chick Hearn
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Don DaGradi, Bill Walsh (based on the story, "Car-Boy-Girl" by Gordon Buford)
Review published May 4, 2005

The Love Bug is the first of the long-running Herbie series of Disney films, and arguably the best of the bunch.  Although not as popular as most of Disney's animated features, it still remains a minor family classic, charismatic enough to win most people over with ease.  It's a simple love story between a man and his machine, playing out almost like a straightforward romance, but with a tongue-in-cheek style that gives the audience a wink to tell them it's meant to be a little bit hokey. 

Dean Jones (Beethoven, Other People's Money) stars as Jim Douglas, a struggling racecar driver that finds himself on the losing end of almost every race he participates in.   Jim thinks that he just needs a good car to turn his streak around, but without much money, he can't afford a high performance vehicle.  One day while in an auto shop, he is 'befriended" by a plain-looking Volkswagen Beetle on its way to the scrap heap, a car that seems to have a mind of its own.  With some urging from his best friend and mechanic, Tennessee (Buddy Hackett, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), Jim buys the car and starts winning every race he is in by a large margin.  However, Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson, Mary Poppins) , the egotistical manager of the car lot Herbie (as he has been dubbed by Tennessee) wants it back, and will do anything to get his hands on it, if only to smash it up to a million bits.

The Love Bug is not a great film, but it is great fun, with a terrific cast of character actors that make even the non-race scenes a delight.  Although it lacks expression or voice, director Robert Stevenson (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Old Yeller) does manage to infuse the VW with a personality of its own, although the manner in which it behaves, as well as the timing, is never really clear.  The action borders heavily on the cartoonish, with Herbie performing feats that might be physically impossible, even if Herbie had a real mind of its own.  Herbie can flip, bounce, and shoot out oil even where no hose exists, so you'll have to suspend a great deal of disbelief if you want to join in on the fun.

Like most Disney vehicles (no pun intended), The Love Bug is aimed mostly at kids, although families of all ages can get together and watch, entertaining young and old alike.  It is a bit dated, with lots of hippie counterculture jokes in the mix, but that also adds to the film's overall quaint charm.  Although it does run a little longer than the subject matter warrants, The Love Bug still crosses the finish line well enough to be declared a winner.

-- Followed by four theatrical releases: Herbie Rides Again (1974), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), Herbie Goes Bananas (1980) and Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005).
-- Became a short-lived TV show (six episodes) in 1982
-- Remade as a television movie in 1997, starring Bruce Campbell

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo