Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Charles Grodin, Bonnie Hunt, Nicholle Tom, Christopher Castile, Sarah Rose Karr, Dean Jones, Oliver Platt, Stanley Tucci, David Duchovny, Patricia Heaton|
|Producer:||Joe Medjuck, Michael C. Gross, Gordon Webb, Ivan Reitman, Sheldon Kahn|
At first glance just another “dog movie,” this tale of a lost and mistreated puppy finding himself a home and a family turned out to be quite enjoyable.
The evil veterinarian, Dr. Varnick (cast-against-type Dean Jones), needs puppies for some illegal experiments, so his lackeys (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci) raid a pet store; but some of the puppies escape. One, a St. Bernard, finds his way into the Alice and George Newton (Bonnie Hunt and cast-against-type Charles Grodin) home. George is a wimpy air-freshener executive who is routinely outvoted at home on family matters. Once his children (Nicholle Tom, Christopher Castile, Sarah Rose Karr) see the puppy whom they’ll later name Beethoven, the decision to keep him will be no exception to that rule.
The adult Beethoven wrecks the house in scenes reminiscent of “Turner and Hooch”. [The background for this and other characterization shots is a mix of classical music and-what else-“Roll Over, Beethoven.”] But whenever a family member needs help (meeting boys, warding off bullies, being saved from drowning, getting out of a business deal with loan sharks), Beethoven puts his understanding of English, his mind-reading ability and his brute strength to work to save the day.
Obviously, the climax will revolve around taking care of Dr. Varnick’s gang. it’s only a question of how.
The acting is deliberately hokey but competent all around. The kids are very good in their roles, and young viewers will identify with some of the things they face. “Chris,” as Beethoven, is very good also.
With a little more restraint, this film could have gotten a G rating. There’s very little profanity. The villains play their roles with a nasty air, but fakey enough to make it watchable for most kids from age 8 or so. There’s the theme of animal experiments (Varnick intends to use a smaller dog for some kind of chemical testing, and wants Beethoven for a skull-penetration test of a new handgun bullet). No one (human or animal) is killed in the climax; but Dr. Varnick and his goons… well, you wouldn’t want to trade places with them. it’s a laid-back version of “Home Alone.”