Veterinary Movie Review of “Beethoven”

  • September 25, 2017

This is an on-going series in which we visit t.v. and movie shows featuring veterinarians and/or veterinary medicine.  An earlier review can be found here.

If you want to know when it was that the veterinary profession started to lose its status in the public eye, I know exactly when.  It was 1992.  How do I know this?  Because that’s when the movie Beethoven hit the theaters.  In it an evil veterinarian is trying to kill the Saintly Bernard.  Understand, the kids that were taken to this kill-the-dog-fun-for-the-entire family movie, written by, of all people, John Hughes, are now of pet-ownership age.  It’s no wonder many of these people, having been traumatized by this movie, look at us so skeptically.  They even used the family-friendly actor from several Disney movies, Dean Jones, as the bad vet just to add that extra bit of psychological frission. 
Think I’m conflating the importance of this movie as a negative impact on our profession we see every day?  Let’s hit the highlights.  Dr. Varnick has his own practice, yet seems to operate some unclear, ill-defined, off-the-books animal testing out of a dirty warehouse.  Right off, you’ve got the vet who seems friendly, yet may hold nefarious plans.  He lies at several points in the movie, one in overtly faking an attack by Beethoven so that he can get his hands on him for the “experiment”.  Another check box for feeling your vet may not tell you the truth.  At another point he gets paid with an envelope of cash by someone either from the gun industry or the mob (or both, I guess, is possible) and he’s also seen loading stacks of bills in a safe in his clinic office.  Even when the owner, the kindly Charles Grodin, relinquishes Beethoven to Dr. Varnick for euthanasia (due to the attack) they literally charge him a boarding fee since it can’t be done until tomorrow.  Check the boxes for money-grubbing right there, there, and there.  Add in that little fancy sports car he drives as well.  And I’m trying to ignore the stupidity of the premise which is the only way to test a new kind of bullet is on a thick-headed dog.  Couple that with the insinuation that he’s going to hide the evidence of his ill deeds by, in part, incinerating all the dogs (they have several in cages) while still alive.  Beating Beethoven to provoke the attack and wanting to be the one to personally shoot the bullet into his head and there are multiple check boxes for thinking your vet may do intentional harm to your pet because they really don’t care.  It’s pretty much every insult clients have been known to throw at us nowadays.
I mean, come on!  Can you name another movie that can imply more negativity towards us than this one?  And because it’s touted as a family comedy movie, I’ll bet it gets introduced to generation after generation, especially since it was so popular it spawned sequels.  Way to go Hollywood!  And if you’re still not convinced, here’s an article from 1992 as to how upset our profession was about the movie and its impact (though I feel they didn’t realize the long-term repercussions) and how little the makers of the movie cared:

As an aside from all the vet stuff, watching this dog eat everything from cookies to ice cream to Twinkies, etc. just reinforces why people continue to feed their pets people food and think it’s just fine.  Because diarrhea’s fun!  Also, it is unclear if anyone in Dr. Varnick’s practice knows what he does off-site.  There’s a little weirdness when the euthanasia is delayed (for perpetuation of the story-line of course) because “Jimmy usually does that and he’s not here until tomorrow”.  Really?  Who is this Jimmy?  Not a doctor, obviously.  And I’m pretty sure vets could perform that back in the dark ages of 1992.

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