Friday, 27 November 2020

Movie Review: Beethoven (1992)

A child-friendly comedy, Beethoven offers harmless laughs in the story of an amiable dog adopting a family and guiding them in and out of various messes.

A St. Bernard puppy escapes from evil veterinarian Dr. Varnick (Dean Jones) and his two dognappers (Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt), and makes its way to the suburban home of George Newton (Charles Grodin). The three Newton kids Ryce, Ted and Emily are immediately enamoured with the puppy, and their mother Alice (Bonnie Hunt) helps convince the dubious George to keep it.

The dog is given the name Beethoven and grows into a big, slobbering, messy but lovable adult. Beethoven becomes an essential family member, protecting George from shady business investors, supporting Ted against school bullies, rescuing Emily from a pool incident and helping Ryce meet her cute classmate. But Dr. Varnick still has nefarious plans, placing Beethoven and all the Newtons in peril.

Co-produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Brian Levant, Beethoven delivers family-suitable laughs, yuks and yukky laughs. The script by Edmond Dant├Ęs and Amy Holden Jones stays within all the safe zones for young children with just a few zingers thrown in for the adults to enjoy, and with a big friendly dog as the center of attention and three kids to interact with, the humour is easy to find.

To support young attention spans the narrative structure is episodic, as Beethoven gets a succession of relatively short set-pieces to demonstrate his smarts. A few end in riots of laughter, including the escapades of the malicious investor couple (David Duchovny and Patricia Heaton) seeking to steal George's business. Dr. Varrick's heartless plot supplies the overarching wickedness connecting the introduction to the climax, but of course he is up against a wholesome family pulling together.

The visuals are smooth, Levant often adopting a dog's point of view as a few other 4-legged friends of Beethoven woof their way into the story. Mercifully, just the one musical montage sneaks in, here used to fast-track Beethoven's growth from cute and small to still cute but not-so-small.

Fully aware who the real star is, the human actors easily slip into support mode, Charles Grodin playing up his set-upon dad persona, Bonnie Hunt countering with the sympathetic mom adept at finding her husband's soft spots. Dean Jones is the caricaturish villain, staying just on the right side of not-too-scary, while his sidekicks chase after bumbling laughs, both Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt paying their dues in relatively early roles.

Full of energy if not originality, Beethoven is easy viewing.



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