Herbie Movies Don't Have to Make Sense!
Okay, so we're not talking high art. This, I grant you. I'm not entirely sure it's even a good movie; it's one of the ones that kind of haunts the borders. Once again, it's possible that my nostalgia is overtaking my taste. It wouldn't be the first time. It is also true that Herbie movies without Dean Jones are inferior. It is further true that, by 1980, live action Disney was well and truly slumped, a state from which it has still not yet recovered. (Their animation unit picked up, but the live action?) I mean, there is the obvious [i]TRON[/i] exception, and we'll see how well that sequel works out, but by and large, the clamour for family programming seems to have included taking away the real nature of it--which is that adults can enjoy it, too.
Our beloved Herbie has ended up on the scrapheap. Jim Douglas has, against all expectation, actually put the thing in a dump. He has also given the car to his nephew, Pete (Stephen W. Burns), and his best friend/mechanic D.J. (Charles Martin Smith), though they have to go to a Central American scrapheap to get it. Then, logically, they ship it by extravagant ocean liner down to the Grand Primeo, a car race in Brazil which Jim Douglas has assured them the car can win. Hilarity ensues, not least with young Mexican street urchin Paco (Joaquin Garay III). There's stowing away and being chased by evil men in search of Inca gold, which is somehow in Mexico, and a crazy ship's captain played by Harvey Korman and crazy Cloris Leachman and her frankly unnecessary studious niece, Melissa (Elyssa Davalos). And stuff.
It's pretty dippy, really, and there's no reason to think it would be otherwise. We're talking late-period Disney, after all. And okay, yeah, even the early stuff isn't exactly Proust, but there's a point at which they stopped expecting anyone with half a brain to get into the movies. It's really disappointing that we have a choice between so dumb no thinking adult has an interest in them and so mature that it's frankly inappropriate for little kids. Did we lose the balance somewhere? Did we miss it? I mean, I like dippy kids' movies to a certain extent, but there's a certain expectation I go into a movie with, and frankly, most movies today don't meet them. It's disappointing, and it can't just be disappointing to me.
It's also funny that, in the first movie, the Chinese businessman hides behind the racist expectations people have of him, but here, we actually do have something touching those racist expectations. Most of the natives we see are unpleasant and greasy. The only one who seems to speak decent English is Paco, and he's a scummy little pickpocket who's just winning enough to make us forget that it's his own bloody fault everything goes wrong. (Okay, admittedly he does save antiquities from thieves, who may well melt the thing down, but still.) It's alarming, really, that twelve years changed so much--and in the wrong direction. The Mexico we see here is the worst kind of banana republic, no pun intended, where calling the police isn't an option until the last ten minutes.
I'm quite sure this is the least of the original Herbie saga, though it's been quite some time since I've seen the third installment. It's certainly not my first choice for how to spend a leisurely afternoon. We did enjoy it, and there are some laughs to it. I could give you quite a long list of better live action Disney--and, yes, they'd pretty much all predate with the one obvious exception. It's also, oddly, the movie where he gets called Herbie least. The kid spends the whole movie calling him "Ocho"--which I heard, the first time I saw the movie, as "Old Joe"--which apparently is a Spanish pun that I didn't catch because it's never explained. He's called Herbie once at the beginning, and then he's either Ocho or "the car."