It’s very strange to have a sequel that shares only one character with the original, and that a normally inanimate object, and has another character who’s come from a different pair of movies. I’ve been of the opinion for some time now that many Disney movies were part of a cinematic universe before such terms were used, given the overlap of things like colleges and so forth. And it’s apparent that the Herbie movies are connected to the flubber movies, though the villain’s middle initial has changed.
Jim Douglas is off racing other cars. Tennessee Steinmetz has gone to Tibet to take care of a sick guru. And now living in the San Francisco firehouse and taking care of Herbie is Tennessee’s aunt, Grandma Steinmetz (Helen Hayes). The entire rest of the neighbourhood has been torn down for the construction of Hawk Plaza, a planned 130-story office building. Developer Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn) wants to tear down the firehouse, too, of course. He sends his sweet, innocent nephew Willoughby Whitfield (Ken Berry), a new law school graduate, to encourage her to sell.
Of course, Grandma’s got a couple of protectors. One is Nicole Harris (Stefanie Powers), a flight attendant who used to live in one of the buildings and now lives in the firehouse, coincidentally the same one Grandma’s husband used to work at and in which she was married. Her other protector, of course, had been living at the firehouse with Tennessee and Jim; Herbie’s still around and is determined to take care of the old lady. It helps that Alonzo Hawk develops a healthy terror of him.
Man, you should not build a 130-story office building in San Francisco. It’s really not a good place for one. The tallest building in San Francisco right now is the Salesforce Tower, which is less than half that height and has a Wikipedia page that talks about, among other things, how it is seismically protected. My knowledge of California state earthquake code (which is larger than you might expect, frankly) tells me that I wouldn’t feel safe in a building that tall built to ’70s earthquake code in San Francisco. Especially not built by Alonzo Hawk.
Disney, as I think I’ve mentioned, was not big on sequels initially, because Walt personally was not big on sequels. This is from the stretch shortly after his death where the studio was sort of in a holding pattern, attempting to bank on past successes and not really taking many risks. Now, in my opinion, there are still some good movies from that era; this one isn’t great, but it’s fun, at least, and it’s better than some family movies available. But it does also borrow on the success of both The Love Bug and Son of Flubber.
This movie, however, expands on the idea, espoused by Tennessee in the first movie, that all things have souls, that more things are capable of thought than humans believe. Even just in the firehouse, we have a jukebox, an old cable car, and a few others. Herbie is able to rouse a whole army of Beetles. Clearly, it’s a foreshadowing of a heck of a robot uprising, you know?