A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a cute movie, and young dog lovers will definitely want to see it. However, sensitive kids may be alarmed by the mistreatment of dogs here -- the dogs are in constant peril and kept in horrible conditions. They are chased by men with tranquilizer guns and held at gunpoint. Also, the family featured here isn't exactly The Partridge Family: the stepfather is abusive both to his family and the dogs he keeps in his backyard puppy mill, and the mother is a weak woman who stays with her abusive husband because "two parents are better than one" and "we have to eat". Parents should also know that the movie has some mild epithets and insults ("jeez," "why the devil," "idiot," "pansy". A strength of the movie is the portrayal of African-American characters of integrity and dedication.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In BENJI OFF THE LEASH, Colby (Nick Whitaker) is the stepson of Hatchett (Chris Kendrick), an abusive man who runs a puppy mill in the back yard, forcing his dogs to have puppies he can sell, even when it ruins their health. He mistreats the dogs and he mistreats his wife and son. When his best breeder gives birth to puppies that are not purebred, Hatchett tosses the one that looks different across the room and leaves him to die. Colby rescues him, bringing the puppy's mother to see him, so that he can nurse. But when the puppy gets older, Hatchett finds out, and soon the puppy has to fend for himself. He finds a friend, known as "Lizard Tongue," an expert at escaping from a couple of clumsy dogcatchers. Lizard Tongue also finds a friend, the acerbic but kind-hearted Mr. Finch, who leaves dog food and water out on his porch and who knows how to offer gentle friendship to a dog that's not used to kindness from humans.
Is it any good?
The dogs are cute, the intentions are good, and there's a refreshing absence of potty humor. But that's about the best that can be said about the fifth movie about loveable mutt Benji from writer/director Joe Camp. Kids will love the clever and loyal little dogs, especially when they outsmart Hatchett and the dogcatchers. But the movie seems caught in a 1970s time warp, and kids may find the story slow going and amateurish.
Some viewers may be upset by Hatchett's harsh behavior toward Colby and the dogs, and by Colby's mother's failure to protect him, and the movie seems more concerned about the abuse of the animals than about the abuse of Colby and his mother. Also, the "happy" ending may not feel too happy to some children. Camp's website has a message about the importance of making movies with genuine family values, but the final message of this film seems to be that fame is better than love and home. The only person likely to find that happiest of endings is Camp himself, glad to be back at the helm of another Benji movie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about animal cruelty and the abuse that Colby and his mother put up with. Both Hatchett and Colby's mother use the same excuse -- that they need to eat. What alternatives do they have? Why did Colby tell the puppy they were both different? They can talk about Mr. Finch's gentle approach to making friends with Lizard Tongue. What does it mean to say that "it takes a special kind of person to admit he was wrong?" Families might also want to talk about how their community deals with stray dogs and how people, even children, can help prevent abuse of people and animals.
- In theaters: August 20, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: December 28, 2004
- Cast: Chris Kendrick, Nate Bynum, Nick Whitaker
- Director: Joe Camp
- Studio: Mulberry Square Releasing
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some mild language.
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