Movie Musings: Remembering ‘Herbie – Fully Loaded,’ 10 years later
Over the years, it’s often a given that many studios will try to revive certain characters or concepts. For example, we’ve seen it with Walt Disney Studios in many capacities. Of the live-action concepts made after Walt Disney’s passing, the one that has often popped up over the last couple decades, has been “The Love Bug” himself: Herbie.
The weirdly-alive little VW Bug would often find himself bringing people together, while often involved in some form of racing, and caught in the crosshairs of a not-to-happy human being, who often wanted him disassembled.
Since his debut in 1968, Herbie has made an appearance almost every decade. In 1997, even Bruce Campbell gained ownership of Herbie, in a made-for-TV movie. That special attempted to explain Herbie’s origins, and also created an anti-Herbie, in the form of Horace, The Hate Bug (think Herbie, crossed with the antagonistic vehicle from 1977’s The Car).
After that special, it seemed that Herbie’s time had come and gone…but as the Walt Disney Studios began to comb through its live-action archives for characters and storylines to bring into the 21st century, Herbie’s number came up.
Modified and revved up for new audiences, the Love Bug would find himself in a film that offered street racing, NASCAR, and demolition derby thrills. Along for the ride, were the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Breckin Meyer, and Michael Keaton.
After many years in the limelight, it seems Herbie’s ride may finally have come to an end.
However, he gets a second lease on life when he is chosen by Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan), the daughter of racing legend, Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton).
Maggie is at first unsure of the choice she’s made, but Herbie ends up impressing her and her friend Kevin (Justin Long), when he ends up beating famed NASCAR driver, Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), in an impromptu street-race.
Maggie soon starts to secretly race Herbie under the secret identity of Max, while Trip finds himself obsessed with finding out who Max is, and wanting to get payback on the little Bug.
From the very first rumblings of the film’s production announcement, I recall that noone seemed to have any major interest in a racing film starring Herbie. Even the theaters I was in that had the film’s previews brought little reaction.
Unlike most films that often seek to totally re-invent a past concept, the film’s director, Angela Robinson, manages to somehow shoot right for that sweet spot, giving us something that feels nostalgic, but has a new spin. Oftentimes, scenes are shot with the sun-drenched feel of a beach film, and the soundtrack includes some songs that tap into the nostalgic past.
There was also a push by Robinson, to use physical effects moreso than computer-generated ones, as much as possible. Over 35 different Herbies were utilized over the course of the film, with just a few dozen scenes utilizing a computer-generated Bug, where the impossible couldn’t be achieved.
Notable among the physical effects, is a rail-slide ‘gag,’ in which Herbie displays some skateboarding skills, and slides along a guard-rail, before hopping off at the end, to beat Trip Murphy’s car.
The scene only lasts 8 seconds, but the production utilized 4 vehicles to achieve the scene. When one thinks how they could have just turned it over to an effects studio to make a CG bug, one has to realize how much care went into making you ‘believe’ the effect.
This rendition of Herbie also adds personality to his lights and bumper. Past film marketing (like the image on the left) would often add playful eyes or expressions to their promotional images, but this was the first film to add effects to these specific areas within a film.
Fully Loaded also happens to be the first Herbie film with a female lead. Since her lead debut in 1998’s Parent Trap remake, Lohan was often involved in a number of Disney Studio productions, up through 2005 (with Herbie being her last). Here, she manages to imbue Maggie Peyton as wanting to take a more serious direction in her life, but is still under the allure of racing that has been a part of her family’s heritage.
I will admit that the film didn’t fully sell me on the ‘racing’s in my blood’ vibe of her character, but makes up for it in making me moreso believe the little scenes and nuances she gives to the character, which helps make her not a one-dimensional lead. I like to think this could also be the strength of the director, as Robinson has often tackled projects that deal with female leads (she directed the independent film D.E.B.S., and has written for shows like True Blood, and The L Word).
One of the concepts of the early Herbie films, was that the bad guy was often someone whose ego would get in the way, and eventually be their downfall (a little like Indiana Jones’ bad guys). In this case, Fully Loaded revives that concept with Trip Murphy, who after being beaten in a street race by Herbie (and Maggie), just can’t get over this blow to his ego.
For the most part, Dillon plays Trip as a pretty ‘straight-arrow’ regarding his character. He is driven by ego, but he never feels as over-the-top as past Herbie bad guys…though not to say he doesn’t have a maniacal chuckle in a few places.
Of the additional supporting cast, it is Justin Long who gets the most screen-time as Maggie’s friend/love-interest, Kevin. Long’s character also functions as both the won-over skeptic regarding Herbie, as well as the ‘mechanic’ side of the team. His character almost harkens back to Buddy Hackett’s character from the Love Bug film, but unlike Hackett’s character, Long’s is not so easily able to accept Herbie’s ‘magic’ right away.
Of course, not everything is sunshine and lollipops in the film. During one scene, Herbie is stripped down, and thrown into a demolition derby. The film plays the scene as one of the more dramatic moments, with Herbie being beaten up and knocked about, as the crowd seems to roar in approval.
On the DVD’s audio commentary, Robinson remarked that her inspiration for the scene, was taken from the 1979 adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Robinson was emotionally taken in the scene in the film where Aslan sacrifices himself to the White Witch, and she drew inspiration from that scene, to try and make the audience care about what was happening to Herbie during this scene.
Herbie: Fully Loaded is not the best of the live-action Disney features released in the mid-2000’s, but I find it a fun little romp to watch every once-in-awhile. At least it holds up as a less-embarrassing reboot of an older property than say, Inspector Gadget.
Overall, the film performed slightly-above-average in its US release, making just a little more than its $50 million budget.
Even so, Angela Robinson’s direction was, to me, successful in making the film feel like a throwback to those old-fashioned films of the 1960’s, while trying to add a little something new to the mix.
The film often just tries to have fun, and that can be seen in some scenes. On the audio commentary, Robinson jokes how she felt that Cheetos being Trip Murphy’s NASCAR sponsor was a fun in-joke. The snack’s slogan at the time was “dangerously cheesy,” which seemed to be a perfect subtext for Trip himself.
The film was one of Lohan’s last for the Walt Disney Studios, and followed her most notable role, in 2004’s Mean Girls. I often think of the film as her final performance, before the media just pounced on her over a number of life and career decisions in the months and years that followed.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may know that I am also one of those guys who has always had a penchant for cars in films. That explains why I was on board for such car-related (yet publicly-derided) films like Cars, and Speed Racer. I guess having a penchant for wheeled vehicles ups my oddball factor, as many in the public these days, don’t see cars as being as big a deal as they were 30-50 years ago.
As it stands now, there’s been no further attempts to revive Herbie’s racing career, and the film has been one of several that have risen and fallen, to end up in the discount bins, and used DVD stores.
Even so, the DVD release is a pretty informative one. The making-of specials offer rare insight into the film, and even the audio commentary with Angela Robinson is a fun listen.
One fun thing, was that she decided to actually keep in some ‘film flubs,’ because even in the older Herbie films, you’d ‘see the strings’ at times. One little gag included the one below, in which for a split second, you can see a person’s hand flinging a hubcap, which is meant to actually be Herbie throwing it off his wheel.
Though the film did have a soundtrack release, I was disappointed that it didn’t have any of the beach-music, syntho-score pieces done by Mark Mothersbaugh (the entire soundtrack was largely just made up of pop music, and a single by Lohan). Mark’s scores for film have often been dramatic at times, but do have some fun flourishes, such as in The LEGO Movie, and The Life Aquatic. Notable in this film, is in the final race scene, where Mark just lays on some fun energetic music, that even got me excited as the race began to wrap up.
The charm of the film definitely seems to be reveling in its ridiculousness, but also attempting to attach some heart to the piece. And in that aspect, Herbie Fully Loaded tends to rise above a lot of the more mediocre G-rated fare out there, provided you’re able to give in, sit back, and enjoy the ride.