Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) and his mechanic Wheely Applegate (Don Knotts) are in Paris to compete in the race across France to reach Monte Carlo, but the reception from the crowd and their fellow competitors is not quite what they would have wanted. Rival driver Bruno Von Stickle (Eric Braeden) is most disparaging about the thought their car, the Volkswagen Herbie, could possibly match up the power of the other modern vehicles, but Jim tells Herbie to ignore them for he's sure the car with a life of its own can succeed. Or he is until Herbie falls in love...
With a Lancia a fraction of his age, the dirty old, er, car in this second sequel to the original Disney favourite The Love Bug. Evidently after the first sequel the executives at that studio thought they should go back to basics with this, therefore with no evil property developers to be seen, never mind little old ladies to drive him, it was back to being a racing car for this series. Not that they didn't complicate matters when there were jewel thieves involved, as they - Max (Bernard Fox) and Quincey (Roy Kinnear) - have committed a cunning plan at the museum right next to where the event is being opened, stealing a priceless diamond thanks to their insider knowledge - but who could have given that knowledge?
We find out sooner rather than later, but in the meantime what's important is that Herbie has found himself with the gem in his fuel tank after Max places it there as a diversion, scheming to return later and retrieve it. How was he to know the vehicle he's put it in is actually alive? Though Herbie is more interested in that Lancia (who has a name as well, though we don't find it out till the end), and as luck would have it she's alive into the bargain, she just needs a lot of wooing before she is won over, leading her driver Diane Darcy (TV actress Julie Sommars) at a loss to understand why her ride keeps wandering off by itself and blaming Jim. Thus one of those antagonistic romances familiar from this type of entertainment kicks off, as with everything here we can predict what will happen well before the finish line.
Not that this made the journey to Monte Carlo much of a chore, for in the manner it proceeded this turned out to be the best sequel in the franchise. The original was a charming hit of its time, but thanks to Disney's habit of rereleasing their product into cinemas was kept in the public consciousness for a long while, and if this particular effort played it as safe as you'd expect, that meant it was easy to enjoy without approaching anything like classic status as perhaps the source had got within striking distance. Essentially you had good value with two plots for the price of one, the criminals chasing after the loot and the love affair hampering Herbie's ability to win against Von Stickle (whose car isn't alive but might have been a decent avenue to go down if there had been more time).
The curiosity of a romance between two four-wheeled friends was no more bizarre than the rest of this series, and if nothing else offered a change from Disney's accustomed anthropomorphic animals even if they did follow the same path. The quest produced a few undemanding laughs and some very good driving from the stunt team, though more often than not they were travelling across fields or through water, even getting lost in the Alps where Herbie yodels in the canyon. Incidentally, why is it in films (or even cartoons) where the route for a race is marked with an arrow, is that arrow so easy for villians to turn around to point in the wrong direction? A serious problem for the organisers to contemplate, there. Anyway, Jones, returning to the studio's fold, and Knotts, finding a new career there, made for a nice team, and if the human romance was more abrasive than heartwarming then Herbie himself was singleminded enough to conjure up adventure. Music by Frank De Vol (though the famous theme is not much in evidence).