I watched the 2018 Benji in honor of my daughter. Tearjerking dog stories are not my normal genre, but my memory of her watching the original Benji in the late 1970s is so strong, I had to watch it.
The original Benji came out in 1974. That’s the same year my daughter was born, so she must have watched it later as a rental from the video store. On a VCR. (Those were the days.) She was so heartbroken by the sad parts of the story that she sobbed uncontrollably. That was when we had to tell her again and again that it was pretend. Movies are just pretend. If you mention the 1974 version to her now, she’ll tell you the same story of heartbreak followed by a soothing lesson in reality.
The scruffy Benji in the new version isn’t quite as cute as I recall the first one was, but this dog is a swell actor. He did everything right. He has the eyes and the facial expressions down!
Carter (Gabriel Bateman) befriends a stray dog. The dog follows him and his little sister Frankie (Darby Camp). They give him a bath and hide him from their mom (Kiele Sanchez) because they know she won’t allow them to keep him. They name him Benji.
Mom of course discovers the dog and makes Carter let him go.
Mom is a widow. She hocked her husband’s watch to Sam (Gralen Bryant Banks). The kids drop in to the pawn shop regularly to give Sam a dollar or two toward getting the watch back for their mom. Benji followed them there.
The kids go to Sam’s the next day and walk in during the middle of a robbery. The crooks (Will Rothhaar and Angus Sampson) kidnap them and tie up Sam. It’s up to Benji to rescue them. It isn’t easy for a stray dog to convince a worried mom and a New Orleans cop (Jerod Haynes) to follow his lead.
Benji has to chase speeding vans, outwit a rottweiler, follow tracks using strawberries as clues, enlist the help of another stray dog, convince a doubting mother, rescue Sam, and be smarter than two not very smart crooks.
Some of the things Benji did seemed ridiculous to me. He pushed a dumpster so he could reach a fire escape. He put a key in a lock and turned it. I hope those improbable dog accomplishments won’t bother the youngsters this movie is meant to entertain. It still provides lots of tears, fears, and a happy ending.
The writer and director of the Benji 2018, Brandon Camp, is the son of Joe Camp, who created the original. It’s streaming on Netflix.
A new generation’s reality lesson
My daughter grew up and had a daughter of her own. When my granddaughter was a tween or young teen, we were watching Grey’s Anatomy, a show she loved. Remember the episode when Meredith fell off a ferry into the water? She didn’t try to swim to the top, she decided to drown. And cut. End of episode with Meredith slowly sinking under the sea.
Afterwards my granddaughter talked about how scared she was that Meredith was going to die and she was afraid for what was coming the next week. I told her Meredith couldn’t die because she was the star. If the star dies and can’t come back next week, there’s no show. This lesson in reality made my granddaughter angry and ruined her ability to use a willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy television for a long time after.
So, at least in my family, it’s nice to know about make-believe in regard to dogs but not doctors. Don’t even get me started on the Tooth Fairy.