Joe Camp’s Lovable Canine Movie For The Whole Family

Benji the dog warmed his way into America’s heart during the 1970s with director Joe Camp’s canine classic, Benji. Released in 1974, the gentle and kindhearted Benji was one of that year’s highest-grossing movies, shocking everyone in Hollywood. The G-rated family movie about a plucky stray dog became a smash hit and made its furry star a household name across America, spawning an entire Benji franchise that ran well into the 1980s.

Benji was quaint by the standards of 1974, much less today’s far more jaded and cynical times. The dog with a heart of gold lives carefree in small-town America, running free around town on a daily circuit that includes a friendly shop owner, a police officer, and most importantly, the home of young Paul and Cindy Chapman. The two adorable siblings are played by Allen Fiuzat and Cynthia Smith.

The kids want to take the stray Benji in along with their housekeeper Mary (Patsy Garrett). Overruling them is their kind but strict father, who has a fear of stray dogs. The clever dog will figure out a way to ease the father’s concerns before everything is said and done.

Benji is a natural entertainer and Joe Camp’s marvelous direction showcases the dog’s charming talents

The unique thing about Benji is that the narrative is largely told from the dog’s perspective, turning him into the movie’s central protagonist and giving him a real personality. When he meets a female dog in the local park, it’s hard not enjoying Benji’s courtship of his future girlfriend Tiffany in a cheesy but lovable montage of the two dogs. It’s moments like that which made Joe Camp’s creation more than just another movie about dogs.

Living in an abandoned mansion, Benji has to use all his canine wits when Paul and Cindy are kidnapped by four criminals. The gentle movie doesn’t ever pose a real threat to its characters, but Benji’s antics are enough by themselves to carry the narrative.

One of the more telegenic canine stars to ever appear on the big screen, Benji is a natural entertainer and Joe Camp’s marvelous direction showcases the dog’s charming talents. By today’s standards, the movie’s plot is overly simple and saccharine sweet. There’s no real bite and pacing is sluggish until Tiffany is introduced into the movie.

Benji was a hit with all ages back in the 1970s, but that magic may have worn off for today’s children. For adults, the nostalgia to a bygone era for older viewers will be palpable and real. Benji was a popular movie character during the 1970s and 1980s as Joe Camp kept trying to recapture the original’s wild success. Look for an appearance by Aunt Bee of the Andy Griffith Show as the owner of a cat that Benji loves chasing up trees.

Video

Mill Creek put out a remastered Benji last year on its own and brings that new HD transfer once again in this new Benji Movie Collection. This transfer marked the first time Benji had hit Blu-ray in a legitimate widescreen presentation. Compression rates for the AVC encode aren’t the best, as Benji has to share a single BD-50 with its two sequels. Parameters hover in the teens. It’s a serviceable encode with a few stray artifacts.

The main feature runs 85 minutes. Struck from Benji’s 35mm film elements, the 1.85:1 aspect ratio reflects Benji’s true theatrical aspect ratio. The elements are in respectable condition. This isn’t a stellar 4K clean-up. Film debris and other anomalies introduce nominal damage to the print. It’s a decent HD presentation with soft detail needing tighter colors. The mostly film-like 1080P video shows modest gains in clarity and definition, especially in exterior scenes. Interiors tend to have more limited clarity and inferior shadow detail.

While the description so far sounds underwhelming, the new film transfer demonstrates a quantum leap in video quality over prior releases on home video. This is a legitimate HD scan of respectable film elements. Much of its limitations lie in the source material’s soft-focus cinematography.

Audio

The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio is a reflection of the serviceable but dated mono recording. Dialogue is mastered low in the mix, leading to the music overpowering it in dynamic range. Country singer Charlie Rich’s theme song sounds fine opening the film. The score is cheesy but fits the family movie’s tone. The recording is on the thin side.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a yellow font.

Extras

Benji has had a sad history on home video before Mill Creek Entertainment put out this remastered edition of the movie last year. Gaiam put out a terrible Benji Blu-ray back in 2012 featuring a full-frame presentation likely from a SD source. That garbage release can now be forgotten.

Last year’s remaster is now part of Mill Creek Entertainment’s Benji Movie Collection, collecting the first three Benji movies in a Blu-ray and DVD combo set. The included sequels are For The Love of Benji and Benji: Off The Leash. All three movies have received new HD transfers from respectable film elements. All three movies receive their own commentary.

Included with the set are digital copies only good at Mill Creek’s own website. Without being connected to Movies Anywhere or one of the other SVOD services, their utility is marginal and largely worthless. The two archival featurettes are only found on the included DVD. While I can’t directly confirm it, reports of a slipcover for this Blu-ray collection have been reported. While labeled as a Region A Blu-ray, it is coded for all Regions.

Audio Commentary with director Joe Camp and son Brandon Camp – A pleasant commentary by Benji’s director and his son that explores the movie’s reception in Hollywood, anecdotal memories from its production, casting, and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

Original Theatrical Trailer (05:57 in HD) – Marvel at this very old, very long, and now dated style of trailer. Running nearly six minutes, “regular folks” testify how much they loved the dog in the movie mixed with clips.

The Phenomenon Benji Featurette (26:37 in SD) – A vintage television special from the 1970s only available on the included DVD.

Benji at Work Featurette (26:37 in SD) – Another vintage television special only available on the included DVD.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Benji
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Benji is a natural entertainer and Joe Camp’s marvelous direction showcases the dog’s charming talents.

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