Benji is the name of a fictional dog who has been the focus of a series of movies from 1974 through 2004. It is also the title of the first film in the Benji series. While there is only ever one Benji at a time, there have been four dogs to play Benji, the first was Higgins who is best probably known for having played the character "Dog" on the 1960s television series Petticoat Junction and later starring in the 1974 movie Benji. He was trained and owned by Frank Inn, while Joe Camp is the creator and director of the films.Higgins was originally a rescue dog adopted from the Burbank Animal Shelter by trainer Frank Inn, and according to him was the smartest dog he had ever trained. In 1971, Higgins starred in Mooch Goes to Hollywood. As a senior dog (aged 11) he was then retired from acting, but in 1974 starred in his final and greatest role, the loveable mutt in Joe Camp's family film Benji.The second dog to play Benji was Higgins' daughter, Benjean. She starred in three movies (For the Love of Benji, Benji the Hunted, and Oh Heavenly Dog), four television specials (Benji's Very Own Christmas Story, Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland, Benji at Work, and The Phenomenon of Benji), and a TV series (Hanna-Barbera's Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince).The dog photographed on the cover of Joe Camp's book Benji & Me was the third Benji. He was distantly related to Higgins and Benjean but never starred in any films.The fourth and current Benji is a female dog named Moochie, and is unrelated to the previous Benjis. Moochie was adopted from the Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport after being abandoned and rescued from the streets of Pass Christian. She began filming her first movie a year and a half later. Benji Off the Leash was released in 2004.
The Benji series includes examples of:
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: Benji is very intelligent and seems able to fully understand human speech, think logically and problem-solve his way out of difficult/dangerous situations, and trick and outsmart pursuers both human and animal.
- Animal Talk: In Oh Heavenly Dog we get to hear "Benji's" thoughts (the only Benji related movie where we can do so). Other animals can hear him telepathically (at least if they're also of the reincarnated variety) but humans cannot.
- Big Heroic Run: Happens in For The Love Of Benji when Benji sees Cindy being held at gun point-complete with slow motion effect, and briefly (without the slow motion) in Benji The Hunted when Benji rushes back to shield the cubs from an eagle attack.
- Also happens in Benji Off The Leash. Lizard Tongue (another stray dog Benji has befriended) is about to be shot,and freezes in terror, so Benji races over and knocks him out the way.
- Chase Scene: The Benji films are fond of these, justified in that Benji isn't a big dog and is often up against much larger animal, or armed human, opponents and couldn't realistically fight back and win, usually leaving running as the only other option. Also Benji is a gentle animal by nature and only uses any kind of attack as a final resort (usually to protect/save someone else in danger)
- In a rare scene where Benji is the chaser rather than the one being chased, and pursuing a rabbit to feed four hungry mountain lion cubs. He finally corners the terrified rabbit in a cave, approaches the cowering rabbit, then hesitates, apparently taking pity on the rabbit and reluctant to actually kill it, before finally just giving the bunny a gentle lick on the head and walking away.
- Children in Tow: In Benji The Hunted it takes a bit of a learning curve for both Benji and the orphaned cubs, but Benji eventually teaches the cubs to follow him when needed.
- Climbing Climax: Since the mother cougar seems to regard Benji as highly irritating and retreats with her cub every time she notices him. Benji eventually resorts to tricking her to go to the meadow at the top of the cliff by blocking off certain other pathways, then takes a drastic shortcut and carries the cubs up the cliff one by one in order to meet her at the top and finally get her to see the orphaned cubs he's been trying the whole movie to make her notice.
- Climb, Slip, Hang, Climb: Pretty much Benji when he's climbing and descending the cliff in Benji the Hunted, especially the first and last time. Also when he almost accidentally runs off a different cliff earlier in the film and has to pull himself back up.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Benji has to do this in all the main Benji movies.
- Food and Animal Attraction: How Benji finally makes friends with a larger stray dog in For The Love Of Benji who initially wants nothing to do with him.
- Heroic Dog: Benji usually ends up saving or bringing comfort to someone. The original Benji is also something of a Real Life example for shelter animals, dogs in particular. The American Humane Association reported that because the original Benji was rescued from an animal shelter, more than one million dogs were subsequently adopted from shelters across the country as the character became popular. The current Benji was also adopted from a shelter in hopes of inspiring even more adoptions.
- Heroic Pet Story: Amongst other things, Benji has rescued two children from kidnappers in the first film Benji, escaped from and evaded a spy/thief/murderer out to get him for a formula a scientist tattooed onto him, and eventually rescued Cindy (the girl from the first film) a second time by knocking the gun out of the gunman's hands in For The Love Of Benji, and in Benji The Hunted rescued some orphaned mountain lion cubs, protected them from a bear and a wolf, and after much effort got them adopted by another mother mountain lion.
- Howling to the Night: The wolf in Benji The Hunted can be heard doing this during the night sequences.
- Interspecies Adoption: Benji temporarily adopts four orphaned cougar cubs after witnessing their mother get killed by a hunter.
- Kick the Dog: To show how nasty the kidnappers are in Benji, one of them viciously kicks a small white poodle. You don't see the dog actually being being kicked, this being a family film, but the action is pretty obvious.
- Chandler in For the Love of Benji first drugs Benji, then later tries to shoot him twice.
- Happens again in Oh Heavenly Dog when the main antagonist chases and tries to shoot Benji several times.
- No Animals Were Harmed: Disclaimer at the end of all the Benji films
- Papa Wolf: Benji becomes very protective of the four orphaned cougar cubs he adopts.
- Puppet Shows: Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland has these, with Benji and some human stars interacting and being "interviewed" by puppet characters at various times.
- Reaction Shot: Plenty, because the stories are mostly shown rather than told and emotion usually shown through Benji's facial expression and reaction to events, greatly helped by the fact that Higgins and Benjean possibly have the most expressive/emotive eyes of any dog.
- Reincarnation: In Oh Heavenly Dog private detective Benjamin Browning is murdered and reincarnated as a stray dog, in order to earn his place in the afterlife he then has to solve the mystery of his own murder.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Like most baby animals, the cougar cubs in Benji the Hunted are plain adorable.
- Savage Wolves: One in Benji The Hunted that acts as the main antagonist, at first only going after Benji, but eventually the cubs as well.
- Super-Persistent Predator: After their initial encounter the wolf seems to become oddly obsessed with stalking and trying to attack Benji.