I'm getting really excited about Herbie: Fully Loaded. Check out these pictures of Herbie and the NASCAR version.
Now, I read the script months ago, but wasting several hours on the Love Bug Fans message board has given me lots to be excited about. In addition to the cool photos linked above, there seem to be some minor but significant changes to the version I read.
In the script, Lindsay Lohan's character, Maxy Douglas is part of a Douglas family with a history of racing. This family has a car number 53 and uses the same striping colors. When she finds Herbie, he's blank white, like at the beginning of The Love Bug. This suggests that the movie exists in a different universe than the previous ones, one where Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) never existed or drove Herbie (though there are hints that the car may have been used for racing before). Lohan names Herbie herself, and Herbie gets his stripes once she officially starts racing with him.
In theory, in this version, this means that gumball inconsistencies could be explained because Herbie is getting them for the "first time" again. Essentially they are starting the story over, so anything goes, as opposed to TLB '97 where he was supposedly the same car yet looked totally different.*
One of my personal pet peeves about the script was actually that Herbie didn't get his stripes until fairly late in the movie.
However, based on the information and production photos I've seen here, it appears they have made the choice to change all this. It sounds like they changed the Douglas racing family to Peyton, and may have changed the family's number and racing colors (explaining Lohan's mismatched race suit in some photos?), which means that this does not contradict pre-existing Love Bug continuity.
Since "junkyard Herbie"** appears with the stripes and gumballs, that means this too has been changed so that Herbie has his stripes when Lohan finds him. Which means the number and stripes come from Herbie, implying Herbie does have a history which may include racing with Douglas. Thus, based on the production information I've seen here, the current version actually being shot no longer rules out a connection with the original films. And Herbie has his stripes/gumballs throughout the story!
I'm a die hard Herbie fan from way back, and the treatment of this character is very important to me, although I try to keep it in perspective. I hated TLB '97 not only for the careless inconsistencies and moronic plot, but also for how weak and spineless Herbie's character seemed to be. In the new script, Herbie is back to his mischeivous self, as he should be. Quality-wise, it's more or less at Monte-Carlo level. Definitely better than Bananas.
I was willing to accept a continuity reboot because I understand that business-wise, Disney is targeting a certain audience and they can't count on people to bring a comprehensive knowledge of the franchise to the table. I don't know if it was the writers or director who decided to make the changes described here, but I'm really happy they seem to have decided to leave the continuity open for those of us who want to believe that the movies connect, while still providing an easy jumping-on point for first-time viewers.
Having the continuity link adds so much resonance to the character for those of us who care. Knowing that it's my same old pal Herbie having these new adventures, imagining Herbie taking off and winning another race--it brings a tear to my eye (in my imagination). I the cars look great (yes, I'm a little sad the gumballs aren't exactly right, but I can live with it), and I can only imagine what they'll look like doing the stunts they have planned.
*"Gumballs" are the circles with the 53 in them. The 1997 Love Bug TV movie was marred by gumballs with incorrect typefaces, sizing, and placement.
**"Junkyard Herbie" refers to the rust-painted version, as Herbie appears when found in a junkyard at the beginning of the film.
***Another footnote: Rumor has it that Lindsay Lohan's partying and bad behavior on set is creating such a problem that Disney is contemplating replacing her. This would create unfortunate delays in production schedule, and raises the frightening specter of the more personally respectable but collossally untalented Hilary Duff being called in. It's unlikely, since getting Duff would set production back even more than Lohan's constant hangovers, but still cause for mild worry. Lohan seems to know that Disney needs her to generate interest in the film, and is playing it for all it's worth.