A Volkswagon Beetle who tends to make up his own mind, joins forces with race-car driver Jim Douglas, and despite the scrapes they get themselves into, it proves a wining combination.
Let’s get over one thing straight away, this daft film, the first of many Herbie in-car-nations, requires you to buy into the idea of a VW Beetle that, well, is imbued with life. He putters along without a driver exposing a great deal of irascibility to things he doesn’t like. Herbie’s got an attitude. Upon reflection, he’s quite sinister — is this speedy little motor possessed? We’ll never know because the point of this chirpy, rather hippyish Disney movie of the late ‘60s is not to care. Herbie’s like the anthropomorphised critters of Disney lore, but in four-wheeled form. We’re meant to love the Bug for his mischievous spirit and cuteness. It’s a tall order.
Glistening in that way all Disney franchises did at the time, a sun dappled Californian playground at one remove from reality, it has bland everyman Dean Jones as the hero and bland Michelle Lee as the love interest alongside chubby Buddy Hackett as the mechanic who tends to play fall-guy to the gags. Director Robert Stevenson had made The Absent Minded Professor, and doesn’t stray too far from that formula of easy slapstick and the triumph of the little man (or car).
It’s a thin premise but a popular one, people seemed to like the concept of applying human foibles to an inanimate object – we even get Herbie attempting suicide when he is superseded by a Lamborghini. Although, it really isn’t very funny.
The first of the silly VW Beetle with a cute personality comedies, is as childish dated and occasionally sweet as the others.