"Beethoven's 2nd" (general release), it's gratifying to report, is just as funny and appealing as "Beethoven" the first. Amid the year-end deluge of adult fare, a family film that actually can be enjoyed by the whole family is always welcome.
As millions of moviegoers will recall, Beethoven is the name given to a lovable but horrendously messy Saint Bernard who escapes dognapers to become adopted by the Newtons, much to the chagrin of the fussy head of the family, George Newton (Charles Grodin).
The entire thrust of the first film was to show George's exceedingly reluctant but nonetheless growing affection for the super-smart Beethoven, whose alertness saves the Newtons from disasters large and small. (The picture is especially amusing for those of us who aren't dog lovers and who are just as persnickety as George).
Since George ended up loving Beethoven as much as his wife Alice (Bonnie Hunt) and kids Ryce (Nicholle Tom), Ted (Christopher Castile) and Emily (Sarah Rose Karr) do, the challenge facing the sequel's writer Len Blum was where to take George and Beethoven next.
Blum came up with an answer as simple as it is sure-fire: Have Beethoven fall in love. It's one thing for George to come to accept Beethoven but another for him to accept a second dog--and of course, the inevitability of puppies.
Propelling the plot is the hilarious sheer nastiness of the owner (Debi Mazar) of Beethoven's true love, Missy, whom he meets in a park, appropriately enough.
Mazar is a skilled scene-stealer as the statuesque, totally mercenary Regina, who doesn't give a damn for Missy but is holding onto her to force her estranged husband (Maury Chaykin), who adores the animal, into giving her a $50,000-divorce settlement in return for custody of Missy.
The prospect of pure-bred puppies intensifies the hateful Regina's greed. Adding to our dismay is Regina's oafish boyfriend, played expertly by Chris Penn.
What really makes both "Beethoven" films work is that the Newtons come across as a real, if admittedly idealized, family. Hunt's Alice understands but does not indulge her husband's exacting qualities, and their children are tremendously likable.
A key subplot involves Tom's Ryce, who has become a young woman since the first film, attracting young men--first Ashley Hamilton's handsome, shameless playboy and then the steadier Danny Masterson.
One loose end: We never do learn whether the Newtons decide to put at risk their large and expensive home to expand George's auto freshener manufacturing business.
"Beethoven's 2nd" has been made with care. The sunny glow cinematographer Bill Butler brings to the film is precisely right for a family film, and director Rod Daniel, ever adroit with comedy, makes everything work beautifully.
"Beethoven's 2nd" gets away with its fantastic moments because its story has been painstakingly grounded in the realities of everyday family life. The film's several animal trainers have done an amazing job anthropomorphizing the Saint Bernards.
As irresistible as the animals are, "Beethoven's 2nd" really belongs to Charles Grodin, who holds the patent on prissy males, but in both instances gets to show George endearingly in the round.
Charles Grodin: George Newton
Bonnie Hunt: Alice Newton
Nicholle Tom: Ryce Newton
Christopher Castile: Ted Newton
Sarah Rose Karr: Emily Newton
Debi Mazar: Regina
Chris Penn: Floyd
A Universal presentation. Director Rod Daniel. Producers Michael C. Gross, Joe Medjuck. Executive producer Ivan Reitman. Screenplay by Len Blum. Cinematographer Bill Butler. Beethoven's trainers Glen D. Garner, April Morley. Missy and puppies trained by Karin McElhatton, Paul A. Calabria. Editors Sheldon Kahn, William D. Gordean. Costume designer April Ferry. Music Randy Edelman. Production designer Lawrence Miller. Art director Charles Breen. Set decorator Cloudia. Sound Gene S. Cantamessa. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG, for mild language and unsuitable teen-age behavior. Times guidelines: In one scene, a young man traps a young woman in his bedroom in an attempt to seduce her.