Should I Watch..? 'Herbie Rides Again'
What's the big deal?
Herbie Rides Again is a family comedy film released in 1974 and is the first sequel to Disney's 1968 film The Love Bug. With none of the original cast returning, the film sees Herbie - a 1963 VW Beetle car with a literal mind of its own - tangle with unscrupulous developer Alonzo Hawk and come to the rescue of a little old lady in sunny San Francisco. The film stars Helen Hayes, Stephanie Powers, Ken Berry and Keenan Wynn and was directed by the same director of the first film, Robert Stevenson. Like the first film, this was a success at the box office with domestic earnings around $38 million and it would be followed by Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo in 1977 and Herbie Goes Bananas in 1980 before the series went on hiatus. Herbie wouldn't be seen again on the big screen after 1980 until 2005's Herbie: Fully Loaded which failed to revive the car's flailing fortunes.
What's it about?
Real estate mogul Alonzo Hawk is close to beginning construction on his latest property, a vast 130-storey indoor shopping centre that would dominate San Francisco's skyline. The only thing preventing the builders from starting is the stubborn Grandma Steinmetz, the owner of the 1892 firehouse standing alone on the plot, and her displaced neighbour Nicole Harris. Steinmetz has resisted every effort made by Hawk to move her from the property so he instead employs his lawyer nephew Willoughby Whitfield to handle Mrs Steinmetz himself.
Growing disillusioned by his uncle's increasingly tyrannical demands, Willoughby instead finds himself siding with Mrs Steinmetz after being accidentally introduced to Herbie, a 1963 VW Beetle that has somehow gained sentience as well as a well-timed sense of mischief. Neither Mrs Steinmetz or Nicole react well upon learning that Willoughby is related to Hawk, all three of them are taken aback when Hawk decides to take care of Herbie once and for all...
Release Date (UK)
15th February, 1974
Comedy, Family, Fantasy
What's to like?
It may have been a number of years between the release of Herbie Rides Again and The Love Bug but the first film's cheeky sense of fun remains intact. Herbie, now more of a crime-fighting figure than a straight-up racer, offers just as much to enjoy as before with eye-popping effects such as driving up walls past the baddies, splashing about on the beach chasing seagulls and climbing the cables on the Golden Gate Bridge. If anything, he's far more entertaining and animated than most of the human cast with the exception of Wynns, who has the time of his life as the thoroughly villainous Hawk.
Possibly my favourite scene is the one that involved the most imagination on the part of the film-makers. Hawk, having been trumped by the Beetle in numerous schemes, has a nightmare that features Herbie plaguing his dreams - from native American Herbies with full head-dress circling him with tomahawks to a swarm of hungry Herbies chasing him, bonnets open to reveal enormous gnashing teeth. It's actually a brilliant piece of film-making and genuinely funny, much more so that the rest of the film. As a child-friendly film and one to spark their vivid imaginations, this somewhat dated film might just do the trick.
- Disney worked closely with Volkswagen to promote the film, including offering customers a paint-job to match Herbie, posters and even a car made to look like the famous No. 53. This is in stark contrast to The Love Bug when VW prevented Disney from using their brand name or logo.
- Wynn's Alonzo Hawk is actually one of the few recurring villains in Disney films. Wynn first played the role in 1961's The Absent Minded Professor and then again in Disney's first-ever sequel, Son Of Flubber in 1963.
- Disney used both 1963 and 1965 models of Beetle to "play" Herbie which caused some noticeable continuity errors - the windows on the '65 car is considerably bigger, for one thing.
What's not to like?
Granted, only diehard film fans are going to complain about the complete lack of narrative between the first and second films. The film gives us a throwaway line of dialogue as to the fate of leading characters Jim Douglas and Tennessee Steinmetz and then no mention of the previous film is ever made again. Truth be told, I missed the racing scenes which generated more amusement and excitement than anything seen in this film bar the dream sequence. I also missed the original characters as they were better company than this lot. Buddy Hackett, who played the lovable mechanic Tennessee in The Love Bug, would have provided many more laughs than the odd romance between Powers and Berry.
I also noticed a significant decline in the quality of the special effects. There is some noticeable blue-screen which takes away some of the magic of Herbie - but not as much as the climax where it seems every VW Beetle in San Francisco (and this was the Seventies so there would have been a lot!) also shares Herbie's independence and intelligence as well as a disused cable-car. Suddenly, Herbie's magic goes from being unique to... well, ordinary. I know Disney likes to bring inanimate objects to life in its movies - I was reminded of Bedknobs And Broomsticks with its empty suits of armour marching into battle against the Nazis - but there comes a point when such shenanigans becomes predictable and repetitive.
Should I watch it?
As a throwaway piece of family viewing, Herbie Rides Again is a decent enough effort that younger viewers will appreciate more than adults. However, it isn't nearly as much fun as The Love Bug and demonstrates that there is only so much you can do with a car with a mind of its own. The cast let the side down with the evil exception of Wynn but it never seems to get going, making a car-sized puppet the star of the show. Hmmm.
Great For: VW Beetle owners, VW Beetle salesmen, anyone thinking about purchasing a VW Beetle
Not So Great For: older viewers, fans of the first film, anyone who owns a VW that isn't a Beetle
What else should I watch?
Herbie films seem to either be adventures revolving around racing or comedic affairs with half-hearted slapstick. If it isn't obvious, I prefer the more racing-orientated films - The Love Bug is actually much better than you might think, benefitting from the Sixties vibe and making it feel more likeable. While Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo isn't quite as much fun, it is considerably better than this or the simply awful Herbie Goes Bananas which is just witless and uninspired.
The Seventies seemed to be a heyday for live-action Disney films, many of which seem to have been remade recently. Films like Escape To Witch Mountain, The Shaggy DA and Freaky Friday seem to have become family favourites after all this time so who am I to argue?
© 2018 Benjamin Cox