This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
This article contains spoilers for Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure.
This is the seventh film in the Beethoven franchise. It’s the first movie after Beethoven’s Big Break rebooted the series with a new title character (in this case a stray St. Bernard that becomes a movie star). It’s a straight-to-DVD tale featuring actors from American telly series, and a post-alimony John Cleese.
Far be it from me to suggest that Cleese didn’t read the script and effusively phone his agent saying “I’ve got to do this part,” but it isn’t exactly up there with his performance in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. To be fair, rhyming couplets in free verse scansion isn’t something that you can imagine him tackling with gusto at the best of times.
The film opens with this over some trudging animation to set the scene: an elf called Henry is asked by Santa to look after the reindeer instead of making presents, gets upset, and ends up losing Santa’s toy bag over a town in Minnesota.
Henry meets the initially sceptical Mason/American Ron Weasley, whose Mum Christine is very busy with work since Mason’s dad died a year ago. Mason is a teenage boy who doesn’t believe in Santa, and doesn’t really like dogs. Plot wise, Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure unfolds exactly as you’d expect, with everyone learning some life lessons and all the good guys getting happy endings. Mason reconnects with his Mum, learns to like dogs, and Christine devotes more time to her son. Henry comes to terms with being the elf who looks after the reindeer after Mason tells him it’s a ‘kind of cool’ job to have.
That’s not to say there aren’t surprises in Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure. The main one, for me, was that I quite enjoyed it. For context, I should mention that I went in with low expectations and have watched all seven Police Academy movies in the last year. This movie is obviously aimed at children and people who still find prolonged fart jokes funny, but in my defence this fart joke has stylistic similarities to a Stewart Lee routine so I can pretend to be the sort of mature intellectual who is making a living dissecting films involving a talking dog.
Yeah. There’s a talking dog. Two, in fact. And one of them calls a human lady “good looking” Plus, when pressed about his career in cinema Beethoven admits “I’ve done a few things,” which boggles the mind.
You might be thinking that the makers of this film have clearly never seen Tom And Jerry: The Movie, and letting the animals speak is at best un-amusing and at worst desperate sacrilege. Initially it seems like a terrible idea, but after a while I just went with it. It seems pretty pointless getting annoyed about it (although obviously that’s not how annoyance works), and the dogs get some decent lines.
The writers – Daniel and Steven Altiere – know they’re making the seventh movie in the Beethoven franchise, and that it’s straight-to-DVD with the primary purpose of distracting children for ninety minutes, but you get the impression that they’ve not phoned it in but tried to make something good out of base materials. The emotional beats don’t land, but fair play to them for trying. Where they succeed is finding a cast and director sympathetic to their main ploy: being very silly indeed.
This is a film where a dog causes mild slapstick peril, only for passers by to react by saying “Omigod, was that Beethoven?” as if Benedict Cumberbatch has just bounded past them, drooling uncontrollably and dragging an elf face-first through the snow.
Robert Picardo – yep, the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – is the bad guy, who is stealing Christmas presents and then selling them on for huge sums. The “Ooh, nasty capitalism” message doesn’t really work on a straight-to-DVD spin off movie trading off a film made nearly twenty years earlier, but Picardo is a good tonal marker for the movie. His villain isn’t exactly boo hiss, more sort of good natured tutting, as if a friendly village policeman might approach him while shaking his head and smiling, saying merrily “Oh Kenny, you’re quite the shit.”
Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure could be described as zany. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who would regard that as a positive, but I prefer to think of it as brazenly immature. It’s got a good, if boring, heart, and quite a few laugh out loud moments that work for adults.
Even if it does contain CGI enhanced puppy dog eyes – like a strange bulging Nietzschean abyss – it was never anything approaching hateful, even if it wasn’t exactly gripping. If you have a tiny human creature to look after, and have run out of absolutely every option apart from a nearby pound shop, this is the film for you. If you like a script that tries really hard to avoid using the phrase ‘Santa’s sack’, this is also for you. If you can tolerate the fact that Beethoven gains the power of flight at the end of the movie for the knowingly silly moment that it is, then yes, this film is sufficiently diverting for its duration.
A word though, for the greatest moment of the movie, and possibly one of the greatest moments of cinema I have witnessed for a long time. Part way through the film Henry tries to borrow a kid’s skateboard during a chase sequence, and promises Santa will get him a better one if he gives it to him. The boy refuses, and Henry steals it anyway, and the boy cries out like Charlie Brown that the elves have turned against humanity.
That isn’t it, obviously. In the mid-credit sequence, after Santa has been, the boy has his better skateboard, and is celebrating the joys of Christmas and goodwill when two strangers run up to him and steal his skateboard. The boy then laments his plight and concludes by wailing ‘People are crooks’.
Fade to black. The credits then continue with jaunty Christmas music.
This is the last dialogue we hear in the film. He does not get his skateboard back.
All joy is ephemeral.