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THE LOVE BUG

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett, David Tomlinson, Joe Flynn
Director:  Robert Stevenson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.75:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  108 Minutes
Release Date:  May 20, 2003

“You know something about champagne, sir…?”

“Havershaw…if you tell me that the bubbles tickle your nose, I shall probably KILL YOU!”

Film ***1/2  

With all of the great accomplishments of the Walt Disney Studios over the years, I ask you…was there anything so magical as making us believe a little Volkswagen bug had a mind of its own and a heart as big as all outdoors?

That bug, of course, was Herbie, who made his debut in Disney’s 1969 film The Love Bug.  And unlike some Disney films from my childhood that have aged as badly as I have, this one maintains a factory shine and new car smell even some 35 years after the fact.  It’s a wonderful blend of slapstick comedy, terrific racing action sequences, a wonderfully tight cast, and of course, the little car that forever changed the way I viewed the Beetle.

When down-and-out racer Jim Douglas (Jones) stands up for a little Volkswagen against the haughty owner of a classy dealership, Thorndyke (the always wonderful Tomlinson), he finds both a friend and a partner.  As his buddy Tennessee (Hackett) informs him, there’s something special about the little bug he warmly names Herbie. 

Jim doesn’t quite believe it, but with the car’s special extra punch of speed, he soon finds himself back in the racing spotlight, and with Herbie’s penchant to help his new owner, finds romance blossoming with Thorndyke’s lovely assistant Carole (Lee) as well.  But as the ruthless Thorndyke begins to realize what he lost in giving up the car, he begins a scheme of sabotage and treachery to get rid of Herbie for good!

All of this culminates in a wild, anything-goes marathon race where Douglas has to place Herbie on the line…and Thorndyke doesn’t plan to play fair!

I’ve always loved this film, and am so happy to find I’m still warm for it after all these years.  Watching it again was more than just a fun trip down memory lane…it was as much of a laugh riot as I ever remembered.  The energy level created by the action and comedy make this a picture kids are bound to enjoy today as much as they ever did.  Herbie was a big hit…in fact, The Love Bug was 1969’s biggest box office success.  It spawned a number of sequels and a TV series…some better than others…but he had enough charm and personality to make them all worthy endeavors.

Herbie remains one of Disney’s most wonderful creations.  When your heart goes out to a little car the way it does in this film, that’s movie magic at its finest.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Recognize the hippie who gives Michele Lee a hard time at the drive-up restaurant?  Look closely...it's none other than Dean Jones himself!

Video ****

Wow!  I wouldn’t have believed this film could look so good after all these years.  The THX certification means something great with this anamorphic transfer returned to full Technicolor glory under loving hands.  Images are clean, clear and well defined throughout, colors are bright and crisp, and the print itself is in remarkable condition.  A slight touch of background shimmer here and there is about the only complaint, but overall, it’s not enough to dock any points for.  Certain racing segments feature stock footage (you can tell, because there’s no Herbie!), and they stand out a little bit from the rest of the movie, but that’s a matter of production and no fault of the presentation.  Highest marks.

Audio ****  

A 5.1 soundtrack?  YES!  With a movie filled with racing, Disney opted to open up the audio, and the result is a dynamic offering with plenty of multi-directional staging and extra work for the subwoofer.  Dialogue is clean and clear, and the soundtrack is free of background noise or distractions.  This is a bold remix that serves the picture well and adds to the energy and fun.

Features ****

What a package!  I don’t know what happened to the “Vault Disney” label given earlier double disc releases of the studio’s live action family classics, but this set is just as loaded.

Disc One features a welcome commentary track featuring Dean Jones and Buddy Hackett together, with Michele Lee edited in for good measure.  It’s a pleasure to listen to, as all three are warm, funny, and generous with their thoughts, stories and memories.  I learned several bits of trivia I never knew before in all my years of enjoying this picture…Ms. Lee is particularly extroverted and funny, but  Messrs Jones and Hackett have plenty of tales to tell, both on and off the set of the film!

Disc Two features the same great menu screens of the Vault Disney titles and a LOT of terrific extras, starting with a new documentary, “That Lovable Bug”, featuring new interviews with Jones, Lee and Hackett among others.  “The Many Lives of Herbie” follows a Disney archivist throughout Herbie’s career in films and TV…and even features an appearance by Don Knotts!  “Herbie Mania” looks at the fans the little car has attracted over the years.

“Searching For Herbie” shows the origins of the car in casting and such.  Sound Studio bits give you radio ads, plus a look at the effects for a pair of scenes…for an even better look at Disney sound magic, “The Man Who Gave Herbie His Voice” shows you just that and then some!  There is a gallery of photos and advertising, including a comic and press book, plus the original trailer.

Rounding out are a look at Herbie at Disneyland, a production gallery, a studio album for Disney for 1969, bios for the stars, documents including a screenplay excerpt, a pair of cut scenes re-created, and a behind-the-scenes promo.  An amazing package with something for everyone!

Summary:

The Love Bug is a true family classic that has aged beautifully.  It’s just as much fun today as it ever was, and with this top quality DVD offering from Disney, there’s no better way to share it with your young loved ones.  Highest recommendation...and let's bring on those sequels!