Herbie: Fully Loaded
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When Fully Loaded opens in earnest, Herbie is arriving in a dusty used car lot run by a shady figure called "Crazy Dave." Fortunately for the car, he soon meets his latest owner, Maggie Peyton (Disney regular and now pop culture icon Lindsay Lohan). Despite arriving to her graduation late and on a skateboard, Maggie has somehow earned a diploma from the fictional Los Angeles University and a producing job for ESPN in New York (conveniently making this the year's second Disney film with plenty of references to their profitable cable sports network). Maggie's well-meaning widower father Ray Peyton Sr. (Michael Keaton) has taken her to Crazy Dave's for a college graduation present and though it's not her first (or second) choice, she walks away with Herbie, or rather he drives away with her.Just as Jim Douglas and Paco did before, Maggie quickly discovers that Herbie has a mind all his own. He takes her to a garage run by her long-haired, same-aged friend Kevin (Justin Long) and then throws her into an impromptu drag race with NASCAR bigshot Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). What by all accounts should be a total embarrassment results in a victory for Maggie (or "Maxx", as the name on the newly-discovered suit she wears claims) and Herbie, who is indeed brimming with spirit despite being covered with dirt. Maggie's remarkable win puts Trip in a bit of a tizzy, and he handles defeat by demanding a rematch. Meanwhile, back at home, the Peytons are dealing with some unease. The family's racecar is losing sponsors left and right behind the poor driving performances of Maggie's older brother Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer). Having serious street racing accidents in her past, Maggie must lie to hide Herbie and her's triumph from her overprotective father, who wants better for his daughter. One may see a fairly obvious solution to both problems, but the movie doesn't resolve its problems too quickly or too cleanly. Fans of past Herbie movies needn't fear that the domestic drama dampens in anyway the free-wheeling fun that they would deem present in some number of past outings. Sure, the Peytons' problems feel a bit more tangible than Dean Jones' self-confidence and money dilemmas, but while Fully Loaded treats its conflicts respectfully, it still leaves plenty of room for unabashed silliness.As a whole, Fully Loaded is as predictable as any past Herbie installment or any underdog sports film for that matter. For most viewers, this is not a downfall because every mild twist and turn is overshadowed by a light comedic spirit that is mostly in tune with the charm of past Herbie films. Furthermore, who enters a Herbie movie expecting to be blown away, either by plot surprises or the generally unexpected? In that sense, this distant sequel will not let down the modest but ardent Herbie fanbase. Those in the helm here were either familiar with the Bug's past adventures or other Disney movies to channel the irony-free whimsy that marked those and several other comedies the studio produced in the era immediately after Walt Disney's death. This may be in contrast to many of the live action films the Walt Disney Pictures of today releases, but it is a not unwelcome callback to simpler terms that fares pretty well.There are several aspects unique to this outing. Fully Loaded is quite busy with its multiple subplots and expansive character arcs. In the face of its relatively brisk pacing, one inevitably wishes there was slightly less climactic finale (even if it clocks in at a reasonable length) and slightly more development of the handful of personalities at play here. The central cast feels as large and involving as any previous movie that puts a car at its foreground, and yet, the movie doesn't allow us to get to know them as well as we'd like. One exception is Herbie himself, who is given plenty of screentime for antics, from oil-spurting to door-slamming. Those tracking the Beetle's career may notice some differences in this appearance. For one thing, his headlights now act more or less like blinkable eyes. For another, his personality assumes a bit more weight than before, as the car's "feelings" are articulated with point-of-view shots abound. He winds up feeling somewhat like E.T., but nonetheless, he has your full sympathy, moreso than any of his human co-stars. As for those humans in Herbie's world, the mostly male cast finds mostly the right tone to their performances. As the star, Lohan may seem a little young to play a college graduate, but as has been true for her past Disney turns, her acting is not among the faults of the film. With less screentime, those around her such as Keaton and Dillon (names that would have been bigger twenty years ago) work well enough, effectively evoking a burned-out contemporary dad and over-the-top nemesis, respectively.The film's setup no doubt was in part inspired by Disney's effort to appeal to the remarkably large demographic which religiously follows the NASCAR circuit. For viewers in this class, Fully Loaded is bound to be noticeably far-fetched, as it seemed that way even for me, someone who knows nothing about the field beyond what this film tells us. Again, this is another trait which seems easy to dismiss on the basis that it is a Herbie comedy, not an instructional video and not something which is too often concerned with being realistic.In a number of ways, from the source material and forty-something automotive star to the performances and soundtrack selections (which, in a manner slightly less esoteric than an Adam Sandler movie, include Pilot's "Magic", Van Halen's "Jump", and Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend"), Herbie: Fully Loaded feels like an older film placed in the modern world. This allows for both state-of-the-art visual effects (CGI use is thankfully conservative) and storytelling with a bit of an edge. It is not a perfect marriage, and those who have never found any charm in past Herbie movies can probably write this latest episode off altogether. But those wanting the universes of yesteryear Disney comedies and present-day cinema to mesh will mostly be pleased and amused with some consistency.
VIDEO and AUDIOHerbie: Fully Loaded is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio and it looks about as phenomenal as you could hope for, when dealing with the generally pleasing new live action movie on DVD. Disney has made a surprising (but not at all disappointing) decision to not release a reformatted fullscreen version alongside this widescreen DVD. While they perform this act regularly for animated movies, the studio's new G-rated live action films are rarely offered exclusively in their proper dimensions, so it's somewhat worth taking note of.The film is marked by sun-drenched California photography and that bright and bouncy feel is aptly conveyed in this practically flawless transfer. Colors are bold, bright and consistent. The element is universally pristine. Sharpness, depth, and range are all exemplary. The handful of dark scenes hold up just as nicely as the vibrant well-lit daytime sequences that make up the majority of the film. Overall, this is a standout transfer and about as good as DVD allows for.The soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, also does not disappoint. Plenty of automotive sounds come in loud and clear, though not at the cost of your eardrums or frequent remote control-reaching. Dialogue is perfectly crisp, as you'd expect, and the dynamics are fairly consistent (with Maggie's nighttime drive providing a peak). The retro-pop soundtrack makes good use of soundfield, and, though used sparingly, dimensionality is appropriate as well. With less compression, a DTS track might have been slightly more engulfing and loaded, but the Dolby track here achieves aural satisfaction without the need to lose bonus features or further compress the visuals. French and Spanish language tracks are also presented in Dolby 5.1. BONUS FEATURESIn a departure from tradition, the Deleted Scenes section holds content that's substantial and worthwhile. The seven sequences (11:47) can be viewed individually or in succession and with or without explanatory audio commentary by director Angela Robinson. Though a couple are disposable, most reveal new things about characters, such as Maggie's admiration for Trip Murphy, Ray Jr.'s drum-playing abilities, and the establishment of the "Maxx" persona. Breckin Meyer fans should especially appreciate this portion of the disc, for the actor has as much screentime here as he does in the whole film. Anyone who enjoyed the movie will find this abandoned footage worth checking and even those who felt elements could have been better developed may like what they see here. Those seeking the reported cameo by Love Bug star Dean Jones might be disappointed that such a thing is not included here, but in an interview with UltimateDisney.com, director Robinson confirms this never left the planning stages and was not actually filmed.Coolest of all in this section is an eighth sequence presented on its own (again with optional Robinson commentary). This is the alternate title opening (3:26) which would have started the film in a '70s-style animation. While it's only partially colored and edited from still drawings, it enables one to easily see the way the film could have opened as opposed to the footage updating us on Herbie's past. I have a tough time deciding which is a neater way to start the film, as both have plentiful appeal. Needless to say, its inclusion is a highlight of the disc.Music and More lives up to the first part of its heading, as it contains Lindsay Lohan's music video (3:30) for the film's end credits song "First." The skinny blonde performing bears little resemblance to Fully Loaded's red-headed protagonist and the lyrics are of little relevance to the movie. However, the song is fairly catchy and at least the video's staging (an elaborate drag-racing scene) is a bit more inspired than the "in the studio" route often taken. The handful of film clips are hardly surprising, but it (and the presence of Herbie) may attract fans of the film in addition to the Lohan fanbase with whom its greater appeal resides.Given a listing of its own is a Blooper Reel (5:15), which amuses as blooper reels often do. There are a few botched lines, but most of the laughs (or smiles) stem from on-set antics, which include repeated attempts to scare Lindsay Lohan with fake spiders and an authentic spit-shake or two. The last section is Backstage Disney, and as usual, this holds the brunt of the DVD's behind-the-scenes bonus material. Three featurettes deal with different aspects of Fully Loaded, and while this route will appeal to some, a general production making-of piece would definitely have been welcome. This trio may cover a number of bases, but there is still plenty of ground left untread, especially for those wanting something of a "Herbie Through the Years" retrospective that the opening credits quickly offer with a tongue-in-cheek tone. (This group's best resort remains the mixed-bag that is The Love Bug's bonus disc.)"A Day at the Races" (13:54) focuses on the world of NASCAR as it appears in the film and in reality. NASCAR driver Deborah Renshaw acts more or less as host, dispensing "fun facts" like what the different color flags mean and what a race entails. A portion of this piece more specific to Fully Loaded deals with the cast's preparation for filming race scenes that looked genuine, including Lohan and Robinson's test-drives and the demanding pit crew instructions that Breckin Meyer and Justin Long received.The other two featurettes are a bit heavy on the technical aspects of production, which is a little surprising seeing as how they won't be of great interest to too many young audience members. Nonetheless, at least they're better than flimsy princess fluff! "Breaking the Rules: Stunts from Herbie: Fully Loaded" (9:05) is pretty self-explanatory from the title. It revolves around sequences like the demolition derby scene and the final race that demanded more than your typical car could do. "Bringing Herbie to Life" (11:40) concerns itself a little more with the title character himself and how multiple Herbies were used to achieve different effects. This contains brief reflections from cast and crew, as well as effects men talk.Finally and most substantially is a feature-length audio commentary by Angela Robinson. A far cry from Love Bug and Herbie Rides Again director Robert Stevenson (who spent two decades directing Disney films and the twenty-five years prior helming other movies), Fully Loaded is only Robinson's second feature film, and her first big budget studio production. That made her an unusual candidate for the position, but an inspired choice of Disney's hunt for a fresh take. Her commentary is a rewarding listen, filled with plenty of informative tidbits about production, from script revisions to filming challenges. The discussion wavers a bit too much into the "how we did each shot" terrain, but there's lots of insight into Robinson's creative process (she approached the film as "Seabiscuit with a car") and her various cinematic influences.As usual, though Herbie's "sizzle reel" and theatrical trailer graced a number of other DVDs earlier in the year, neither is included on the film's DVD itself. Instead, the disc-opening previews promote Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (the first full trailer), Sky High, and Kronk's New Groove. Two additional promos appear on the second page of the Sneak Peeks menu. These provide a lengthy preview of the Disney Channel Movie Surfers' upcoming segments on Antarctica: The Journey Home (since retitled Eight Below) and a shorter look at Walt Disney World's automotively-related Xtreme Stunt Show. MENUS and PACKAGINGThe animated main menu features Herbie coming, doing something, and leaving in front of a mildly psychedelic background. These screens are inspired enough, but the menu loops through just three of them. The sub-menus all feature excerpts of Mark Mothersbaugh's versatile score and images of either Herbie or his human co-stars. As has been the norm lately, the only animation besides the Main Menu comes in transitions, the Bonus Features menu, and the blue-based Sneak Peeks section.The packaging for Herbie: Fully Loaded really only had one test to pass and sadly, it fails. Now admittedly a failure in packaging is never too serious, but, consciously or not, the spine on Fully Loaded's cover artwork does not match the blue with Herbie stripes that appears on all four previous Herbie film's DVDs. Instead, it's red and fully loaded with logos and Lindsay Lohan's name. It would have been very easy and sensible to keep the movie's title font and still have the spine match the other 4 DVDs in appearance, but this inconsistency is hardly worth mentioning and only affects the demographic which has all the Herbie movies, keeps them lined up to one another, and cares how they look. Otherwise, Fully Loaded's packaging is typical: standard white keepcase with a two-sided insert serving as chapter/extras overview. There is also an insert which promotes Sky High and provides a unique code for Disney's silly and restrictive Virtual Magic Kingdom online fad that will get you an "exclusive virtual Herbie prize pack" complete with Herbie helmet. CLOSING THOUGHTSIn giving new life to a franchise absent from the big screen for a quarter-century, Herbie: Fully Loaded neither thrills as much as you may have hoped for, nor disappoints as grandly as you may have feared. Instead, this contemporary update stays true to the good-natured spirit of the lightly diverting Herbie films from the past, and flirts with the same level of success as the better installments. The cast and crew provide enough spunk and originality to throw out complaints about tired formulas or cashing-in on an old popular name, but the film doesn't hit all its marks or break much new ground. As such, it's fun to revisit Herbie in today's world and there are enough good segments to keep viewers entertained for most of the running time, but the proceedings are never especially memorable or excellent, and they aren't likely to compete with rosy-tinted childhood memories of the old Herbie movies.Disney has given Herbie: Fully Loaded a DVD that's a cut above what most of the studio's new live action films receive. The pristine widescreen-only transfer and Dolby 5.1 audio leave little room for complaints, while the bonus materials surpass the norm in volume and value. A healthy serving of interesting deleted scenes, three focused featurettes, an engaging commentary, plus bloopers and a music video for quick kicks all add up to a fairly loaded disc which extends the film's holding power considerably.A rental may serve sufficiently for those who aren't already hooked on Herbie or greatly interested in the film, but fans of the film and those open to some silly family entertainment won't likely be disappointed by this DVD.More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com 781b155fdc