Should I Watch..? 'Herbie Goes Bananas'
What's the big deal?
Herbie Goes Bananas is a family comedy film released in 1980 and is the fourth film in Disney's Herbie series. The film follows Herbie - a Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own - on the trail of gold thieves in Mexico whilst on his way to a race in Rio de Janeiro with his latest owners. The film stars Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Charles Martin Smith, Stephen W. Burns, Elyssa Davalos and John Vernon while the director was Disney veteran Vincent McEveety. The film unfortunately tanked with critics as well as audiences with total takings of just $18 million and many claiming the film was the probable end of the franchise. In fact, the most famous Beetle in the world would be dragged back into Disney's studios and only emerged for an ill-fated TV movie and an attempted reboot in 2005, Herbie: Fully Loaded.
What's it about?
Herbie once again is handed on to a new owner by racing driver Jim Douglas to his nephew, Pete Stancheck. Agreeing to pick the car up in Mexico, Pete travels with his friend Davy "DJ" Jones and despite initially being disappointed, the pair quickly discover that Herbie is no ordinary car as it appears to have a mind all of its own. After befriending streetwise orphan Paco, the trio decide to head to the famous Brazil Grand Prêmio race down in Rio de Janeiro and travel via the cruise ship Sun Princess helmed by Captain Blythe.
Needing an injection of cash in order to compete in the race, Pete and DJ befriend anthropologist Melissa and her extravagant aunt Louise who is desperately hunting for a husband on board the ship. Meanwhile, Paco and Herbie fall foul of a trio of gold smugglers which lead to numerous misadventures. Can the car manage to get out of this scrape or is this one adventure too many for the mischievous machine?
Aunt Louise Trends
Charles Martin Smith
Davy "DJ" Jones
Stephen W. Burns
Joaquin Garay III
Release Date (UK)
9th July, 1981
Adventure, Comedy, Family
What's to like?
Oh boy. This could be tricky.
The film strives to achieve the same family-friendly atmosphere that typified previous films and by and large, it succeeds. Humour is strictly in the overblown slapstick vein with Korman and Leachman providing most of the laughs as seasoned comic veterans, even with material as shoddy as this. They are certainly more entertaining than Herbie's owners who completely fail to make any impression on this viewer. Dean Jones' winning charm is totally absent here, I'm sorry to say. Even Herbie himself, having already been through three earlier movies, seems bereft of new ideas but I suppose there is only so much they can do with a knackered VW Beetle other than throw into a matador's arena for quick laughs.
The feeling I get from this film is one that people who had fond memories of the original Love Bug now might have children of their own and wish to reacquaint themselves with their childhood hero. But nostalgia is often a cruel mistress and she twists the knife in here, reducing Herbie from a thing of magic to just a gimmicky car with little hint of personality. But for very young viewers, the film is an adequate time-passer with basic humour squeezed in and little plot to distract them.
- The film used a total of 26 vehicles to play Herbie including one that walks the plank that they simply dropped into the sea. It was never recovered.
- The film marked the final film appearance of veteran actress Iris Adrian, a actress whose career spanned seven decades. Coincidentally, she also appeared in The Love Bug in 1968.
- Herbie is only referred to by his name once at the beginning of the film. After that, he is called Ocho after Paco uses the name.
What's not to like?
However, viewers of this film older than six might find this hard-going. I know you're not meant to hate a Herbie film, revered by Disney lovers among their considerable back catalogue. But this film is a hugely disappointing pile of scrap with little effective humour and a confusing plot that doesn't make much sense at all. The race in Brazil is completely forgotten about halfway through the picture and the film resorts to the same 'incompetent thieves' subplot used in the previous film Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo. But it isn't just the bad guys who are stupid - one of the characters is so dumb, he has to ask why Herbie is called Ocho for the majority of the film. Clearly, basic mathematics is beyond them.
Sadly, the film isn't just a wasted opportunity or crippled by a lack of new ideas. Herbie Goes Bananas actually engages in a vast number of south-of-the-border stereotyping and cliché-digging, giving it an uncomfortable vibe in these troubled times. Disney may have a slightly suspect history when it comes to racism but this is one of its more outrageous examples with ignorance liberally splashed all over the picture. It feels like a half-hearted effort which is a sad way for such a beloved character to come to an end, however temporary. But Disney have twice attempted to get the engine running again without success so I suspect that a more thorough restoration job is required for everyone's favourite Volkswagen.
Should I watch it?
Only die-hard fans of the series and very young children will get anything from this which feels lazy, devoid of imagination and lacking the good-willed charm of the earlier films - which weren't exactly perfect either. But this would be the end of the road for Herbie and deservingly so. Not even Lindsay Lohan's ginger-haired sparkle could rescue the series after this depressing and dispirited outing.
Great For: viewers under six, forgiving fans of the series, killing a franchise
Not So Great For: older viewers, fans of The Love Bug, VW Beetle owners suddenly embarrassed by their vehicle
What else should I watch?
The reason that The Love Bug is so beloved by fans is the old-school charm that exists in the film. It's a simple story of good vs evil taking place on a race track with square-jawed American Dean Jones taking on David Tomlinson's thoroughly English baddie. With fine comic support from Buddy Hackett and a romantic subplot tacked on, the film is much better than it's silly sequel Herbie Rides Again. Ditching the racing element isn't a good idea for a film about a racing car as Herbie is turned into a four-wheeled foe against villainous property developer Keenan Wynn.
Thankfully, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo recovers some of the lost magic by having Jones return to the series as well as having a race again. But Buddy Hackett is replaced by Don Knotts who isn't as funny and has Herbie falling in love with a Lancia while still outwitting a pair of incompetent jewel thieves. Like I said, there is only so much you can do when your lead character is a car but that didn't stop Disney launching a big-screen reboot in 2005 with Herbie: Fully Loaded after a 1997 TV movie failed to take off. Lohan plays Herbie's latest owner who decides to enter him into a NASCAR race and, I'm guessing, hilarity ensues.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox