Like many gearheads, one of my earliest, formative experiences that established my lifelong fascination with cars involved a sentient 1963 Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie. The original movie, The Love Bug, was a really a big mash note to cars and grassroots racing. Later sequels got worse and worse, and what Disney’s planning now for a reboot is an outright travesty. We have to do something.
While I was delighted to find out that Disney XD was considering a Herbie reboot at all, the path they seem to be taking embodies the worst stereotypes of idea-bankrupt Hollywood hackery. According to TVLine, here’s what Disney is thinking for the reboot:
... the potential reboot is looking for a girl or boy to play Lili or Landon Reed; it appears that Herbie hasn’t cemented whether the lead child will be male or female. Lili/Landon is “part scientist, part entrepreneur, part daredevil” and realizes, when her/his parents go missing, that they’ve secretly been working on a government project: a talking car named Herbie. Herbie is key to helping the kid reunite with her/his parents, but a gang of criminals also wants to get its paws on the state-of-the-art vehicle.
What. The. Fuck. No, man, no. A secret government project? Herbie as a “state-of-the-art” vehicle? A talking Herbie? Did these people accidentally get confused and watch a bunch of old Knight Rider episodes?
This is a betrayal of everything that made Herbie wonderful in the early movies. Herbie’s fundamental nature is antithetical to this high-tech, computerized secret government project bullshit. There’s a core of humble homliness that’s key to what Herbie is. He’s a 1200cc little economy car, and all the remarkable things he achieves and does are great because he’s not portrayed as some over-engineered talking supercar.
Herbie’s essence is that he’s an underdog, always outclassed, but with an iron resolve and heart.
It doesn’t really matter why Herbie seems to be self-aware and capable of so much more. Any attempt to fill in some complex, logical backstory is doomed. Did the addition of microscopic midi-chlorians somehow make Star Wars better? Have you ever met a human being who didn’t have a crowbar lodged in their cerebrum who actually liked the idea of midi-fucking-chlorians?
Because that’s all this government project bullshit is: more midi-chlorians. The original movie had just enough in the way of explanation, and it was just elegant and vague enough to be perfect. One of the characters, Tennessee Steinmetz, suggests this:
Jim, 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 than they do on their wife and kids in a year. Pretty soon, you know what? The machine starts to think it is somebody.
Disney has to respect kids enough to know that they don’t always need some overwrought backstory. They don’t need a car to talk to understand its intent. They don’t need a half-ass CG face on the car. The current batch of little kids really isn’t that different than the batch I was a part of. I know, I own and operate a six-year-old one.
If I could fall in love with a stubborn, moody, mischievous, competitive, and loyal car, one that, I should add, even attempted suicide in the first movie, I have no doubt a modern kid can, too.
The Herbie series absolutely deserves a reboot; Disney is right about that. It needs to be modernized and made current and relevant. But, it has to stick to the key traits that made Herbie what he is, and none of those include human speech, clandestine government projects, or high-tech handwavy justifications.
Disney can make some other car show for that. Just take another pass at Herbie in a way that builds on what made him great, once.
If Disney does this, I promise I’ll quit bringing up eugenics and human extinction in relation to the Cars movies.
(Thanks to Rob for this, and for reminding me about midi-chlorians)