Why Beethoven Is The Most Screwed Up Family Movie Ever Made
If you decide you want to devote a weekend to ruining your own sanity, settle in for a marathon of dog movies on Netflix. Just about any live-action movie featuring a dog as the protagonist or sidekick will do. Almost without exception, these films take place in broken universes in which all remnants of a sensible reality have been torn asunder. Think we're exaggerating? Okay, below is a GIF from a real kids' movie about a dog who becomes a professional wrestler. He competes against actual humans, and one of his signature moves is to fucking choke them out with his tiny dog paws:
"It's the only way I can get sexual gratification after they snipped me."
That's real. The movie is called Russell Madness (because the dog is a Jack Russell terrier and trademark infringement presumably slapped down their attempt to call it "RussellMania"), and it's merely a randomly chosen example. Here's a trailer for the equally unsettling Karate Dog:
The thing is, with any live-action dog movie, the madness is baked in. First, they're having to shoot around a combination of stunt dogs, puppets, and CGI, creating a broad range of uncanny valley effects that will assure every viewer that their universe is naught but a dark carnival of perverse horrors.
The nightmare future the Baha Men tried to warn us about.
Then you have a story in which the heroes have a problem that can only be solved by a dog. (Which in every way is always going to be less capable than a human -- thumbs matter, dammit!) And even stranger, the bad guys have to have some kind of dog-centric evil plan that doesn't have a chance in hell of making sense. This brings us to 1992's lovable St. Bernard adventure, Beethoven.
This is Part 3 of our weeklong series on insane movie villains, aka "Wait, What Was Their Plan Again?"
It Starts Out Simple Enough ...
Charles Grodin's family adopts an escaped St. Bernard and learns to love the big guy despite his destructive, messy antics. The film was a massive hit (it spawned seven sequels over the next 22 years, plus an animated TV series), and why not? Where on Earth will you find a human who won't get a chuckle out of an exasperated Charles Grodin chasing around a big sloppy dog that's running amok at his barbecue?
But basic Hollywood story structure demands that every plot has a villain, even a wacky dog movie. In Air Bud, the basketball-playing pooch's former owner is a dick and tries to steal him back. Other times it's an evil dog catcher, or a neighborhood bully, or a rival dog. In Beethoven, they ... went a different direction.
The Villain's Profession Is Literally Shooting Dogs In The Skull
The antagonist here is one Dr. Herman Varnick, an imposter veterinarian who's secretly working with a weapons company. To test a new line of bullets, he needs to try them on "dogs with large skulls." No, really! That's the villain's motivation!
So first he examines Beethoven and tells Grodin's family that they should be careful, because St. Bernards can be prone to sudden aggression. The second part of his plan is, naturally, to visit the family at their home and stage a false flag mauling by pouring blood on himself and slapping Beethoven in the face until the dog reacts. He then threatens to press charges unless the dog is put down, and Grodin relents and lets him take the dog.
The family then reconsiders and tracks the doc back to his evil lab, where he's prepared to, indeed, SHOOT BEETHOVEN IN THE FUCKING HEAD:
"Why yes, I am fully erect. That's ... part of the experiment."
What is he even testing?? He needs to shoot a live dog in the head with a revolver from near-point-blank-range? There's no other way to test the efficiency of this bullet? Like, say, by shooting the skull of an already-deceased dog? Does he need to see the light go out of its eyes? Hell, he's not even measuring the distance, or filming this experiment, or documenting it in any way!
Wait, What Was His Plan Again?
Seriously, what does this test even prove? Is this weapons company going to proudly advertise their "Saint-Bernard-Skull-Obliterating-Strength Bullets"? We'd make a joke that this guy might not really be a scientist, but why, at the story stage, make him a weapons' scientist at all? Why can't he simply be a crazy guy who hates dogs? This is so fucking weird! And it gets worse!
Grodin interrupts the test by crashing into the room through a skylight. At which point the doctor immediately decides he has no qualms about shooting him too. That's right, in like an hour of screen time, he graduated from "We need to test these bullets" to "We need to shoot a live dog in the skull" to "Let's abduct this family's large dog instead of finding another one" to "Screw it, now let's kill the human dad to cover this all up." That bullet company really needs that dog-skull data. Repeating the experiment to get a large enough sample size is going to require a small-scale genocide.
Fortunately, the PG family movie has a happy ending. First, another dog comes along and starts chewing on the doctor's genitalia.
"Are ... are you still fully erect?"
Then one of the children crashes the family car through the wall of the lab, impacting a tray of medical equipment which launches a dozen syringes into the evil doctor's torso.
Did he ... plan that? Is that a skill that child has? HOW DID HE PRACTICE IT?!?
The scientist's henchmen (one of whom is Stanley Tucci) then get chased off by a pack of dogs acting on the children's orders -- a pursuit that ends with them getting mauled by an entirely different pack of dogs.
The denouement features the evil scientists getting found guilty of animal cruelty. No one seems concerned about the several dozen crimes the family committed in the course of stopping them, including at least two crimes which, to be fair, probably don't exist on the books because they've never happened before. All of this is conveyed to the audience by a local TV reporter who seems oddly unmoved by the ludicrous nightmare she's describing. And why not? She knows she's living in a dog movie universe, where madness reigns.
Our series on nonsensical villain schemes continues tomorrow with one of the most critically acclaimed horror films of all time! Catch up with our previous deconstructions of Loki and Darth Vader.
Make sure to check out the rest of the series:
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