Aug. 20, 2004
Lincoln Hoppe, Benji, Nick Whitaker, Chris
Kendrick, Randall Newsome
Joe Camp, Margaret Loesch
Mulberry Square Releasing
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Benji: Off the Leash
By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter
- A young boy's abusive father runs a puppy mill in the backyard.
And if a dog isn't going to make him any money, its fate is a sad
one. But his son has compassion for the animals and hides an unwanted
puppy in an abandoned shack in the woods. When the canine cutie grows
up, it becomes friends with another orphaned pooch. Together they
struggle to save her mom from the bad man while trying to avoid a
pair of bungling dogcatchers.
This is a wonderful film for little ones as it is full of adventure,
yet is mild tempered. The canine cast is irresistible (indeed, expect
the first question once you leave the theater to be, "Can we
get a puppy?"). The main two dogs in this film are acting.
They have great expressions and a smart look that endears them to
even the most cynical of moviegoers. Certainly not in the league of
My Dog Skip, or Lassie Come Home, or even the original
Benji, but this sequel (the first Benji film in 16 years) should
satisfy 4- to 10-year-olds. And though adults may be a bit bored with
the slapstick antics of the film's comic sidekicks, I think parents
will be pleased at the response of their littlest kids.
Rating: PG -- This is a clean, heartfelt film, but one element
concerned me. The boy's father is portrayed as unloving, threatening,
and unrepentive. We later see evidence that he has struck his wife.
This may unnerve tots. Mom or dad should be there to reassure their
offspring of their love.
A word about Joe Camp, the man behind Benji. Along with writing,
producing and directing the Benji movies, Camp spends a great deal
of his time working with the Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi.
This black boarding school educates mostly high-risk kids from families
below the poverty level, yet sends nearly 100% of its graduates to
college, often on full scholarship. Looking at his films and writings,
it is clear that his purpose is to inspire those who might stop short
of their potential. His book, "Benji & Me," chronicled
the difficulties experienced in trying to get the first Benji movie
off the ground and instills the faith that anyone can make a difference
in this world.
The latest Benji -- a 3 1/2-year-old female -- is the fourth dog
to play the character. The new Benji was adopted in the fall of 2001
from the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi after a nationwide
search of animal shelters. Set in Mississippi, it's the fourth film
based on a character created in 1974 by Joe Camp.
Phil Boatwright is the editor of The Movie Reporter. Review used
by permission. Go to Phil Boatwright's website at www.moviereporter.com
for details on how to have reviews of new films delivered directly to
your e-mail address.
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