Juliann Garey
April 03, 1992 at 05:00 AM EST

It might not shake up parents as Macaulay Culkin’s fatal bee sting did in My Girl, but when Mom and Pop take the kids to Beethoven — a comedy about a family that adopts a St. Bernard — they may have something to growl about.

In Beethoven (that’s the dog’s name) evil vet Dean Jones kidnaps family dogs and pet-store pups for dubious scientific experiments. A laboratory filled with caged animals and tables covered with surgical instruments figure prominently. The film also includes a scene in which a gun is cocked at Beethoven’s head and another in which the villain is stabbed by flying syringes. Such scenes may be much too strong for young children despite the movie’s PG rating.

Universal says that lots of kids have enjoyed the movie at advance screenings, and it presents 29 thank-you notes from them as proof. ”We’ve screened Beethoven for PTAs and other groups, and everyone comes away loving the movie,” says a studio spokeswoman.

But while Universal may intend the film to be all family fun, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Washington-based activist group, thinks the movie delivers something different. ”The message is important,” says PETA spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. ”Family animals are being stolen. Plenty of vets work for universities making sure that animals have enough food before they get their heads broken open for some research experiment.”

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