Q: I've seen a few "Herbie" movies over the years, but what was the first one? How did that series get started?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

The films have gotten a little hackneyed over the years, but you should know that once upon a time Herbie was a genuine American phenomenon -- the star of the highest-grossing film in 1969. That film, the one that started it all, was the literary film "The Love Bug," based on the story "Car, Boy, Girl" by Gordon Buford.

The premise -- a racing driver is paired up with an old Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own -- had wheels, and so did the film's leading character.

The sassy Volkswagen may have originally been the supporting act in "The Love Bug," but as is often the case with movies that feature cute, non-human sidekicks, the attention moved gradually from the human character toward the sidekick as the series progressed. (Hence your trouble finding the origin of the series, since only the sequels had "Herbie" in the title.)

The sequels, starting with 1974's "Herbie Rides Again," earned diminishing returns -- though that should have been anticipated given the high bar set by the original not just in box-office returns, but by critics, too. At the time, Variety magazine called it "one of the better entries of the Disney organization."

Quite a statement considering Disney was already a producing powerhouse at that point.


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