Beethoven was a family comedy film about the mischievous titular St. Bernard dog of the Newton family. While the rest of the family loved Beethoven, patriarch George (Charles Grodin) was driven to jealousy over their affections for the dog. An unscrupulous veterinarian, Dr. Herman Varnick (Dean Jones), managed to trick the family into giving up the dog for his sinister experiments. Realizing they’ve been duped, the Newtons rescue Beethoven and the other dogs Varnick had captured.
Beethoven was written by John Hughes (as Edmond Dantés) and Amy Holden Jones, produced by the Ghostbusters team of Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, and Michael C. Gross, and was directed by Brian Levant. The film proved an unexpected success when it was released on April 3, 1992, grossing $147.2 million worldwide. A sequel was never intended, but in light of the box office Universal Studios commissioned one for release the following winter. Beethoven’s 2nd was written by Len Blum and directed by Rod Daniel, and became another success with a gross of over $118.2 million. From there, Universal turned Beethoven into a franchise with six more direct-to-video sequels, video games and toys.
|Beethoven, Caesar and Ginger.|
Part of that franchise came in the form of an animated series produced by Universal Cartoon Studios and Reitman’s Northern Lights Entertainment. Reitman, Medjuck and Gross served as executive producers with Daniel Goldberg. In true cartoon fashion, all of the animals featured on the show could communicate with each other with the humans none the wiser. Joel Murray provided Beethoven’s voice, with Brian George as the family’s hamster, Mr. Huggs, Joe Pantoliano as Jack Russel terrier Sparky, Tress MacNeille as collie Ginger, and Bill Fagerbakke as Great Dane Caesar. Nicholle Tom reprised her role as eldest daughter Ryce Newton from the theatrical films, while Jones stepped into the role of long-suffering George. Kath Soucie assumed the role of his wife Alice, J.D. Daniels as Ted, and Francesca Marie Smith as Emily. As with the film, Beethoven was often seen helping out the various members of the Newtons while driving George nuts by just being a dog (such as trashing the house while playing or tracking muddy pawprints all over). Beethoven also frequently had adventures away from the house with his animal friends, like raiding garbage trucks for treats or teaching a neighborhood cat that he’s not a dog.
|Beethoven and Emily play in the mud.|
Beethoven debuted on CBS on September 10, 1994. Universal’s initial plan was to air Beethoven in both syndication and on Saturday mornings, but ultimately scrapped the syndicated version. The series was developed by Paul Germain, who also served as a writer, voice director and story editor, and Joe Ansolabehere, who also served as a story editor and writer. Other writers included story editor Jonathan Greenberg, Michael Ferris, Buddy Chuck, Peter Gaffney, Jim Bernstein, Michael Shipley, Jeff Lowell and Christian Fletcher, with character designs by Keith Baxter, Julian Chaney, Victoria Jenson, Robert J. Sledge, Stephen DeStefano and Rogerio Nogueira. Dave Feiss directed the opening titles with a theme composed by Christopher Neal Nelson and Baxter. Nelson also handled the rest of the series’ music. It was animated by Hyun Young Animation Studios. Each episode was broken up into two short story segments. Beethoven didn’t prove as successful as its movie counterparts and was cancelled at the conclusion of its sole season.
|George angry about Beethoven's latest antics.|
Milton Bradley released several puzzles depicting scenes that could have come from the show in 1994, while Price Stern Sloan published two books that did come from the series; each adapting an episode and utilizing screenshots from them. Toys based on the show were included in Dairy Queen kids meals in 1996. MCA Universal Home Entertainment released four VHS collections in 1995 containing 3 segments each. In 1996, Gaiam Americas, Inc. released an additional four collections. Only “Trash Island / The Long Weekend” had never seen a home release in the United States; the segments later surfacing online with Russian dubbed over it.