As I write this review, the mammoth summer blockbuster The Matrix Reloaded has just been released to theaters, and for all of its high-falutin' big budget production values, state-of-the-art special effects gimmickry, and whackadoo Philosophy 101 ruminations, the movie still cannot compete with the thoroughly sincere musings of one Tennessee Steinmetz in Disney's charming The Love Bug, who explained the symbiotic relationship between man and machine as follows:
"I see things like they are. I coulda told you all this was comin'… it's happening right under our noses and we can't see it. We take machines and stuff 'em with information until they're smarter than we are. Take a car. Most guys spread more love and time and money on their car in a week then they do on their wife and kids in a year. Pretty soon, you know what? The machine starts to think it is somebody… Contrariwise, the traffic light down the street hates my guts. I don't know why. But in the last six weeks I haven't caught anything but a stop signal. It makes me wait six seconds longer than anybody else! I timed it!"
There's nothing like 99.44% pure truth from Buddy Hackett.
From the 1950s through the Seventies, Disney ruled the roost when it came to wholesome, fun-for-the-whole-family films, and the family classic The Love Bug is no exception. The film, which featured a spunky Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own, was a smash hit when it was initially released, eventually becoming the number one box-office hit of 1969 and spawning a gaggle of sequels, a television movie, and a short-lived TV series. Looking at the film three-and-a-half decades after its release, it's not difficult to see why this silly little film was so beloved. Dean Jones (a Disney film regular) and Michele Lee made for a pair of likable, attractive leads. Buddy Hackett was a scream as the humorously spiritual mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz, and David Tomlinson (another Disney regular) commanded the screen with his delectably villainous turn as the evil Thorndyke.
But let's get real, shall we? The real star was Herbie, the little car with a ton of heart and endearing personality. Yes Virigina, the white Volkswagen with the 53 painted on the side stole the hearts of movie-going audiences everywhere, and with good reason: his tale was universal. Here was this poor little unwanted car on a search for acceptance and identity, to belong and to be loved. With that kind of earnestness and simple human truth, Herbie's personality and character resonated with everyone. I was a kid of the 1970s, and I remember that Herbie's appearance at a 1976 Disney On Ice tour brought the roof down. Take that, Bullwhip Griffin!
What makes the film transcend its gimmickry is its goofy honesty. It's clear from Frame One that the cast and crew set out to make a fun, entertaining movie without taking themselves seriously for a moment. The human leads are charismatic and enjoyable especially in light of the film's mechanical main character: compare them to, say, the actors in Pete's Dragon. Even the romance between Jones and Lee doesn't seem forced and labored, as if the filmmakers screamed "We need a romantic hook here! You know… for the grown-ups!!" Throw in some exciting racing scenes, special effects, shameless pulling of the heartstrings, the ethical implications of automotive suicide, the inimitable vocal stylings of Buck Owens, a scene-stealing bear, dated hippy humor, and wrap it up in a Technicolor bow, and you have a film that's impossible not to love. The Love Bug may not be not a film classic, but it's definitely a classic family film.
Disney's The Love Bug: Special Edition DVD is the spiritual heir to their now-defunct Vault Disney line: a two-disc special edition that features a fantastic presentation of the film and a load of supplemental material that will satisfy fans everywhere.
The Love Bug looks really, really lovely. The film is presented in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. I was slightly worried during the opening credit sequence, as the film begins with stock footage of stock car racing. The grainy, shaky appearance is intentional. When the film proper begins, you are treated to a very pleasing transfer. The colors are solid and consistent, with natural flesh tones and a lush palette throughout. Images are sharp and clear, with excellent definition and detail. The one exception is an establishing shot of a Chinese New Year parade, which is excessively soft and hazy (again, this looks like stock footage, so this is most likely intentional). Contrast levels are spot-on, with excellent depths of brightness and black levels. Shadow details are pleasing, generally solid but with occasional loss of definition. Grain structure is evident throughout the movie. Compression artifacts and haloing are minimal to non-existent. Some flaws on the negative are somewhat pesky; there is some speckling, debris, and scratches on the transfer that often stand out. These are neither excessive nor distracting, but they do mar the otherwise wonderful presentation. Overall, this film looks pretty wonderful. I've seen The Love Bug dozens of times over the last thirty years, and it's never looked better.
The audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, and the result is generally pleasing if somewhat unnecessary. The front soundstage is primarily employed in the audio presentation, utilizing much of the center channel with occasional separation in the fronts. Surrounds are used sparingly and mostly to highlight the peppy, surf-pop score. Dialog is clearly represented, without hint of distortion or hollowness. Overall this is a good representation of the original soundtrack.
Strap on your racing helmet, let's get started on these extensive Special Edition supplements!
A delight from start to finish, the feature-length audio commentary showcases the films three leads: Dean Jones, Buddy Hackett, and Michele Lee. Make no mistake, this is one of the best commentaries I have heard in awhile. Jones and Hackett are a pair of cut-ups, but provide a wealth of humor and background information in the creation of the film. The pair joke around a lot, but it is readily apparent that they harbor a great deal of affection for the movie. Lee was recorded separately from the other two, but holds her own as an informative, entertaining presence. Yes, those were her legs underneath that sign.
Next up is the short cartoon Susie: The Little Blue Coupe. Running over eight minutes in length and narrated by Disney legend Sterling Holloway, the cartoon is slight but charming, and thematically apropos to this Special Edition (it features a "live" little coupe and her owner). The cartoon is in fairly good shape, too, and makes for a nice addition to the set. Sneak Peaks offers a video preview for designated "Disney Family Favorites". The Register Your DVD DVD-ROM link allows you to "register" your "DVD" with "Disney", if you are so "inclined." Finally, Disc One finishes up with the standard THX Optimizer, which might be good in a pinch but generally should not be used to calibrate your home theater equipment.
Thank heavens Disney decided to keep their "Vault Disney" style of presenting DVD bonus material – I absolutely loved the interface on their previous discs, and the fact that it's here on The Love Bug just fills me with nakhus the likes of which could float the Queen Elizabeth. The Vault is divvied up into numerous sections and sub-sections, so if you get lost fire up a flare and we'll find you.
That Loveable Bug is a forty-three minute documentary that celebrates all of the glory of glories that is Herbie. Original cast members Dean Jones, Michele Lee, and Buddy Hackett share their thoughts and memories of the film. The documentary also details the creation of the film, how the script was brought to Walt's attention before his death and how the film was made a reality afterwards. Did you know that they almost cast a Toyota as Herbie? (Well… now you do.) The film also went through several title revisions, including such ungodly and revolting titles as "Boy/Car/Girl", "The Magic Volksy", and "Beetlebomb" (*shudder*). Roy Disney lends his recollections, as well as various other Disney archivists and historians. The extensive special effects and camera trickery are explored in delightful detail. This is a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this movie, and is great fun to watch.
The Many Lives of Herbie is a thirteen-minute featurette that details the various promotional schemes that were cooked up in order to spread the word of Herbie to the masses, and looks at the numerous film and television sequels that featured our lovable German friend. The featurette gets extra kudos for featuring the great Don Knotts, whose comic genius helped make Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo so splendiferous!
Herbie Mania runs for six minutes and showcases various Herbie fans, those who have loved the movie so much that they have bought vintage Volkswagen Beetles and created their own "Love Bugs."
Lost Treasures features an eight minute featurette entitled "The Search For Herbie", in which Disney Film Archivist Hugh Chitwood discusses the various Herbies used in the making of the films. Chitwood talks about the consistent Herbie features as well as many of the Herbie derivations throughout the films (different color sunroof, location of the gas cap, placement of the 53, etc.) Even Dean Jones, the owner of one of the Herbies used in the first film, is featured (although he quickly runs offscreen when he spots the camera!) A fun addition.
Love Bug Production Archives is quite the treasure trove. The Galleries section contains production photos, concept art, and storyboards used in the films creation. There are also still frame reproductions of the Love Bug comic book, biographies of the cast and crew, film posters, merchandising examples, publicity materials, and reproductions of the film's original press book, production documents, and excerpts of the original screenplay which allow you to read the script as well as watch the scene. The Production Gallery is a three-minute montage of production art, storyboards, frames from the film and behind-the-scenes photographs. The Behind-The-Scenes Promo is a five-minute promotional video from the film's initial release. Love Bug Day At Disneyland was celebrated on March 23, 1969, in which hundreds of Volkswagen "Bugs" congregated upon Anaheim. This eleven-minute video showcases many of the decorated bugs that showed up for the celebration. The Man Who Gave Herbie His Voice is an eight-minute video about the sound design utilized in the film. There are also two Deleted Scenes: "Used Car Lot" & "Playground", but footage of these scenes no longer exist. As a result, the scenes are presented utilizing production stills, storyboards, and script pages. Also included as well are the film's Theatrical Trailer and DVD Credits. Finally, the Audio Archives contain original radio spots from the film, as well as two unique "Sound Studio" options. The Sound Studio allows you to listen to various layers of audio that make up the final composite of a scene. You can use your removes "Audio" button to toggle through the various elements, including dialog and effects, as well as the final composite. Two scenes are included in this extra: "Herbie on the Rocks" and "Thorndyke and the Bear".
1969 Disney Studio Album is a video timeline that showcases all of Disney's feature-film, television, and theme-park events of that year. In case you're interested, The Love Bug shared silver screen time with The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, while at the same Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion" opened and construction began on Walt Disney World. A sweet treat for Disney buffs.
This is the kind of DVD set that makes being both a Disney Geek and DVD Freak so enjoyable. The Love Bug is a silly, charming, and fun little movie with a solid message about love and acceptance, the type of film that appeals to pretty much everyone across all age levels. Herbie is a delightful character who has become something of a Disney icon – just seeing that 53 and those painted red, white, and blue stripes evokes a ton of nostalgia from me, which made returning to The Love Bug such a pleasure. If anything, The Love Bug is a gentle (if firm) reminder of what Disney could always do better than anyone: balance safe, family-friendly and non-offensive stories with charm, humor, and style.
The Love Bug: Special Edition falls into line with the rest of Disney's two-disc Special Edition sets, which is to say that it is beautifully presented, thoroughly researched, and one heck of a fantastic value. Let's start with the presentation of the movie itself, which is excellent. The transfer is eye-popping and better than it has ever looked. Throw in some exhaustive extra material, including a wonderful commentary, a thorough making-of documentary, several bonus featurettes, radio spots, production and promotional material, and more, and you have another triumphant Special Edition from the House of Mouse. The Love Bug: Special Edition gets my highest recommendation!