Benji is the name of a fictional dog who has been the focus of a series of movies from 1974 through 2018. 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 five 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 Benji was a female dog named Moochie, and the first to be 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 fifth and current Benji is also a rescue named Fairfield who was adopted from a Virginia Human Society after being found a malnourished stray in a grocery store parking lot, he starred in the Netfix re-boot of the original Benji film which was released in 2018.
The Benji series provide 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 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 complete with slow-motion effect.
- 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 (a stray dog Benji has befriended) is about to be shot, and freezes in terror, so Benji races over/straight into him and knocks him out the way.
- Cat Scare: In Benji the Hunted, Benji and the cubs have settled for the night under (in?) a fallen tree then Benji hears the sound of something scratching around on top of them. He cautiously creeps forward to see what it is and as he looks up a Raccon suddenly falls to the ground in front of him, making him jump. Benji is not impressed and barks at it in annoyance.
- 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.
- 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 accidentally runs off a different cliff earlier in the film and has to pull himself back up.
- Disney Villain Death: In Benji the Hunted, he got rid of the wolf by tricking him into running into a cliff Benji himself almost fell from while running from the mother cougar.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Benji has to do this in all the main Benji movies.
- 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: All the films. Amongst other things, Benji has rescued two children from kidnappers in the first film Benji, escaped from and repeatedly evaded a spy/thief/murderer out to get him for a formula some scientist tattooed onto him in For the Love of Benji, and in Benji the Hunted cared for some orphaned mountain lion cubs, and protected them from a bear and a wolf.
- 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.
- Jump Scare: In Benji the Hunted Benji is tracking the mother cougar and her cub, he finds them and turns around only to find himself face to face with the wolf who has crept up behind him, startling Benji and causing him to jump back in alarm.
- Kick the Dog:
- Literally. To show how nasty the kidnappers are in Benji, one of them viciously kicks a small white poodle. You don't see the dog being kicked, this being a family film, but the action is heavily implied.
- 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: Although reluctant at first, Benji soon becomes very protective of the four orphaned cubs he adopts.
- Pet the Dog: In Benji the Hunted, he chases a rabbit to feed to the cubs. When Benji corners the rabbit, he felt bad and leaves it alone.
- Puppet Shows: Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland has these, with Benji and some of the human stars interacting with and being "interviewed" by puppet characters at various times.
- Reaction Shot: Plenty, because the stories are mostly shown rather than told and the main character is a dog, emotion is usually shown through Benji's facial expression and reaction to events.
- Reincarnation: In Oh Heavenly Dog private detective Benjamin Browning is murdered and reincarnated as a stray dog and then has to solve the mystery of his own murder.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: The cougar cubs in Benji the Hunted, especially the mischievous one.
- Savage Wolves: The lone wolf in Benji The Hunted that acts as the main antagonist for the film.
- Silence Is Golden: With the exception of the intro, the scene with the owner about half way through, and the two hunter scenes, there's no dialogue in Benji the Hunted.
- Stray Animal Story: One of the more well-known examples. The Benji films star a stray mutt as he goes through many adventures.
- Super-Persistent Predator: After their initial encounter the wolf seems to become oddly obsessed with stalking and trying to attack Benji.
- Tastes Like Friendship: Benji befriends a larger stray dog in For The Love Of Benji who initially wants nothing to do with him,by sharing a string of sausages with him.
- Widget Series: Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince was weird to say the least. Aside from Oh, Heavenly Dog's reincarnation plot, most Benji productions were reasonably grounded in reality. Zax was produced at the tail-end (pun intended) of live-action network Saturday morning children's programming, featuring a Human Alien boy protected by Benji as he hides out on Earth as he's hunted by a pair of evil aliens dressed in black Space Clothes and driving in a black Ford Econoline van.
- Cute Kitten: The cougar cubs in "Benji the Hunted." In spades.