Once upon a time, I found out that a friend of mine was a big fan of the movie Beethoven. You know, the one about the big, slobbery dog? Anyway it turns out it had more sequels than you would expect, so I bought him a DVD collection as a gift to him and punishment to everyone else at Movie Night. But then COVID hit and Movie Night disbanded for over a year. But once we started back up, the Beethoven movies were back on the menu! Until a few weeks ago when more COVID shenanigans started preventing us from watching the final film. I’m not saying that this DVD collection started the coronavirus, but I do think it’s a cursed object, here to inflict suffering and ruin unto our world.
But enough about that! Let’s talk about Beethoven! The dog is named as such because he barks along to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, but really because the filmmakers wanted to play Mr. Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” as much as possible. Oh yeah, the song predates the movie as it came out in 1956; the more you know. The story follows the titular big dog as he stumbles into the lives of the Newtons to the delight of the kids and the immediate disdain of the father, George (Charles Grodin, RIP). Through all this each family member gets a little storyline. George almost partners with the yuppie couple from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation–okay, not literally them, but the same archetype–who want to steal his company, but Beethoven stops that. No, he never realizes how close he was to financial ruin, but still. The mother, Alice (Bonnie Hunt), doesn’t want to go back to work and would rather stay at home with the kids, proving her point when the youngest daughter almost drowns in a babysitter’s pool. The son has a bullying problem for like 30 seconds, and the oldest daughter is trying to win the affections of a boy she likes while dealing with the handicap that she’s named “Ryce.” But really, the main story is about shooting Beethoven in the head. With a gun.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that come out of left field? Because yeah, that’s the main conflict of the film. An unscrupulous veterinarian, Dr. Varnick (Dean Jones), has been performing immortal tests on animals that he gets from his two henchmen: Stanley Tucci–wearing black and white cow print cowboy boots–and Oliver Platt. The implication is that Varnick targets animals he sees and orders his lackeys to break into that particular house. For Beethoven specifically, has has been paid a lot of money to test out a new bullet, specifically seeing how messy it is when fired at close range. A thick skull is ideal, so a St. Bernard like Beethoven is good enough that Varnick fakes a mauling and pressures the Newtons into giving their dog to him so he can put it down. Wow, sounds a little fucking heavy for a PG movie, right?
In the end the execution of Beethoven is stopped, the doctor and his accomplices are arrested, and the Newtons adopt all the dogs the evil doctor was experimenting on. What happens to them in between movies since they’re not in the sequel? Unclear, but I expect it all to be explained in Beethoven’s 1½.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t actually exist.
Can you believe they made an entire franchise of this? I suppose it has stuck around in the periphery of pop culture since its debut… 29 years ago? Well I feel ancient. Anyway, the film has some minor iconic scenes like Beethoven shaking off a liquid ton of drool and mud, as well as the dog dragging the sinister business partners (one of whom is David Duchovny). If you don’t remember those scenes, I mention them mostly because the sequels copy them. I’m sorry, I meant the sequels make an homage to the original. The villains as an archetype will show up in the sequels as well, typically two bumbling idiots with homoerotic subtext and a boss ordering them around; sometimes one of the bumbling idiots is the boss. Oh, you think I’m reaching on the queer coding? Well tell that to Tucci and Platt holding hands right and embracing each other before being mauled by junkyard dogs! But I suppose I’ll point out more of that as I talk about the sequels. How many of them are there? Well I could tell you–or you could look it up yourself–but I think it’s more fun to have people check the site on update days and say, “Wait, there are more of these films?!” Hopefully other people think it’s fun. We’ll see.
Next: Beethoven’s 2nd
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