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Toon Talk: The Love Bug DVD
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by Kirby Holt (archives)
June 9, 2003
Kirby reviews the DVD release of the classic live-action film The Love Bug.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

(c) Disney

The Love Bug
Special Edition DVD

A Bug’s Life

Beginning with his debut in 1969’s The Love Bug, Herbie, that lovable “little car? with a big personality, has had an impressive career as one of Disney’s favorite live action characters. Alas, after three feature film sequels, a television series and a TV movie remake, a lot of the ‘magic’ that created Herbie has rusted away over the years; Herbie, like Winnie the Pooh, another Disney character who made his debut in the late sixties, was an unfortunate victim of his own franchise.

But, just like when last year’s Special Edition DVD of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh gave viewers a chance to see Pooh in all his original glory, the recent Special Edition DVD release of The Love Bug, with two discs full of Herbie delights, allows fans a substantial glimpse back to that championship season when a seemingly innocuous little Volkswagen not only ruled the box office (a huge sleeper hit, it was the number one film of the year), but captured the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers of all ages all over the world.

It has been some time since I have seen the original Love Bug, and I had forgotten how utterly charming it truly is; despite … or is it because of? … some slightly corny acting and special effects, the film still holds up today as a thoroughly entertaining, innocent creation, just like its title character. (And with this fine DVD transfer, the film probably looks and sounds even better then it did when it premiered thirty-four years ago.)

The Love Bug was Dean Jones’ sixth Disney film, and his Jim Douglas is inarguably his best performance for the studio. All cocky, self-assured bravado at the beginning of the story, Jones’ Douglas is gradually softened by the charms of the little bug, and his third act pontification on what might make Herbie tick shows off his understated talent. (Which brings up another of the film’s strengths: smartly avoiding the specifics of why Herbie is the way he is, proving the adage “less is more?.) Michele Lee adds some graceful feminine spunk as the-more-then-just-the-love-interest Carole, and Buddy Hackett, with his elastic face and joy-filled chuckle, embodies the goofy Tennessee Steinmetz with a boundless, child-like glee (no wonder it is he who is the first to realize the specialness of Herbie). Nearly stealing the show out from all of them is David Tomlinson, fresh from his Mary Poppins triumph, as the resident heavy of the picture, Mr. Thorndyke. As he blusters his way through one oil-spilling Herbie encounter after another, he maniacally achieves ever-higher levels of goggle-eyed disbelief and comic villainy.

Efficiently helmed by long-time Disney director Robert Stevenson, from a script adapted by Don DaGradi and Bill Walsh (who also served as producer) from the story Car-Boy-Girl by Gordon Buford, The Love Bug is filled with the beautiful scenery of San Francisco (including such sites as Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Alcatraz and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge). The script takes full advantage of its eclectic (especially for that time period) setting, even cleverly inserting some knowing references to the infamously … aromatic? … Haight-Ashbury district, the center of the ‘Flower Power’ hippie movement of that era.

Bonus Feature Highlights:

As previously mentioned, The Love Bug is one of the most successful Disney live action films of all time, so it is no surprise how lovingly feted the film is in this deluxe two-disc special edition:

  • Disc 1 features the short Susie the Little Blue Coupe, an apropos inclusion as this 1952 cartoon, narrated by Disney voice fave Sterling Holloway, is very similar in story and theme to the main feature.
  • An optional Audio Commentary is also available on Disc 1. Provided by the film’s stars Dean Jones, Michele Lee and Buddy Hackett, the commentary is actually the weakest link in this otherwise strong DVD collection. Lee is recorded separately from her male co-stars, and, when not gushing over how ‘cute’ she was back in the day, she presumptuously discusses such Film School 101 topics as looping and cut-aways. When it's Jones and Hackett’s turn at the mike, they spend most of their time talking about everything but the movie … it’s like being stuck in room watching TV with your talkative Uncle Arthur. Which made it very difficult to come up with …

The Top Ten Things We Learn From This Commentary:

  1. Hackett has a disquieting preoccupation with death: he points out everyone who worked on the movie who has died.
  2. Lee had to wear body make-up for her memorable “Let Us Draw Your Attention To These? entrance.
  3. Keep an eye on Lee’s now you see ’em, now you don’t earrings in the drive-in scene.
  4. OK, it has nothing to do with The Love Bug or Disney, but it is interesting to learn that Hackett turned down the chance to replace Curley in the Three Stooges.
  5. The Love Bug contains Lee’s first on-screen kiss.
  6. The matte paintings of Peter Ellenshaw were used extensively in the scenes where Jim is looking for Herbie in a fog-filled San Francisco.
  7. Benson Fong, who plays Mr. Wu, was the owner of the famed Ah Fong’s Restaurants in Hollywood. His assistant in The Love Bug was played by one of his waiters.
  8. When Tennessee is speaking to Mr. Wu at the police station, he really was speaking Chinese.
  9. Realizing the publicity value, Volkswagen sponsored the marketing of the film.
  10. Lee points out a Hidden Mickey in the final moments of the climactic race: the gauge of Tennessee’s welding equipment.
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