Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Herbie Goes Bananas

Herbie Fights the Bull

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Herbie Goes Bananas" (Disney, 1980). When race car driver Pete Stancheck (Stephen W. Burns) inherits winning car number 53 (AKA "Herbie") from his uncle, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones's character from the original film, not seen in this one), he travels with his friend, confidante, and mechanic Davy Johns (AKA "D.J.," played by Charles Martin Smith, looking for all the world like the bastard child of Don Knotts and Tim Conway) to Mexico to collect it, only to be temporarily waylaid by having their funds stolen by plucky street urchin Paco (Joaquin Garay III).

Pictured: NOT the film's lead.

Don Knottsway? Tim Conknotts?

This is probably the only time you're ever going to see a live-action movie starring a Latino minor played by an actual minor with actual Latin roots.

Paco bites off more than he can chew, however, when he steals the wallet of a man named Shepard (Richard Jaekel), an associate of a man named Prindle (played by John Vernon, who you may recognize as the villain in almost every movie and television show he's ever been in) and his henchman Quinn (played by actor-comedian Alex Rocco).
Shepard, who is played with nervous intensity by Richard Jaekel.

"I'll get you, Delta Tau Chi! I mean, Batman! I mean, Herbie!"

Alex Rocco, playing Alex Rocco, but with a different name and also he's a criminal.

Shepard's wallet contains a film negative of an as-of-yet undiscovered Incan (or possibly Aztec) ruin which the trio of villains seeks to loot. After Pete and D.J. catch Paco and force him to turn over D.J.'s wallet, Paco evades Prindle, Shepard, and Quinn by hiding in Herbie's boot.
Herbie, away!

Pete and D.J. then have Herbie loaded onto a cruise ship helmed by Captain Blythe (comedy legend Harvey Korman) with Paco stowing away inside.
Is this a normal thing that cruise ships do? Move cargo?

The villain that almost killed Herbie.

D.J. then convinces Pete to woo a graduate student named Melissa (Elyssa Davalos) while he tries to convince her Aunt Louise (played by the great Cloris Leachman) to sponsor their racing team.
Ew! Her hair's tied up, and she's wearing glasses! HIDEOUS!

Chloris Leachman is never not funny.

Meanwhile, Herbie causes havoc in the ship's hold in an effort to protect Paco, causing the two to be captured by the ship's crew.
We get not one but TWO "exciting" car chases... on a boat.

Paco then has a heart-to-heart with the little car, which he affectionately names "Ocho," only for the two to cause trouble a second time, wherein the overbearing Captain Blythe orders Herbie to die at sea, pushing him off a gang plank into the ocean.
Pictured: Not a prop car. Also: Litter.

Their hopes sunk with the little car, D.J. and Pete decide to get jobs at the next port of call to earn enough to go home. Paco evades capture by Prindle again, and is reunited with a drowning and dying Ocho, who he rescues with the help of some local fishermen, who return later to scrap the car for parts.
One of the saddest parts of the series.

The much-dilapidated Ocho comes back to life, and he and Paco begin a road trip, trying to find fortune while avoiding Prindle and his men.
What kid wouldn't want his own self-driving car?

Some background

1969. It really shares almost no through-line with the original film other than a brief mention of the ending of the previous movie, "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo." None of the casts of any the other films make an appearance, the settings have nothing to do with San Francisco (the setting of the first two films), and even the whole concept of Herbie acting as the catalyst of the movie's love story is largely absent, focusing most of the screen time on the bond between a little kid and the car.

All right, this is the second appearance of Vito Scotti in these movies, but he's not even the same character as the taxi driver in "Herbie Rides Again."

Heck, the name "Herbie" is only ever uttered once in the film, and afterwards the car is always referred to as "Ocho."

The bad

This is *possibly* the worst Herbie movie. Like the second film, "Herbie Rides Again," there is no racing in this film, instead focusing on Herbie being chased and acting as a sort of superhero to save the other characters when they need it, although it's far less formulaic than that earlier sequel.

Herbie fights a bull.

Herbie even fights a plane.

This movie mostly relies on the cuteness of its child lead, which can be a death sentence for a movie if not handled properly.
Pictured: Humor.

Fortunately, this film has an incredibly talented cast beyond its child actor, and everyone puts their all into their part, which does sell it despite several inconsistencies in the film; for example, D.J.'s wallet is stolen in the beginning of the movie, but in a subsequent scene in order to get the movie's MacGuffin film negative back, he later steals Pete's wallet. The filmmakers also can't seem to distinguish between the "Incan" and "Aztec" civilizations, and use the two interchangeably at times (I see you, movie). One of the biggest problems for this production is that almost a full third of it takes place on a boat, and really how many car chases can you have on a boat?
The answer is two.

My thoughts

Despite its many, many flaws, I have to say that I don't hate this movie. I still like it more than "Herbie Rides Again," mostly because I find the story of Paco and Herbie's friendship actually endearing. These movies had been becoming more and more kid-friendly since the original, so seeing an actual kid with their own anthropomorphic automobile is sort of cool. There's plenty of goofy car stunts, but they're all done with full-size props, puppeteering, and green screen, unlike the model and miniature based effects of "Herbie Rides Again" (this includes the scene where they dump Herbie in the ocean, as they reportedly dumped an actual VW Beetle into the water and never recovered it).

Herbie's retractable antenna becomes his newest trick.

I will admit that I felt a pang of sadness when Paco was "burying" a moribund Herbie, which is more than I have felt in the last two Herbie movies. Chloris Leachman's Aunt Louise's relentless pursuit of Harvey Korman's completely oblivious Captain Blythe is one of the funniest things in the film, and leads to many of the best comedic moments.

Parent-trying, kid-approved

So if you have young children, this is a pretty good film, provided they can keep their interest past the boat scenes; there's no violence (plenty of consequence-free references to it, though), no gunplay, no harsh language, plenty of south and central American flavor, and the most lovable automobile ever put to film.

Panama Canal included.

Where can you see it?

"Herbie Goes Bananas" is currently streaming on Disney+.

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