Beethoven – #3 in the US (Apr. 3 – 5)
All-Time Domestic $57,114,049 | All-Time International $90,100,000
All-Time Worldwide $76,253,806
Beethoven slobbers its way into generic family film territory carried by the late great Charles Grodin.
Ludwig van Beethoven stunned the world with his compositions. The German composer stood the test of time with classics such as the profound “Moonlight Sonata” and the haunting melody of “Fur Elise.” None was more important than “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor.” It elevated Western music with its bombastic prowess that stuns with a mixture of hope and bliss amid the bombast. It’s also the reason for the St. Bernard’s namesake.
Beethoven is a family comedy that sees comedy legend Charles Grodin do battle with the beloved St. Bernard as he storms his way into his family. The daily life of peaceful suburbia is turned on its head due to Beethoven’s arrival. This is where most Millenials’ first exposure to Grodin comes from. A cranky old dad who hates dogs. It’s this and the wonderful cult classic Clifford. Grodin was a remarkable actor starring in The Heartbreak Kid, the “even better sequel” The Great Muppet Caper, and being the foil to Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run. Grodin was a legend on the screen and behind the scenes as a comedy writer. To us kids in the 90s though, he was one grumpy man against one hell of a dog.
The Beethoven franchise was no slouch either. Based on the popularity of this film, it would span a theatrical sequel in 1993, an animated series in 1994, and a slew of direct-to-DVD sequels. Combined together, there are eight Beethoven films. One of them is even a Christmas movie because when I think of Christmas, I think of Beethoven. The dog wound up having a Super Nintendo game as well because movie video game adaptations were a hot commodity in the 90s.
Beethoven escapes being stolen by two bumbling thieves (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci) working for evil veterinarian Dr. Herman Varnick (Dean Jones). Beethoven wanders into the bed of Emily Newton (Sarah Rose Karr). The Newton family sees him as a gift from family patriarch George (Charles Grodin). His wife Alice (Bonnie Hunt) tries to convince him to keep the dog along with their older daughter and son Ryce and Ted (Nicholle Tom and Christopher Castille respectively). He agrees and names him Beethoven. Time passes and the big dog runs rampant with slobbering about the place.
After a visit to Dr. Varnick for a routine appointment, Varnick makes it his mission to capture Beethoven for his skull for an experiment. The experiment itself involves shooting a bullet into the large skull of a dog. As Varnick makes this clear, the Newton family must band together to ensure the family dog does not go to the place all go ends up: heaven.
Beethoven is the weirdest family dog movie to be made. Going beyond the silly “Dog runs amok, whatever can we do,” it adds in a villain for no real reason than to add a conflict for no true reason. Making a malevolent veterinarian a mad scientist who kills dogs on the side was a choice someone made. The film without the villain aspect would work. A simple family trying to deal with their new companion works great (see 2014’s Paddington). Adding a villain can be great if the villain provides a true obstacle or threat to the family (again, see 2014’s Paddington). Without it, it could have been a straightforward film with Grodin coming to grips with his hatred of Beethoven. That in itself would be a blast. The montage of Beethoven running about and being a big messy boy and causing chaos is what the whole movie could be.
The star of the film Beethoven, played by Chris the dog, is a darn good boy. It’s not hard to fall for a goofy big old oaf. He’s a messy big dog with a love for the family. Animal actors were prominent in the 90s with dogs being the main affair. Homeward Bound the next year after relied on them (and a cat) to tell the story. Air Bud might be the most famous one because (say it with me now) “Ain’t no rule that says the dog can’t play basketball.” The precursor to all these was Benji and Old Yeller though we don’t talk about that one. Monkeys and apes also had their share of the spotlight, but dog films outclassed them. Sorry, Ed.
Grodin is terrific at acting filled with hatred for this dog. He speaks of Beethoven as if he committed war crimes with an intense contempt for him. He plays up to the silliness of having him as a big dog well. I cannot get enough of him seeing Beethoven desecrate his bed with dirt. He points in pure anger and in a quiet rage says “YOOOOOOOOOOU!” Beethoven proceeds to shake himself off with slobber and spit spewing. It’s the thickest and grossest use of slime and syrup outside of a gorefest. It’s revolting and Grodin sells it like he is about to be killed by the slobber. Grodin nails comedy so damn well. There’s a talent he has playing off others, be it another actor, a dog, or a bevy of Muppets.
The antics are wacky, but it is the typical generic kids’ fare. The dog messes up the house. He eats way too much. He does his business everywhere but the yard. The family is a standard family that does not have anything beyond their one-note roles. It’s generic for the most part, outside of the insanity that is Dean Jones. The most fascinating thing about Beethoven is seeing stars before they become household names. Stanley Tucci is a bumbling thief alongside real-life friend Oliver Platt before they go on their own accord. Both would produce the stellar film Big Night and star in The Imposters. Tucci and Platt are well-respected character actors to this day. TV star Patricia Heaton of Everybody Love Raymonds fame plays a business executive. Alongside her is The X-Files’ David Duchovny. Raymond is considered a sitcom mainstay for years to come. X-Files would begin in 1993 to send Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson’s career into the stratosphere.
Beethoven does not have not enough bark or bite. It’s a run-of-the-mill family comedy that happened to have one of the greatest comedic actors in it. It’s hokey with a villain out of a completely different film. It’s not a film that is worth rushing to see for nostalgia. Rollover to another movie.
Revue Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Next week, we will question whether or not Stephen King likes cats with Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers.