Walt Disney died in 1966. Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg took the reins of the studio named after him, and thus ushered in the Disney "renaissance," in 1984. The period between these two dates is usually regarded as something of a Dark Age for the company, as it fumbled about, looking for a vision, and trotted out mostly bland family entertainment that bore little of Uncle Walt's showmanship or creative ingenuity. And the character who best typifies this era may be Herbie, the Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of his own.
Herbie first revved his engines in The Love Bug (1968), which showed audiences how proud and occasionally childlike a machine could be, years before R2-D2 came along. The film tapped into the hippie generation's fondness for Beetles and explained this particular vehicle's unique personality by appealing to a then-trendy form of eastern spirituality, which held that all things have an inner life. (The film's star, Dean Jones, later became a born-again Christian and has since starred in a number of religious films.) The Bug went on to appear in three more movies—Herbie Rides Again (1974), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)—and a short-lived TV series in 1982.
And that was that; when the Disney studio's fortunes began to look up, they put Herbie in mothballs. So it is tempting to regard Herbie: Fully Loaded, the Love Bug's first spin through theatres in a quarter-century, as a sign that things have become rather dire at the Disney studio once again. (And after the collapse of the studio's traditional hand-drawn animation division, the possible end of its relationship with Pixar, and the series of expensive flops it churned out last year, things might be very dire ...1
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Herbie: Fully Loaded
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