I've personally enjoyed the old Benji movies, so that's why I was rather excited to finally watch Netflix's 2018 remake of Benji. And I gotta say..yeah its pretty bad. It's not the worst movie I've seen, but its still pretty bad. .
The first red flag was that I read alot of parents complained the movie was too dark/violent for kids. Their claims were justified literally the first five seconds into this movie when I was met with the infamous Blumhouse logo, a movie company that mostly does HORROR films. Yeah, a company that normally does horror films tries out what's supposed to be a family friendly drama/comedy about a stray dog...what could go wrong?
Well, thankfully Benji doesn't end up demon possessed or zombified, but I still wouldn't suggest the movie for little kids to watch.
The first three minutes of this movie are both pointless and upsetting, especially for kids. We see a dog catcher hidden in shadows catch Benji's mom and his siblings, leaving him behind.
A, this is a pointless opening scene. Why? Because we've ALWAYS known Benji started off a stray. Thats been his thing since his original movie back in 1974. We didn't really need a dark and depressing backstory on something we already knew. It makes it even more pointless when how quickly the movie timeskips to when Benji's an adult.
B, not only is this scene extremely upsetting for little kids, and it doesn't help its the very first scene of the film, but it HORRIBLY portrays animal shelters.
In fact, the entire beginning of this film paints animal shelters as gas chambers for dogs. Obviously there are high kill shelters in the world, but there's also such a thing as "No kill shelters" but this movie seems determined to create an illusion that all shelters destroy dogs within three days.
What especially annoyed me was how they tried to make catchpoles scary and 'harmful' to dogs. When the dogcatcher got Benji's mom in a catchpole, they made it seem like it was hurting her.
Not only is this horribly false, but it literally is teaching little kids that catchpoles are harmful, when in fact they're not. They're perfectly safe.
You also know this movie is bad at trying to paint animal shelters as prisons for puppies when all I could think during this opening scene, very sarcastically mind you, is "Oh no, this dog catcher is taking this poor mother dog and her puppies off the streets, rescuing them from starving to death, disease or even being beat by some random psycho. They may even have a warm kennel for them, with food and water...how unbelievably cruel"
I know its common for dog films to have this cliche of the evil dog catchers, but the older you get, the more you start to notice how inaccurate alot of them get it. I know from a little kid's perspective its like "Dogs are supposed to run free from dog catchers because all pounds are doggie prison, and dogs have human levels of intelligence so they'll be fine on the streets"
But from an adult's point of view, its more like "Omg, thank God this dogcatcher caught this poor dog before it got hit by a car, beat, starved to death, or who knows what"
But i'm getting off track here, my point is dog films have often been known to paint animal shelters as prisons for animals, but Benji seriously takes the gold medal for how manipulative and inaccurate this can be. At least Disney's Homeward Bound gave dog shelters some dignity by showing the shelter had already contacted Shadow's, Chance's and Sassy's family, and that's the only reason they had them there, to reunite them.
But let's talk about other problems with this movie. For one, yea I see what parents meant. The movie centers around two kids being kidnapped and Benji having to save them. This would normally be fine, but the kidnappers aren't your normal goofy idiotic Home Alone guys, they're actually really psycho and dangerous, and they can appear terrifying to little kids watching.
Not to mention this movie had a ridiculously morbid tone. It literally has two "Sad Montages" You know, when a movie plays some random sad song when the main character feels hopeless? You know how most movies only have one, yeah this barrel of daisies and sunshine has TWO.
Not to mention constant talking about the kids dead father. Look I have no problem with a movie being emotional, but when its a kids friendly family flick about a little stray dog, with an almost nauseating happy trailer, then its gonna rub me the wrong way.
Now to be fair, I do know older Benji movies had their dark tones. Especially "Benji Off the Leash", but even a movie as dark as that one (which was literally about an abusive husband and father running a backyard puppy mill) had its funny moments to lighten the mood. This movie does not. It is 99% depressing.
As if the morbid tone wasn't bad enough, sometimes the human characters come off as unrealistically stupid. Like the kids mother, when Benji leads her to the place her kids are being kept, and the kids have already been moved by the kidnappers somewhere else, she literally blames the dog. Which is understandable, I mean this dog did lead them on what seemed to be a pointless chase and wasted precious time to look for her kids.
But then this woman literally starts talking to this dog like he understands English, she literally says "Don't you understand, my kids are missing" LADY, IT'S A DOG! Dogs no speak da English, they speak the much wow, so amaze Doggo language!
Seriously, that scene literally made me yell, at 1 AM, "ITS A DOG, LADY!" Just, good lord that was stupid.
Then we have Benji himself. The dog is adorable, but I love animals so there you go. I did enjoy seeing him on screen, but...and I can't believe I'm saying this but they even screwed the DOG up a bit.
What I mean is, they made this dog way too intelligent. It already looked ridiculous for this small dog to push an entire dumpster up against building, but then he literally unlocks a door with a key.
This..is just laughable dumb. I know every dog in every dog movie has its moment of unrealistic intelligence, but at least it was somewhat believable. Beethoven, Air Bud, Pongo, Lassie, Old Yeller, at least there was some realism even when they did things a little silly. It made the magic more believable.
But Benji unlocking a door with a key? I'm not sure how stupid these writers think kids are, but I'm sorry, that's just insulting their intelligence. I get they wanted to make Benji this awesome hero, but they can still do that without turning him into a cartoon character!
Not to mention how unrealistic and convenient it was for all the times we see this dog walking through crowded city streets, and he doesn't ONCE get caught by a dogcatcher?
And as far as Benji's death fakeout, yea sorry but I'm actually surprised they DIDN'T pull an Old Yeller and kill him off. It would have matched this movie's tone alot better.
Overall, as much as I'll always enjoy the previous Benji movies, this one is a serious dud. It's needlessly cruel for a family film, overly morbid, the human characters have one too many stupid moments, and even the dog is over the top. And its actually sad because they could have made a great Benji movie for the new generation, so its really a waste. If you want a good dog movie to watch with your kids, go watch Homeward Bound, Beethoven or Air Bud. If you want a decent Benji film, I highly suggest Benji Off the Leash. Yes its also got a dark tone, but it balances it out with both funny moments AND wholesome moments, plus it feels far more realistic. The happy ending in it also doesn't feel forced, it feels earned. You can watch Off The Leash on Netflix as well.
I give Benji 2018 a solid 2, its just bad