"Benji" Reloaded

This one’s going to be a real Dog. Geddit, dog? “Benji” –yeah, ok. Everyone’s favourite scruffy pooch is returning to the silver screen, as “Benji Returns: Rags to Riches” begins May 21 in and around Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah. Joe Camp and Margaret Loesch are producers of the film, which is being privately financed and independently produced with a planned summer 2004 release.

Coming Soon reports:

While current films often rely heavily on special effects, robotics and animation, Camp says that the appeal of the enormously successful Benji franchise has been and will continue to be the canine-actors themselves.

"The public loves Benji because he is a scrappy, determined underdog who is the heart and soul of the story," said Camp. "More importantly, they are watching and falling in love with an animal actor — in this case, for the first time, an animal acting team, with Benji and his unwanted sidekick, Shaggy. The emotion and dialogue that comes from deep in these scraggly mutts’ eyes and their almost-human actions are what connects with viewers of all ages and demographics worldwide."

As with previous Benji movies, the film is told from the dog’s point-of- view with no gimmicks — no talking dogs, animation or narration.

The story of this new Benji’s early life is the backdrop for Benji Returns: Rags to Riches. In what may be the first true "mutt buddy" picture in feature film history, the storyline finds Benji in an unwanted partnership with a hapless but loveable shaggy dog. The unlikely duo struggle to save Benji’s mother from the dangers of a greedy and irresponsible backyard breeder.

The new Benji was rescued from an animal shelter, as was the original Benji. The new floppy-eared star was discovered in a shelter in Gulfport, Mississippi, where the film’s storyline is set. Benji was one of three finalists selected following a nationwide search of animal shelters. The runners-up are also hard at work on the film — one as Benji’s understudy and the other stars as his unwanted sidekick, "Shaggy."

The issue of animal adoption is an integral theme of the new film’s storyline. The phenomenal success of the very first Benji movie resulted in an estimated one million pet adoptions nationwide, according to the American Humane Association (AHA). In partnership with Benji, the AHA recently announced "Benji’s Buddies," a program to promote the adoption efforts of more than 5,000 shelters across the country. More details will be announced before the program’s planned launch in summer 2003.

Camp was writer, producer and director of the hugely successful Benji feature film franchise, which includes Benji, For the Love of Benji and Benji: The Hunted. He is also director and writer of the current film. Loesch was the founder and former Vice Chairman of Fox Kids Networks Worldwide and founding President & CEO of cable television’s Hallmark Channel in the U.S.