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The `Love Bug' is back

ANAND PARTHASARATHY

The 1960s Volkswagen, with a mind of its own, is here to charm a new generation of cinemagoers.



AN AMIABLE YARN: Herbie: Fully Loaded

Disney has long been the best in the business of anthropomorphism : endowing animals and a variety of inanimate objects with human feelings.

They have used it to telling effect, to create a memorable line-up of thinking, feeling creatures: from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; to Dumbo and Bambi; to the Lion King and Nemo. Every bit as vibrantly alive, the studio's 1969 creation: "The Love Bug," a Volkswagen Beetle car named `Herbie' — with a mind of its own — soonbecame an iconic star in his own right, spawning three big-screen sequels: "Herbie Rides Again" (1974), "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo"(1979) and "Herbie Goes Bananas" (1980). Dean Jones appeared as Herbie' s involuntary `keeper' in two of these amiable yarns, which had the spunky little `c(h)ar- acter' win races all over the world, to the accompaniment of much mirth and slapstick.

A short-lived 1982 TV series again starring Jones and a 1997 TV feature remake, seemed to have rounded off Herbie's stint on the big screen and small — till the original franchisees, Disney, decided to dust the covers off the VW bug once more, for a new century and a new generation of young moviegoers.

Studio returns to its roots

So we have "Herbie: Fully Loaded," a comedy that sees the studio return to its roots in harmless cinematic offerings made strictly for kids — a departure from Disney's recent excursions into more innuendo-laden fare which seemed to have one eye cocked on the adult audience.

The film opens in major Indian centres on July 29.

Rotting away in a junkyard, Herbie is awaiting imminent demolition, when he is rescued by young Maggie Peyton, daughter of a veteran car racing champion (Michael Keaton).

She buys the rusty car for $ 75 and entrusts it to her mechanic friend, Kevin ( Justin Long) to restore.

Peyton is played by 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan, for whom this is the third Disney remake.

She will be remembered by kids in India, as the girl who played the twins in the 1998 second version of "The Parent Trap."

Herbie takes charge

Once on his legs (literally), Herbie takes charge and persuades Maggie to don the racing driver's gear that he happens to have stored all these years.

Once fitted out, she rides Herbie to victory in an impromptu street race against Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), a racing champ with a bad attitude. Every Disney drama needs a villain, and Trip is it, this time. "I'm gonna exterminate that bug!" he vows and seeks a rematch at NASCAR, America's biggest stock car race.

Herbie is no pushover: he takes control, and virtually forces Maggie to take part overriding her father's objections. He spurts oil on the bad guys and bashes them by suddenly opening his doors and when not otherwise engaged, he smiles with his bumper and flirts with his headlights as he sets his sights on a nice looking yellow sportster. It's all amiably inane. It may not be `fully loaded' with laughs, but the new refurbished Herbie gives more than average mileage of fun for the family.

* * *

Cars, the celluloid stars


Herbie, the VW Beetle may be the four-wheeler with more on-screen mileage than any one else, but he is by no means the only car to get star billing.

Competitors who made it to film titles include "The Yellow Rolls Royce," "The Pink Cadillac" and a murderous young thing, known simply as "Christine."

The 1964 British film based on the famous Terence Rattigan play, "The Yellow Rolls Royce," was a portfolio of three separate stories, all featuring the same 1930s luxury sedan. The Rolls Royce finally lands ends up in Yugoslavia, during the Second World War where a spunky American woman (Ingrid Bergman) uses it to help the Balkan freedom fighters led by Omar Sharif.

Lethal machines

The 1977 film "The Car" and the 1883 "Christine" both cast their `lead' as killers, ploughing down the opposition.

The second film which featured an aptly named Plymouth, "Fury," was based on a Stephen King bestseller about a demonic car. More amiable was "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," so named for the way her cylinders backfired. The 1968 film version was a popular children's musical starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes.

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