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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Benji, originally released as a feature film in 1974, has been remastered and was released on Blu-ray in 2018. More than half of the movie consists of pastoral and small-town sequences in which Benji, an adorable stray who can do "miraculous" things, romps through his surroundings on his own or in the company of Tiffany, another delightful little dog. It's only in the second half that conflict builds and Benji and his friends are in danger. Sensibilities have changed over the decades, and though it originally received an MPAA rating of G, the movie contains some scenes (e.g., two kids are kidnapped, gagged, and held captive) that may be frightening for kids who cannot distinguish between real and pretend violence. And some scenes in which little kids and dogs are in trouble (spoiler alert: a dog is kicked and its well-being is unknown for some time) may be disturbing for some older, more sensitive kids, as well. Of course, a stray dog is this movie's hero, and parents might want to caution kids about interacting with stray animals. Benji appeared in a number of sequels following the success of this original movie. It's easy to see why.
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What's the story?
Told largely from the dog's point of view, BENJI is the story of a stray dog. Benji is a rascal, but he's also smart, lovable, and very adventurous. He cavorts through his small town on a wonderful daily routine. He has longstanding relationships with two kids, a local policeman, a cafe owner, and a prissy white cat. And each night, Benji makes his way back to the giant abandoned house that he calls home. The two kids, Paul (Allen Fluzat) and Cindy (Cynthia Smith), would love nothing more than to adopt him. Unfortunately, though their housekeeper/nanny (Patsy Garrett) is a fan, they simply can't convince their dad (Peter Breck) to let them. The trouble starts in Benji's "home," just after he's met Tiffany, the pooch of his dreams, another adorable stray. An assortment of criminals has staked out the house to use as their headquarters for an unholy escapade in which they'll endanger the two people Benji loves most. Those villains, however, never thought they'd have to contend with Benji, superhero extraordinaire, who eventually calls upon his skills, his resourcefulness, and even some of his town buddies to save everyone's day.
Is it any good?
Sequence after sequence of Benji on his own -- romping, prancing, and acting very much like a dog with a plan through small-town streets and sumptuous woodlands -- is simply delightful. Director Joe Camp, who generated a franchise with this family film in 1974, makes the most of the captivating dog, his natural habitat, and small-town America. But even Camp couldn't just put up 86 minutes of dog home-movie. He had to provide a story as well. That story is a by-the-numbers kidnapping affair, with bickering villains who imperil both kids and beloved pups. There's a happy ending, of course, but caution: A boy afraid, a little girl crying, and a doggie mistreated may be unsettling for little kids or very sensitive ones.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about when it's appropriate to question the rules their parents set, as Paul and Cindy did. If Benji wasn't such a remarkable dog, would it have been OK to keep him?
What do you need to know before you adopt a pet? Why is it important to be aware of what owning a pet means before taking on such a wonderful responsibility?
In 1974, this movie was got a G rating. Now, after we know more about the effects of violence on kids, it would probably be rated PG. Which scenes or themes do you think might merit a PG rating?
- In theaters: October 25, 1974
- On DVD or streaming: February 6, 2018
- Cast: Allen Fiuzat, Cynthia Smith, Patsy Garrett
- Director: Joe Camp
- Studio: GoodTimes Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Character Strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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