25 JULY 1992, Page 37


Peter Pan (`U', selected cinemas) Beethoven (`U', selected cinemas)

Dog days

Mark Amory

chool's out and so is adult entertain- ment (though I may be wronging Noises Off, a totally theatrical piece directed by Peter Bogdanovich and a flop in America, all of which made me fearful but some say it has its moments). Disney still rules. Good Disney was before and during the last war, that is Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Dumbo, though not for me Fan- tasia. After the war Mickey Mouse died, Walt was feeling both his age and more Interested in other things and, though Cin- derella was a hit, Alice in Wonderland was emphatically not. This was followed by another 'much-loved classic', Peter Pan.

With no memories of the film, hazy ones of the play and only the knowledge that Disney felt he had failed to inject the 'nec- essary warmth' to encourage me, I was plunged amongst Darlings: Wendy was Indeed just like her saccharine mother but the bossiness seemed worse in a child; prim John; sweet little Michael, and Nana the dog, of course, woof, woof. Just as I was trying to draw a distinction between cute ness and vulgarity in favour of the latter, Peter himself arrived with a stunning entrance and there was some exhilarating flying. The boys look like fairies and the fairies look like . .. well, Tinkerbell is often, though wrongly, said to have been modelled on Marilyn Monroe. The plot bowls briskly along, including all I remem- ber of Indians, mermaids (tactfully placed shells), pirates, Smee and of course Cap- tain Hook and his ticking crocodile. He seemed more of a Harrovian than an Eto- nian (as you remember, his last words, omitted here, were `Floreat Etona') and is allowed no dignity and so insufficient men- ace, but it is still the best part. Laurence Olivier wanted to play him opposite Audrey Hepburn at the National Theatre and he knew about these things. The film is brief.

The next household also features a ridiculous father who fears, with reason, that his family love their dog more than him. Beethoven is a lovable St Bernard. Knowing this and no more I jotted down expected incidents before the lights went out and scored with: chewed shoe, retriev- ing ball with destructive results, peeing in amusingly disastrous place (in fact a brief- case), in bed, trails of muddy paws, stealing food before a formal meal and saving a lit- tle girl from drowning (in a pool — I had envisaged ice and skating). I kicked myself for missing many, many more.

The film opens in a storm worthy of Frankenstein with a malevolent doctor well, vet — croaking threateningly, 'I need puppies'. Very soon, however, we are safe in the suburbs with a lawn, three (I had forecast four) cute kids, a winsome mom and a grouchy dad. It might be the Fifties and the whole film could have been made then. There is a moment I did not know anyone dared do any more when the televi- sion comes on with some immediate rele- vant information. Mom (who could have been Doris Day in one of her less spunky moods) does not want to go bad( to work because the cute kids need b- . Grouchy Dad (the Fred MacMurray role) moves from 'We cannot have a dog' through 'This is temporary' to 'I don't want to scratch his head' and finally 'It has destroyed my life'. Companion smiles. 'No, I wish I was kid- ding.'

Charles Grodin saves the situation for any dog-hating dads who may be dragged into this on a leash. He rings endless changes on suspicion, distaste, horror, frozen disbelief and rage, with a particular- ly strong line in shifty pauses before any reaction at all. The dog seems to have extra-sensory gifts, galloping over hedges to reach the neighbouring pool in the nick of time on a hunch, realising that a business contract must not be signed, dragging a desirable school-friend over to the shy daughter: a Mary Poppins of a dog. Inexpli- cably, it does not growl on sighting the vil- lains: a couple of dog-nappers and the puppy-destroying vet. The whole thing loses touch with reality, which does not matter, is quite exciting enough and con- tains nothing horrible. For ages five to ten.