Turn Back The Clock

Family Movie

Benji

Distributed by Mulberry Square Productions

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

With Counterpoint from Natasia Minners
 

            When I was really young, I had a thing for dogs.  One dog in particular had captured my heart in the movie theater - a scruffy, self-sufficient pup named Benji.  When the local Blockbuster Video was going out of business, I stopped in to see what movies they had left on the shelves and found an old favorite, the original Benji movie from 1974.  I simply had to have it.

            Benji is a stray dog who lives in an old abandoned home.  Quite intelligent and possessing a pleasant nature, it’s no wonder that Benji has made a number of friends in his small town.  From the local café owner to a policeman and even the neighbor’s cat he likes to chase up a tree, everyone loves Benji and has some time to spare to talk to him and hand him a treat or two.  But there is one stop along his usual routine where Benji seems to have the most fun, the Chapman home.

            Cindy and Paul Chapman (Cynthia Smith and Allen Fiuzat) want to keep Benji, but their father (Peter Breck), a prominent doctor, is not a fan of dogs, most particularly a stray, and will not allow it.  So, with the help of their housekeeper (Patsy Garrett), the kids hide the fact that Benji comes by every morning for breakfast until they can think of a way to change their father’s mind.

            Meanwhile, Benji has found a soul mate in a beautiful white stray dog named Tiffany.  After making sure she is fed, romping with her in the park and introducing her to all of his friends, Benji decides to show her his home.  Unfortunately, someone else has taken notice of the abandoned house he lives in, a bunch of kidnappers whose victims are very well known to Benji - Cindy and Paul Chapman.  Can Benji somehow make the humans understand that he knows where the Chapman children are?  Will he be able to save the life of his new girlfriend?  Will Benji ever get adopted?  All these questions and more are answered in Benji.

            When I was a child, this movie was one of my favorites and Benji, along with Snoopy, began my fascination with dogs.  Watching this movie again, I couldn’t help but laugh at the cute antics of Benji.  Benji, AKA Higgins was trained well and could perform a number of tricks.  His facial expressions, however, were what helped win the audience over.  I loved this movie so much as a kid that I asked my mother to buy the book, and when the sequel, For the Love of Benji, hit the theaters, my mom not only took me to see it, she also bought the book adaptation of that film.

            The storyline is cute, though there isn’t much in the way of dialogue.  After all, the movie is centered around the dog and he’s not one of those fantasy talking dogs either.  Otherwise, the dialogue of the film is usually centered around keeping him (the kids), finding a girlfriend (the cop), closing up a café (the café owner) and whether the abandoned house is haunted (the kidnappers after Benji steals their pudding cups).  The movie is a classic dog-saves-family film in the style of Lassie, but with a much smaller…and I think cuter…dog.  Oh, and there is the love story featuring Tiffany.

            All-in-all, Benji is an adorable film best suited for a family with small children as they will get the most enjoyment out of Benji’s antics.  I enjoyed watching Benji after all of these years.  It really brought back some fun childhood memories.
 

Natasia Counterpoint

            When my human popped this DVD into the player, gushing about how it was a movie from her childhood, I was skeptical.  After all, it had a picture of a dog on the cover.  How good could it be?  But, seeing as though I had no choice in watching the film - she had the remote and the only way of stopping her from viewing it would be to chew through the electrical cord on the DVD player…too much work - I decided to plop myself down next to her and see what it was about.

            I can’t understand what my human sees in Benji.  First of all, this movie is about a dog, for crying out loud!  A dog that chases a sexy white kitty up a tree!  What kind of a film is this!  The human kept remarking how cute this dog was, but I found him to be a scruffy thing with some admittedly interesting expressions.  And that girlfriend of his, she’s just a white fu-fu dog that looks pretty because they kept filming her in soft light.

            There’s no real story to this film - no character development.  We only learn a tidbit from Benji’s past when he flashes back to the last time he saw a gun.  Other than that, we don’t know how Benji ended up a stray, how the Chapman kids met him, how he came to live in that house or even how the kidnappers came to chose the Chapman kids as their victims.  We also have no idea how a fluffy white puppy, eventually named Tiffany by the Chapman housekeeper, became a stray.

            All the producers rely on is that Benji can perform a few tricks and look cute doing them.  To me, that’s not enough to lure this kitty into watching this film.  Benji is a movie of very little substance that would probably appeal to human children who don’t know any better, but one that discerning kitties will know to ignore.

 


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