Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Love Bug

Love in the time before seatbelts

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Love Bug" (Disney, 1968). Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is a race driver with a string of recent spectacular losses, and is on the verge of aging out of his sport.

He's basically crap.

After his latest loss he finds himself wandering the streets of San Francisco until he finds himself in the European supercar showroom of Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) and his assistant Carole Bennett (Michele Lee).
The love interest.

When Thorndyke begins assaulting a small Volkswagen Beetle that had been returned that morning, Douglas steps in to defend the little car…
WAIT... Is that... Joe Flynn? AGAIN?

Which follows him home on its own power. Suspected of grand theft auto, Douglas is forced into an arrangement to purchase the car from Thorndyke in lieu of charges. He soon discovers that the little car seems to have a mind of its own -- and the heart of a champion! Soon after Douglas begins winning races in the little car (who becomes affectionately named "Herbie") as he starts to build a relationship with Carole. Thorndyke, a seasoned race car driver in his own right, soon begins to suspect that there may be more to the little "Bug" and soon becomes obsessed with defeating it!
Also: Revenge for getting covered in gunk in every scene.

A brief background

This movie is loosely based on the Gordon Buford book "Car, Boy, Girl," and was allegedly the last film that studio founder Walt Disney authorized for production before his death in 1966, and is largely considered one of the last films of that era.

The races are obviously trickery, but still quite good!

A lot to love, bug!

I love this movie. It has a small central cast of Disney staples (including Joe Flynn, who has been in almost every single movie I've reviewed of late. Weird) and features smutty adult comedian Buddy Hackett as Jim Douglas's roommate Tennessee Steinmetz, a lovable good-natured family friendly goofball, which he excels at and has many of the funniest lines in the film. David Tomlinson is at his peak here, as a slimy mustache-twisting rat-like villain, whose antics provide much of the laughs in the third act.

"Muttley! Do something!"

But the film isn't just laughs, it does so much more with the material. It takes an object, in this case the little white Volkswagen Beetle, and turns it into an animate creature, who is loveable and feeling, long before movies like "Toy Story," and arguably even better here.

"Drunk Herbie" is a sight to behold!

There's a point in the film where Jim Douglas, high on the success that Herbie's wins bought him, tries to replace the little car, and you can feel it's pain.
It's never explained how he pays for the destroyed Lamborghini (played by a Jaguar in this scene).

Once Douglas realizes what he's done, he runs the foggy, haunting streets of San Francisco in a scene that is both heartfelt and dramatic.
These scenes still give me chills.

This little goofy film about an anthropomorphic racecar is quite epic, and in my opinion, one of the best Disney films ever made.
If you don't feel anything here, you might actually be dead inside.

Think of it as a period piece

Is it perfect? No. Of course not: It is dated by today's standards. The cars are of their time, and there are also references to finances that are laughable in our time of hyper-inflation and low wages. Of course, this was less palpable when I was a kid watching this movie in re-runs back in the 1970s and 1980s, but there's no getting around it now. There are also some culturally insensitive scenes involving Asian-Americans and Mexicans, but the former is central to the film's endgame and the latter is thankfully brief.

Benson Fong as "Tang Wu." No Engrish (thankfully), but still something of a stereotype.

It has a lot of soundstage, matte painting, and green screen effects, but it is pretty well done for the time and doesn't come off as cheap.
This totally unnecessary gag is still pretty good.

Where can you watch it?

"The Love Bug" is currently streaming on Disney+. Give it a watch: It's a great film for the family.

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