Director Brian Levant's BEETHOVEN (1992) is one of a host of
children's films that specialize in being non-offensive. The
characters are mildly cute, the villains are unbelievable caricatures,
and the lovable animals are the best part. This makes for cinematic
fare that the whole family can watch without any risks. The kids are
not challenged, and the adults may be a bit bored, but as homogenized
albeit bland escapist entertainment, it delivers.
As the show begins, the lush cinematography by Victor J. Kemper
and the nostalgic sets by Alex Tavoularis evoke a warm feelings in the
viewers. Suburbia never looked better. There are wide and long green
lawns with tall Oaks. Some of the houses even have classic white
picketed fences. In my area these would be multimillion dollar homes,
but that is a technicality; it feels middle class. The bright sunshine
of the morning has a happy radiance to it. At this point the film has
made visual promises to the viewer that it never fulfills. Would that
they had made a real show based on those first few moments.
George Newton (Charles Grodin) is the president of the Newton Auto
Air Freshner company. He has what was once known as a traditional
family. His wife Alice Newton (Bonnie Hunt) no longer works so that
she can stay home and take care of their three kids, Ryce (Nicholle
Tom), Ted (Christopher Castile), and Emily (Sarah Rose Karr). They
looked to be about 14, 10, and 4 in age.
They have many discussions about whether Alice should work or not.
George wants her to go back to work to help him at his business, but
she wants to stay at home. The first time they try a sitter, the
little girl almost dies thus proving that Alice should stay at home for
the sake of the kids. All of this little mini-drama notwithstanding,
the movie is actually a slapstick comedy.
Some bad people are stealing dogs so they can kill them in
horrible experiments that businesses need done secretly. A lovable St.
Bernard, who will come to be called Beethoven, escapes from the dog
nappers and comes to the Newton house to live. George hates the idea
of keeping him, telling the family, "Listen, we're people people.
We're goldfish people. We're ant farm people. We're not dog people."
As soon as Beethoven grows to the typical enormous size of an
adult St. Bernard, trouble begins. He runs through the mud and water
and runs in the house, basically trashing it. He seems to always get
George the filthiest. None of this is done with even an attempt at
believability. All over the house are large, and clearly fake, animal
paw prints in mud. Through out the show, the slapstick humor relies on
one sight gag after another, like the time Beethoven ties up some bad
guys' chairs and drags them all over the neighbor. The dog eats the
food off the table, now that's really original, and he shares an ice
cream cone with a kid. I found little of this funny.
Dean Jones wearing extra thick glasses and plays the evil and not
credible veterinarian Doctor Varnick. Have you ever noticed that if a
character in a movie has those extra thick glasses, they are always
portrayed as evil? What a stereotype of people with severe sight
problems. Dean Jones is simply awful in the film. The material, from
the script by Edmond Dantes and Amy Holden, that Jones gets like
wanting to shoot large dogs to try out bullets that explode on impact
is even worst than his acting.
Charles Grodin is an extremely accomplished comedic actor. To see
him at the top of his form check out BROADCAST NEWS. In BEETHOVEN, he
seems depressed. His acting is so detached and lifeless that it is
close to an out of body experience.
George's family in the film and Beethoven himself save the picture
from oblivion. Too bad the writers did not spend more time on
character development. Each actor is given the outlines of a
character, but it is never filled in. Most promising is Nicholle Tom.
I hope to see her again. Finally, the finale is the best part of the
picture and the only one with sufficient energy. This is the only
point in the film, other than the times when "Rollover Beethoven" is
played, that the music (Randy Edelman) comes to life.
BEETHOVEN runs 1:27. It is rated PG for reason that escape me.
There is no sex, nudity, violence, and only one mild cuss word.
Perhaps it is because of the discussion of animal killing. Certainly
younger kids might be frighten by it, but I think it will all go over
their heads, so I think the picture would be fine for kids of any age.
My son Jeffrey (age 7) liked the picture when he saw it on video for
the first time this week, but I was not impressed. There is not enough
there for me to recommend it, and I am giving it * 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes