Beethoven (1992)

BRIAN LEVANT

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.   USA, 1992, Screenplay by , Cinematography by Produced by , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by , .

Bonnie Hunt, Beethoven, Charles Grodin, Christopher Castile, Sarah Rose Karr, Nicholle Tom in Beethoven

A cute little Saint Bernard puppy is kidnapped from a pet store by thieves and manages to escape, wandering into the home of a family whose lives he brightens with his sudden appearance. Three kids and their loving mom () are thrilled to meet the young canine that they name Beethoven, but dad () is incensed: dogs are messy, too much work, and a Saint Bernard will grow to be so much more trouble than he’s worth. The impressively intelligent pet worms his way into the hearts of everyone around him, but Grodin is unmoved and almost secretly elated when the vet tells him that Beethoven has shown aggressive behavior and needs to be put down. What he doesn’t know is that this particular vet (played by in an unfair swipe against good and true veterinarians everywhere) is actually stealing dogs and selling them for weapons and chemical testing, and Grodin’s desire to finally have a clean house is put to the test when his kids tell him their suspicions of this villain. A surprise hit that is fun for the whole family, this is a sweet animal movie that suffers only from overzealous Hollywood screenwriters (John Hughes and Amy Holden Jones in this case) feeling the need to up the stakes with too many conflicts (Grodin also has to deal with snooty financial investors, played by and , trying to take over his air freshener business) while being unable to decide just how smart Beethoven is. Dogs are charming on their own, the four-footed star’s traipsing through the neighbourhood visiting his usual haunts and familiar friends is a pure delight, so having him possess an uncanny knack for problem solving and performing a number of ridiculous stunts takes us into fantasy territory and ruins what was otherwise a very guileless tone.  Beethoven’s presence as a catalyst for shaking up the dysfunctions of this family and inspiring some wonderful scenes where Hunt, who is excellent, holds her husband responsible for his emotional unavailability to his kids, would be satisfying enough, so the inclusion of bumbling thieves and a showdown at a warehouse feels like desperation to appeal to fans of Home Alone. Followed, surprisingly quickly, by a sequel the following year.

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