If I had done this list when I was 10, every movie on it would have been from Disney. And in the No. 1 slot would have been #53 — Herbie, The Love Bug.
While no other Disney flick made the 50/50 list, I’m pleased to see that “The Love Bug” is still here. We watched it a few years back, and it turned out to still be a sweet, goofy ride. Even the broad mugging of Buddy Hackett and its awkward counter-culture references are kinda cute. And for a kid’s movie, it sure has some dark undertones — I mean, when was the last time the main character in a Disney movie tries to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge?
Herbie’s become such a pop culture artifact, the plot of the movie is almost irrelevant. Car with real personality and a will of its own helps washed-up loser find love and success. Wackiness ensues. “The Love Bug” still works — long after its many sequels and reboots have been forgotten — because it has a real charm, helped along by a ear-worm of a calypso theme, and some great racing scenes. (It was also the very last film Walt Disney himself worked on directly before his death in 1966.)
At its heart, though, is the genius of making the VW Bug, one of the cutest and most iconic cars ever built, a character with a wider range of emotions* than most of the humans in the movie. Contrived as hell, but it works. Even now, 45 years later, I still want to own a bug with blue & white racing stripes.**
Here’s a montage of Herbie racing, set to Blur’s “Song Two” … just because.
*It’s curious, too, that this came out the same year as that other movie about a sentient machine with a strong personality — HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
**Actually, in a way, I finally do. When I was designing Speed Rally a few years back, my brother tracked down the official Herbie toy car from Johnny Lightning to use in my boardgame. Needless to say, it is the single most popular car in the box, and almost always the first to be picked.