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Benji: A Hero's Tail

If you love “a boy and his dog” movie and are wanting a feel-good family film, then “Benji” is just the thing for you.

“Benji” originally was created and directed by Joe Camp and has seen multiple movies since the 1970s, but it’s been over 14 years since the canine hero has seen the big-screen treatment.

Netflix comes to the rescue and breathes fresh life into the old breed of film. This time the movie is helmed by Joe’s son, Brandon Camp, in association with Blumhouse Productions and reboots the entire franchise.

The story has been modernized from one of a middle-class family and home of a doctor (complete with a maid) to one of a single mother of two (played by Kiele Sanchez of “Lost” and “The Purge: Anarchy”) working relentlessly as an ambulance driver. Benji is no longer the stray living on the outskirts of town in an abandoned house, but rather a traveling stray looking for a home after his own family of dogs is taken to the pound, leaving him behind to fend for himself.

This is one of those movies that truly requires a box of Kleenex at your side. It is filled with heart-felt moments. A stand-out scene is when Benji is being befriended by Carter (played by Gabriel Bateman of “American Gothic”), a 10-year-old boy with strawberries. Benji is forced to leave in the rain when the mother finds him in the house. After several days on his own again, he finds a vendor with strawberries, hijacks one of the pieces of fruit, and runs to wait outside Carter’s grade school with the strawberry gently held in his mouth uneaten. It’s enough to make your throat swell with emotion.

It’s not a perfect movie. Some moments are a little wooden in the acting department. But, as with the previous movies, it is a marvel of dog training. In a short 90 minutes, this dog wins hearts and moves the cast forward with moments such as pushing a chair to a door and muzzling a key into the lock to open it or finding a way to climb a fire escape.

While the movie was released in March, it seems to have gone under the radar for most. Rotten Tomatoes ranks the film at a 56 percent approval rating, but many cult films often get overlooked for not meeting the expectations of critics. Not every bit of film work produced by Netflix is award-winning, anyway.

Still, an afternoon with your children watching a story of love, hope and redemption is always time well spent, even if it comes with a few fleas. One can hope that Netflix will brand the movies and continue the tradition of our hairy hero for some barking good times.

Reach Mail Tribune designer Brian Fitz-Gerald at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

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