The dog film has been a mainstay in theaters for almost as long as movies have existed. One of the most popular films in the genre is Benji, which Mill Creek Entertainment is re-releasing on Blu-ray on February 13, 2018. Despite Benji being very well-known, I had never seen the film until I got an early review copy of the Blu-ray. I’m guessing that this is a film that relies heavily on childhood nostalgia but even I thought the film was pretty good overall. For adults like me who never watched it as a child, Benji is a solid but unspectacular family-friendly film. However, for kids and people with nostalgia for the film, it is likely even better than just solid.
Benji is about a cute little mutt who lives as a stray in an abandoned but opulent house. He has a daily routine which involves spending his mornings with the children of the Chapman family, chasing a cat, “conversing” with a friendly police officer at lunch, waking up the owner of a cafe from his nap, digging through a trash can, and ultimately heading back to his home. The Chapman kids love Benji and want to adopt him but their father is not a fan of dogs. One day, Benji’s abandoned house is visited by crooks plotting a crime (who then decide to use it as a hideout). When some of his loved ones become victims of the crime, he must find a way to put a stop to the criminals.
Obviously the plot of Benji isn’t really much since the movie is G-rated and intended mainly for families. However, most people are not going to watch something like Benji for a hard-hitting plot anyways. They just want some cute antics from an adorable dog, some light comedy, and a simplistic plot that doesn’t really get in the way. Based on that criteria, Benji overall succeeds though it didn’t exactly have me laughing out loud very often (outside of the saga of the pudding cups). While the film’s plot is so simplistic that I pretty much guessed everything that was going to happen before it did (it doesn’t exactly take a fortune teller to predict what is going to happen in a film like this), there is enough humor and love in this film to make it worth watching, even for those without childhood nostalgia for it.
While there aren’t a lot of human actors in this film that get enough time to shine, Higgins (who played Benji) was a very good actor for a dog. Obviously dogs don’t have the range of emotions that human actors can have but you can still easily tell what Benji is thinking at any given moment. The only human actors that get more than a minute or so of screen time are the two kids (who are both pretty awful but they were very young at the time) and Patsy Garrett (who plays their housekeeper and does a fine job). Otherwise, almost everyone else in the cast has very limited screen time. However, there are some decent comedic performances from some of the townspeople Benji visits every day, in particular Francis Bavier (who plays the owner of the cat Benji always chases away) and Edgar Buchanan (who portrays the sleepy cafe owner). Outside of Higgins’ performance, these little roles are some of the highlights of the film. It’s just a shame that they only appear for a few minutes a piece.
Since this is a Blu-ray release, picture quality is obviously a very important element to whether or not this release deserves a recommendation or not. This Mill Creek Entertainment release does say it has a brand new restoration but since I don’t have the prior Benji Blu-ray release, I can’t compare the two. However, I can say that for a low-budget movie from 1974, it looks fine but certainly not amazing. The picture quality looks a bit grainy at times but most of the issues are due to the film’s age and its low budget. Overall, I would say that Benji isn’t really a film you need to upgrade to Blu-ray (if you already own it on DVD) but if you don’t already own it and would like to, this is probably the version you should pick up.
In terms of bonus features, this release of Benji includes an audio commentary with director Joe Camp and his son Brandon, the original theatrical trailer (which for some reason is over 5 minutes long), a photo gallery, and two featurettes (which are unfortunately only included on the DVD part of this release, not the Blu-ray). The first featurette is called “The Phenomenon of Benji” and it is a 26-minute TV special about the dog who played Benji (which includes a live performance by theme song performer Charlie Rich and Benji doing some tricks). The other featurette (“Benji at Work”) is another half-hour TV special, this time focusing on behind-the-scenes stuff (mostly for the sequels and specials like “Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland”). Both featurettes are good additions to this release and should definitely be fun for Benji fans to watch. However, it is a bit annoying to have to switch to the DVD to watch them. I’m guessing this is due to disc space issues though and it is just a minor nitpick that takes about a minute to remedy anyway.
While I wouldn’t exactly call Benji a classic (though I never watched it as a child so I don’t have the nostalgia for it that others do), it is certainly a fun family-friendly movie and one of the best dog movies ever made. Of course kids and those who watched it in their childhood are going to enjoy it the most. However, even an adult like me who has no nostalgia for it gave it a solid 3/5. This new Mill Creek Entertainment version is probably now the best Benji release to pick up since it has a new restoration (though not a great one) and bonus features that the original Blu-ray release doesn’t seem to have (at least to my knowledge). Recommended, especially for families.
Benji releases on Blu-ray on February 13, 2018.
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Benji used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.