Universal unleashes what should be a big, slobbering hit with this reasonably entertaining sequel, certainly a more pleasing tale than the one that sired it. Facing relatively weak competition for its kid-oriented family audience, pic figures to outscore the first movie and bury a whole lot of bones in the studio’s backyard.
The producers don’t stray far thematically from their first composition, where reluctant family patriarch George Newton (Charles Grodin) had to be won over to keeping a monstrous mutt around.
To its credit, though, “Beethoven’s 2nd” does better than just double up its mediocre forebearer, creating what amounts to a live-action cartoon with a strong “101 Dalmatians” riff that should play particularly well among moppets.
Pic begins with a lonely Beethoven meeting his dream-dog and having puppies, only to have the pooch taken away by her evil owner, Regina (Debi Mazar), who hopes to use the St. Bernard to fleece her husband in their divorce settlement.
The Newton kids start raising the puppies, concealing them from Dad, before Regina becomes determined to cash in on a second front by selling the pure-bred litter. After a section based largely on kid-dog antics, the climax occurs at a mountain retreat where both the Newtons and Regina, conveniently, are vacationing.
As in the first film, the dog exhibits the strangely prescient ability to solve all the family’s problems, and one wishes there were less reliance on peeing puppies as the basis for comedy.
Even so, those elements are less obtrusive this time, as director Rod Daniel (whose credits include the man-and-dog comedy “K-9”) and writer Len Blum (“Stripes”) capture the simple feel of a solid animated children’s film, mixing in identifiable coming-of-age crises that the dog helps the Newton kids resolve.
Mazar, of TV’s “Civil Wars” and “L.A. Law,” adds necessary menace as a flesh-and-blood version of “Dalmatians’ ” Cruella de Vil — her piercing, Stepford-wife eyes helping distinguish her as the sort of villain kids can immediately recognize.
Grodin and Bonnie Hunt also manage a few sitcom-style moments that will provide even jaded adults a chuckle, and Nicholle Tom, Christopher Castile and Sarah Rose Karr are OK as the kids — Karr the closest runner-up to the puppy quartet on the adorable meter.
Not surprisingly, the trainers merit the biggest kudos, as the dog actors (more than 100 play the puppies at various stages, per the production notes) out-emote their two-footed counterparts.
Tech credits are also well-groomed, with Montana’s Glacier National Park providing a lush backdrop as the fictitious town of Glen Haven.
The producers, meanwhile, can start considering what to play for an encore. It doesn’t take a bloodhound’s scent to ascertain that this dog will have yet another day.