Racing Movie Month: "The Love Bug" Review

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Distribution Company

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Rating: G
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: March 13, 1969
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Genre: Comedy / Family / Fantasy

"The Love Bug" is a Disney classic that has spawned a number of sequels starring the film's protagonist: Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle. The original film is a delightful blend of comedy, romance and action that is perfect for the whole family to enjoy. Failing race car driver Jim comes across an old VW beetle when searching for a new race car, and he soon discovers that this spunky vehicle has a mind of its own. Offering a fun-filled plot that keeps audience members of all ages mesmerized, "The Love Bug" is a unique Disney film that movie lovers do not want to miss.

Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is an unsuccessful race car driver who tends to wreck his cars far too often. Jim lives in an old fire house in San Francisco with his roommate Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett), a spiritual character who seems to see a soul in everything. Jim, who has decided to find a new car, comes across a fancy dealership, and a beautiful woman working in the window catches his attention. Despite being too broke to afford any of the cars at the dealership, he walks in to meet Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). However, he soon encounters Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson), the owner of the dealership. The condescending Thorndyke publicly embarrasses Jim, but when a white VW Beetle that was meant to be scrapped rolls in, Jim defends the little vehicle against Thorndyke's insults.

The car, thinking he found a friend in Jim, follows him home later and parks there. When Jim discovers this, he believes the nasty Thorndyke to be responsible, but he decides to buy the car to avoid being accused of stealing it. The car acts up when Jim drives it, so he decides to return it to the dealership, again believing that Thorndyke is to blame. When someone makes fun of the car, however, Jim finds himself in an incredible drag race that he wins surprisingly easily. Jim begins racing with the feisty vehicle, and Tennessee claims that the car is alive and has a will of its own, naming it Herbie. Jim does not believe this of course, thinking he is responsible for his own series of miraculous wins. Thorndyke, realizing his mistake, sabotages Herbie when Jim refuses to sell the car back to him. When Jim turns his back on the failing Beetle, he soon realizes that his wins were not his own.

"The Love Bug" is a family friendly comedy that brings a completely unique idea to life as a manmade object is given a mind and will of its own. This premise leads to plenty of gags as the characters try to understand why and how the car is misbehaving. The film effectively influences viewers to sympathize with the car as if it was a pet or even a human, causing audiences everywhere to gain a new appreciation for the VW Beetle. Just the light-hearted "Love Bug" theme music is enough to entice viewers who are likely to have the tune stuck in their heads for days to come.

The acting in this film is decent, although none of the performances are groundbreaking. It is clear that director Robert Stevenson focuses more on the plot than on the individual performances and dialogue of the characters. However, this is to be expected in a family movie such as "The Love Bug." The story itself is timeless, leading to its status as a Disney classic, and it is easy for viewers to enjoy the plot just as much in their adult years as they did as children.

Although this film has a G rating, it does include some scenes that may not be appropriate for younger children. For instance, there are some scenes in which Buddy Hackett's character is clearly drunk. Aside from this, there is very little violence, and there is virtually no vulgar language or sexual content. Children cheer for Herbie as they learn the importance of honesty, humility and kindness. They also get an educational look at life in the 1960s, which is entertaining for adults who grew up in that era.

"The Love Bug" is a family flick that is as hilarious as it is heart warming. Although this fantasy does not feature stand-out performances or a completely believable plot, audiences are sure to have fun as they watch this 1969 classic over and over. The film may not be appropriate for younger children, but it is a great film for most age groups, offering humor, action and a heart-warming story.