Tag Archive: Oh Heavenly Dog!


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s the latest in what has become a packed 12 months of studios releasing animated movies.  And it carries a common theme for a venue families once could prop their kids up in front of for easy content to enjoy.  The subject again is death and dying, and more to the point, what happens to you after you die,  It’s the Disney-Pixar movie Soul, a big-budget movie that at first blush is about a musician and his love for jazz.  Starring the voices of Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx and the versatile Tina Fey, the animation is the best of merging digital animation with stunning real-world imagery.  The musician theme is great, and directors Pete Docter and Kent Powers do their best to juggle humor and humanity’s most age-old questions: Who am I? Why am I here?  And what’s next?  This Disney+ offers some impressive visuals and ideas, but it also might be more for the older tier of kids and audiences ready for the thoughtful themes.

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It was about the time when I got my first dog (first of what would eventually be 12) when my Mom took me to the old Wakonda Theater to see For the Love of Benji.  It was 1977 and the film was a life-changing movie for a little kid.  The original film premiered in 1974, titled simply Benji, and everyone saw it and fell in love with its lead pooch.  Its song, sung by Charlie Rich, was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe Award.  The movie marketers of the day, well aware of its surprise success, used its word-of-mouth popularity in its ongoing promotional campaigns, and the film’s success led to eight movies, two documentaries, and a short-lived TV series.  They hold up surprisingly well because the star character, second in all-time popularity only to Lassie, was a great actor (actually actors), and the stories were about good kids being good to their four-legged friend.  Next month Benji makes his way back into a feature film, one of the new brand of movies released exclusively on Netflix.  It’s a remake of the original, also called Benji, brought to life by the original family that created the character nearly 45 years ago.

The original canine star of the films was a mixed-breed black and tan dog named Higgins, who had a 14-year career in film, going back to Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres.  Higgins even co-starred in 1971 with Vincent Price and Zsa Zsa Gabor in a film called Mooch Goes to Hollywood.  He came out of retirement at 14 to make the original Benji.  Remember Tramp from My Three Sons?  That was Higgins’ son Mac.  (My grandma named her dog after that character).  But Higgins’ daughter Benjean would go on to star in several films taking on the role of Benji, from For the Love of Benji in 1977 to Benji the Hunted in 1987.  It was Benjean who took on the human voice of Chevy Chase in the very funny and memorable 1980 comedy Oh, Heavenly Dog!  In that film Benjean acted alongside Jane Seymour and Omar Sharif as a reincarnated detective (Chase), seeking revenge on his murderer.

Everybody in the 1970s loved Benji. That’s Higgins (left) on the film re-issue poster and Benjean (right) on the cover of every kid’s favorite magazine.

All the time it was creator, writer, and director Joe Camp who kept the Benji stories fresh and fun.  For this year’s film, Joe’s son Brandon Camp will take the helm, writing, directing and producing the film.  Brandon, who appeared in For the Love of Benji when he was six years old, previously directed Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, and he wrote the script for the film Dragonfly (which starred Kevin Costner, Susanna Thompson, and Casey Biggs).  His new film stars a new dog unrelated to the past family of Benji stars, and features two kids, played by Gabriel Bateman and Darby Camp, who oddly enough does not appear to be related to Joe and Brandon Camp.

The new poster (above) was released this week.  And check out this trailer for the film:

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