Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Love Bug – San Francisco in the Sixties Complete With Hippies

Written by Bill Walsh, Don DaGradi, & Gordon Buford
Directed by Robert Stevenson

Summers, when I was younger, meant a different Disney film at the local theater every week. I loved going to see them, even though the films were the same ones I’d seen the year before. I looked forward to this in the days before we could have movies on videotape or DVDs in our home to watch whenever we wanted to.

Of all the films I looked forward to back then, one of my favorites were the first few films about that lovable Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own, known as Herbie. The Love Bug was the first Herbie film made. When I saw it for sale, I wanted my children to be as excited about it as I was. How would it hold up to the younger generation?

Dean Jones is Jim Douglas, a past-his-prime race car driver who still has a thing for fancy, fast cars. While ogling them at a dealership, he runs into a Volkswagen Beetle with something of a mind of its own. It follows Jim home. He ends up buying it. The moment he tries to get on the freeway with it, the car balks. It won’t let him go on the ramp and turns around. He brings it back to the dealership and Carole (portrayed by Michele Lee), the woman who sold him the car, goes for a ride with him. While she is driving the car is fine. While he is driving, the car acts like a race car.

His buddy, Tennessee (portrayed by Buddy Hackett) christens the car “Herbie”. Jim enters the car in a race and wins. In a side bet, he gets all of his payments canceled and Herbie is his, free and clear.

The rest of the film becomes a battle of the wills between Thorndyke (portrayed by David Tomlinson), the owner of the dealership where Herbie was found who is something of an egotistical racer as well, and Jim, who is determined to rebuild his reputation as a driver, but having a hard time acknowledging it might be more the car than him that is winning the races.

This is a fun movie for the family, although somewhat long at nearly two hours. There are lots of sight gags with Herbie squirting oil at Thorndyke when he’s been particularly pompous and arrogant. Most of the fun is innocent. The few hippies in the film are just products of the time, there’s no drug use evident or implied. Thorndyke isn’t evil in the sense that many other Disney villains are evil, he’s just a jerk. Even the relationship between Jim and Carole is timid for the most part, with nothing more than a kiss between the two.

The acting is decent, although nothing spectacular. Dean Jones is fine as the race car driver facing a personal crisis. He is convincing and handles playing opposite a car well. At the right moments, he expresses his emotion about what Herbie is doing. Dean Jones is a familiar face in Disney films, and it’s easy to see why with his performance here.

This was one of the early roles in Michele Lee’s career. She’s sweet and convincing as Carole, changing from working under the inept Thorndyke to believing in Jim and Herbie during a long race. It’s believable that she knows her way around a car and she doesn’t come off as ditsy or bumbling. it’s nice to see a confident woman in that day and age who is more than just a pretty face next to the lead.

Buddy Hackett almost steals it all as Tennessee, though. He’s a typical sidekick, but he has such enthusiasm for what’s going on and is so passionately believable about what the future holds if only everyone else would follow his lead. He’s even convincing speaking Chinese opposite Mr. Wu (portrayed by Benson Fong) who acts as a backer for Herbie in the race.

My six-year-old son enjoyed it once the racing started. The whole backstory really didn’t interest him at all. My eleven-year-old daughter was more interested in the entire film. I guess this generation is a bit more jaded than I was when I used to look forward to this in the summertime.

The Love Bug has been fully restored and looks nice and crisp. The effects in the movie aren’t so great. It’s very obvious when they are in a studio and the scenery is playing behind them to create the illusion that they are actually racing. It probably wasn’t bad for its time, but in retrospect now it’s terribly obvious.

This is a fun film that may or may not entertain children, it really depends on the child. I would have no problems showing it to kids, however, as it’s good, clean fun.


” Audio Commentary with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, and Buddy Hackett
That Lovable Bug featurette
The Many Lives of Herbie featurette
Herbie Mania featurette
” Lost Treasures: Searching for Herbie
” 1969 Disney Studio Album
” Production Gallery
” Behind the Scenes Promo
” Love Bug Day at Disneyland
” The Man Who Gave Herbie His Voice
” Deleted Scenes
” Theatrical Trailer
” Radio Spots
” Sound Studio: Herbie on the Rocks
” Sound Studio: Thorndyke and the Bear
” Production Stills, Production Photos, Concept Art, Storyboards
” Comic Book
” Cast Biographies
” Advertisements
” Screenplay Excerpt: Herbie Goes Over the Edge