Universal // 2001 // 94 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // December 21st, 2001
It's double trouble as America's most lovable dog, Beethoven, is back in an all-new hilarious adventure!
I have black mildew growing in my bathroom that is easier to kill than a series of direct-to-video sequels once Universal gets their hands on it.
Beethoven (after four of these movies, I don't think I need to explain who he is) lives with the Newton family. Richard Newton (Judge Reinhold -- Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Beverly Hills Cop, Beethoven's 3rd) is a starving greeting-card artist. His wife Beth (Julia Sweeney -- It's Pat, Saturday Night Live, Beethoven's 3rd) does something important and high-paying; I'm not sure what it is, but it keeps Beethoven supplied with dog food while Richard struggles to sell his paintings. Beethoven runs around a lot and makes messes of everything. Beth has had all she can stand and wants to send him to a farm. Their kids disagree and secretly enroll Beethoven in obedience school to try to improve his behavior.
While at the park for obedience school, Beethoven accidentally changes places with Michelangelo, another St. Bernard who is identical to him in every way. Well, not every way -- Michelangelo belongs to an insanely rich, insanely New-Age family and is the model of perfect dog behavior. Both families are amazed at the changes in their respective dogs. Wacky hijinks ensue.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The rich family has an English butler who is masterminding a plot to kidnap Michelangelo and hold him for ransom. Of course, he kidnaps Beethoven instead, which is more than he bargained for. Even more wacky hijinks ensue.
Well, what can one say about 94 minutes of doggie humor? We have lots of doggie drool jokes -- Beethoven secretes gallons of saliva that looks like hair gel. There are lots of doggie fart jokes. There are lots of jokes about Beethoven eating stuff, running around and breaking stuff, and making people fall over. There are jokes about Beethoven drinking from the toilet, including the only noteworthy directorial choice in the whole movie: a shot looking up at Beethoven's face from the bottom of the bowl as he slurps away. Director David M. Evans should get a little gold statue on his mantelpiece for that shot alone. (I think he can pick one up at Suncoast Video for around $11.) I also have to give him credit; despite all the doggie bodily function humor, and the obvious temptations there, no one in this movie comes in contact with dog excrement. In today's Hollywood, that takes guts. Oh wait, I forgot -- Julia Sweeney winds up covered in dog barf. I take it all back.
It's an unexpected treat to know that Judge Reinhold is still alive and able to get work. This guy was a big part of my movie-watching life growing up. It's nice to see that Reinhold hasn't aged a bit and still looks every bit the 25-year-old high school senior from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He's also playing basically the same character he's been playing for the past twenty years or so, but it seems to be a natural extension of his personality. He's likeable and goofy, and provides some of the only really funny moments in the movie as he tries to teach Michelangelo how to be a dog again.
Beethoven's 4th is a Universal DVD release. They clearly don't put as much effort into their direct-to-video efforts as they do their theatrical releases. The video transfer is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and leaves a bit to be desired. There is quite a bit of grain in various scenes, and a slightly smoky, dirty look to the entire picture. There are numerous instances of edge enhancement, aliasing, and moiré problems. Colors are not as sharp as one would hope. Fine textures tend to lack the necessary definition and blur a bit. It's not a terrible transfer, about what one would expect for a direct-to-video kiddie flick, but it is a little disappointing given the quality we usually expect from Universal.
Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1. Once again, this is an example of what I like to call "Comedy 5.1" It is a surround mix in name only, with all of the sound coming from the front soundstage. For what it's worth, the sound that we do get is quite nice, with voices and incidental sound effects clear and easy to understand, and no evidence of any audio hiss or distortion.
There is a small selection of extra content. There is a Production Notes section where we learn that the director used his four-year-old son as his test audience, and enjoys answering to a kid with a crayon. That explains a lot about Beethoven's 4th. There is also a section of cast and crew bios, which covers seven people. There is also a short promo clip for Balto: Wolf Quest, an upcoming animated feature. It looks okay, but I always get suspicious when a studio labels a new movie as "an instant classic." Finally, there is the usual utterly worthless "Recommendations" section that Universal insists on putting on their DVDs. Wake up, guys. Either give us trailers, or do away with this concept. These cheesy "recommendations" sections with the thumbnail pictures of DVD cases are just plain annoying.
In all seriousness, I can't be too hard on Beethoven's 4th. The nonsensical plot is just an excuse for more doggie mayhem scenes, the dogs are the smartest characters in the movie, and everything is utterly predictable. It's 94 minutes of doggie slapstick and sight gags. Still, it is inoffensive and harmless, and even a little bit cute in its own way. I guess part of me deep down is still a four-year-old kid with a crayon who wants to laugh at the big adorable doggie knocking things over and getting in trouble.
For those of you with kids, Beethoven's 4th should be a completely safe bet. It is devoid of anything nasty or vulgar or particularly mean-spirited. On the other hand, it is also devoid of plot, characters, or dialogue. It is the cinematic equivalent of junk food, lots of empty calories that are consumed and quickly forgotten. Beethoven's 4th won't be particularly bad for them, but do you really want to raise kids who like this stuff? There are a lot more clever things your kids could be watching, movies that tell decent stories that engage their imaginations. I hear Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory was just released -- get them that instead.
Guilty! It's time for this franchise to head to the pound.
We stand adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2001 Erick Harper; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Bios
* Sneak Peak of Balto: Wolf Quest