Judge Geoffrey Miller caught a love bug once. Boy, did it itch!
"I may be kidding myself, but I think I can make something out of that
sad little bucket of bolts."
Before reviewing this release, I probably hadn't seen The Love Bug in at least 10 years, probably more. It was a huge question mark looming in my mind: Will it still hold up…now that I'm an adult? Turns out it does. The Love Bug remains a breezy joy, wholesome fun with just a bit of a cheesy kitsch kick. This two-disc special edition features a beautiful transfer and a heaping helping of bonuses.
Facts of the Case
Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is a down on his luck race car driver, reduced to competing in demolition derbies. When he spies a little Volkswagon Beetle in a show room, he knows that he wants it immediately—and he likes what he sees of Carole (Michele Lee), the lovely lady who works there under the snooty Thorndyke (David Tomlinson), too. Douglas starts winning races, attributing the victories to his driving skills, but his eccentric roommate Tennessee (Buddy Hackett) thinks it has more to do with "Herbie," the little car that seems to have a life of its own. Douglas finally comes around to Tennessee's way of thinking, just in time for to enter Herbie in the El Dorado race against Thorndyke, who's cheating every step of the way.
The Disney live-action movies of the 60s and 70s followed a very simple formula: Come up with a family-friendly premise that's brim full of fantasy; fill the cast up with dependable, wholesome actors; and sneak in just enough "adult" humor and sophistication to keep the parents awake. Directed by Disney live-action mainstay Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins, The Absent Minded Professor), The Love Bug fits that description to a tee.
The lead (or at least the human one) is Dean Jones, as anonymously handsome and inoffensive an actor you could ever find. Jones plays it relatively straight and doesn't try to get flashy or steal scenes; he's smart enough to know that he's playing second fiddle to Herbie. Michele Lee, the mandatory love interest, gives her character a feisty tomboy side, which makes her slightly more memorable. It's the late, great Buddy Hackett, however, who grabs most of the great lines, as the truly bizarre and eccentric Tennessee. Hackett truly redefines "eccentric," babbling on about Tibetan monks and getting wasted on Irish coffee.
But the real star here, more than any of the actors, is Herbie. With his two headlight "eyes," the little bug almost looks like it has a face. What's so refreshing about Herbie is just how much personality he packs without even speaking. If Herbie were created today, he would surely be given a "voice" by some hyperactive Hollywood star like Robin Williams or Jack Black, who would infuse Herbie with obnoxious "personality." Herbie may be mute, except for a few honking noises, yet he seems much more vibrant than any of his human co-stars. It's a treat whenever he revs up with a wheelie before speeding off or shows his displeasure towards Thorndyke by squirting oil onto his shoes (a not particularly subtle and surprisingly risqué pee joke).
The racing scenes are still a pleasure to watch, as an almost impossibly fast Herbie (souped-up and modified well beyond the standard stock Beetle) careens around every turn and curve. The climatic El Dorado race is practically epic in scope, perhaps owing a bit to Speed Racer (which had hit American television a few years before). It includes several of the movie's most memorable scenes: Herbie jumping across a lake, cars zipping through an underground mine, and the race to the finish as Herbie literally comes apart at the seams.
Despite all its merits, the film is not without a few cringe worthy moments—vestiges from 1969 that will come across as irrelevant or outright dated to modern audiences. The many references to hippie culture that pop up sporadically are a little too goofy for their own good. Slightly more troubling is Mr. Wu, the Asian businessman who aids Herbie and the Douglas team in their final race against Thorndyke, who exhibits some stereotypical behavior that skirts uncomfortably close with racism (even if he's ultimately one of the "good guys").
Across two discs, The Love Bug: Special Edition provides more than you'd ever want to know about Herbie. The first disc contains the main feature, commentary from the three lead actors, and a cartoon short, "Susie: The Little Blue Coupe," that has little to do with The Love Bug besides thematic similarity. The second disc is full of documentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer and ads, a comic book, and more. It's practically an archive of all things Herbie, and it's only slightly marred by disc navigation that's more convoluted than it needs to be. These extras are almost overwhelming in size, providing exhausting detail on The Love Bug's production and the history of Herbie since. All of the material, including the film itself (given an anamorphic widescreen transfer and a Digital Dolby 5.1 soundtrack), looks and sounds fantastic.
Herbie has been through a lot—several lesser sequels, a TV series, Lindsay Lohan—but his original outing is still a load of fun. The Love Bug is a classic family movie, one of the best of Disney's live-action films of the 60s and 70s. Excelling in both transfer quality and extras, this new special edition is a superb choice for both casual fans and diehard lovers of Herbie. Take this one out for a spin—you won't be sorry.
The Love Bug: Special Edition takes first…and third!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, and Buddy Hackett
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