Have you noticed how few G rated movies you have to choose from every year? This one is appropriately rated and, after the booger joke in the opening scene, delivers wholesome fun and action with a generally solid message about loyalty and honesty. I liked this movie.
Maggie has just graduated from college with plans to work for ESPN when her dad takes her to a junkyard to get her a car for her graduation present. A stretch indeed, though I can't think of a better way to make the story come together. They wind up with Herbie, the famed racing Volksy--a 1963 Beetle-- from the Disney of a generation ago. In case you’ve forgotten him, Herbie’s personality is as winning as his track record, with expressive headlight eyes, bumper smile and numerous self defense tricks in all his moving parts. He wins Maggie’s heart, especially her heart for car racing, since she is the rightful heir to a waning stock car racing dynasty. She loses Herbie when she tries to use him to move on to something bigger and better, but then wins him back when she risks her neck to rescue him from a monster Chevy truck. Together, with the help of a likable mechanic and romantic interest (Justin Long) who was Maggie’s high school chum, they go on to win races, put the narcissistic bad guy (Matt Dillon who, to the satisfaction of many I’m sure, drives the Cheetoes car) in his place, and find her true calling.
The movie has plenty of digital enhancement, but also some wonderful robotics and terrific stunt work. Lindsay Lohan as Maggie is beautiful, charming, and in the words of my five year old daughter,‘brave’. She also sings a catchy closing song that wraps up a good sound-track of classic rock favorites. The cheesecake factor is blessedly small here, though not absent, and while sexual attraction and romance are frequent themes, the movie is free of the coarseness that is so common, even on TV. Michael Keaton as her father is painfully underutilized and a key story element–his resistance to letting her race–is poorly developed. The movie narrowly avoids one of this writers pet peeves, the achievement of success and glory through rule-breaking and parental defiance. However, the subtle plot maneuver that allows this will be lost on younger children, and parents may need to ask and explain. The action and excitement are not as overly stimulating and strenuous as the action scenes in the similarly G-rated Polar Express, but my daughter did want my hand over her eyes for portions of the monster truck scene. Teens may need a fairly high tolerance for corn to enjoy this movie, but this is a trait worth developing.
The movie is, of course, fundamentally a Jack and the Beanstalk-type metaphor of youth triumph over big, clunky, maturity, but Herbie, though small, is no younster anymore. Perhaps it can also be seen as a reminder that an aging, beaten up 'has been' can be renewed to accomplish great things, too, especially through collaboration with a younger generation.
Review written by Norman Hale, M.D.
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