Beethoven is a 1992 family comedy film, directed by Brian Levant and starring Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt. The film is the first in the Beethoven film series. It was written by John Hughes (under the pseudonym Edmond Dantès) and Amy Holden Jones. The story centers on a St. Bernard dog named after the composer Ludwig van Beethoven owned by the Newton family and co-stars Nicholle Tom, Christopher Castile, Sarah Rose Karr, Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, and Dean Jones. Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his film debut in a small role.
When the film opens, a St. Bernard puppy and a large group of other puppies are stolen from a pet store by two thieves, Harvey and Vernon. After meeting a dog, during his escape from the thieves, the St. Bernard sneaks into the home of the Newton family. He climbs up a little girl's bed and begins licking her face, making her wake up. She is surprised to see the puppy and even says it was a dream come true. The father, George Newton, doesn't want the responsibility of owning a dog, but his wife, Alice, and their children convince him otherwise. While trying to name their new-found dog, the youngest daughter, Emily, plays a portion of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and the puppy barks along; the family thus names him "Beethoven."
While George focuses on Beethoven's negative qualities, the rest of the family grows attached to Beethoven. He helps the children overcome their problems in various ways; he scares off the bullies that were bothering middle-child Ted, helps the eldest girl, Ryce, talk to her crush, and saves Emily's life when she falls in the irresponsible babysitter's swimming pool. However, George becomes increasingly jealous of the affection Beethoven receives, feeling as though he is being neglected as the family fawns over Beethoven. His frustration comes to a head when Beethoven's antics ruin a barbecue George is hosting for Brad and Brie, venture capitalists looking to invest in, and secretly swindle George out of, his car freshener firm.
The family takes Beethoven to a local veterinarian, Dr. Herman Varnick, for a routine medical examination and immunizations. The family is unaware that Dr. Varnick is involved in unethical and deadly animal experimentation and hired the two thieves, Harvey and Vernon, seen in the opening sequence. He urges the family to leave him overnight at the clinic, but they refuse. Dr. Varnick speaks to George alone and tells him of a supposed mental instability among St. Bernard dogs making them potentially dangerous to humans and advises George to watch Beethoven closely for any sign of viciousness. In truth, Varnick requires large-skulled dogs such as St. Bernards for an ammunition test.
Dr. Varnick later visits the Newton home under the guise of doing a follow-up exam on Beethoven. He hits Beethoven until he leaps on him. Varnick uses fake blood, claiming that Beethoven bit his arm. Dr. Varnick tells George that Beethoven has to get put to sleep or he will press charges. Emily, who saw the veterinarian hit Beethoven, protests that the attack was fake, but George, fearing for his family's safety, takes Beethoven to Varnick's office. It is on the way to Dr. Varnick's office that George discovers his own affections for Beethoven; he remembers when he was a child his father took their family dog to the vet to be euthanized and he never forgave him. He fears that his own children will hate him now for taking Beethoven to be destroyed. Sure enough, when he returns home with the empty leash and collar, his wife and children all look at him and leave the dinner table rather than remain with him, with Emily calling him a "dog killer".
Later, after recognizing the children's sadness and having a conversation with Alice in which she suggests that they believe their own daughter, George reluctantly agrees to speak to Dr. Varnick again. The family goes to his office to investigate the incident further. Dr. Varnick claims that Beethoven has already been euthanized. The children are distraught, but George is upset and reminds Varnick that he had been told that this would not happen until the next day. George notices that Varnick has no bite marks on his arm and therefore the attack was faked. George gives the vet a solid punch, before departing with his family. Following a lack of police intervention, the family decides to follow Varnick, leading them to his warehouse. As George closes in, Beethoven breaks free but is recaptured by Harvey and Vernon, while Alice calls the police. George crashes through the facility skylight just as Dr. Varnick prepares to shoot Beethoven. Before Varnick can shoot them, a captive Jack Russell Terrier bites Varnick in the crotch, causing him to fire a shot in the air. During the fight, Ted (who heard the shot along with Ryce and Emily) drives the car into the building, launching numerous syringes into Varnick, sedating him. As the Newtons free all the captive dogs, Ted notices Harvey and Vernon trying to escape, and he sends the herd of angry dogs after them. The thieves escape into a junkyard, only to be attacked by a pack of Dobermans guarding the yard.
Dr. Varnick and his accomplices are arrested for animal abuse. The Newtons are praised as heroes by the news and George takes a new liking to Beethoven. Ryce also gets a phone call from her crush Mark, much to her excitement. The Newtons then go to sleep, saying good night to Beethoven and all of the dogs they rescued.
- Charles Grodin as George Newton
- Bonnie Hunt as Alice Newton
- Nicholle Tom as Ryce Newton
- Christopher Castile as Ted Newton
- Sarah Rose Karr as Emily Newton
- Dean Jones as Dr. Herman Varnick
- David Duchovny as Brad
- Patricia Heaton as Brie
- Oliver Platt as Harvey
- Stanley Tucci as Vernon
- Laurel Cronin as Devonia Pest
- Nancy Fish as Miss Grundel
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Student #1
The film has received mixed to negative reviews from critics. Based on 26 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, it has an overall approval rating from critics of 31%, with an average score of 4.7/10. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, writing in his review, "this is not the sort of entertainment I scour the movie pages for, hoping desperately for a new film about a cute dog. Nor did I find anything particularly new in "Beethoven", although I concede that the filmmakers secured an admirable dog for the title role, and that Charles Grodin, who is almost always amusing, has what fun can be had playing the grumpy dad."
The film was followed by six sequels. Beethoven's 2nd was released to theaters in 1993. The remaining sequels were direct-to-video films: Beethoven's 3rd (2000), Beethoven's 4th(2001), Beethoven's 5th (2003), Beethoven's Big Break (2008), and Beethoven's Christmas Adventure (2011). An animated TV series was also created around the films that debuted in 1993. Dean Jones voiced the role of George Newton in this series after playing the villain in the film and Nicholle Tom reprised her role as the voice of Ryce Newton.
- ^Dutka, Elaine (1992-04-07). "Weekend Box Office : 'White Men' Outjumps 'Basic Instinct'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
- ^Wilmington, Michael (1992-04-03). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Beethoven': Lightweight Tail-Wagger". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
- ^"Beethoven (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
- ^"Beethoven (1992)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
- ^"Beethoven". Chicago Sun-Times.
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