He is the loyal dog who has always been there, even if you didn’t have a canine of your own.
Benji has been entertaining animal lovers since 1974, when the adorable mutt was created by Joe Camp for the movie Benji, which was also directed by the creator.
Since then, the scruffy pup character has been in a host of movies and TV shows up until 2004. The hiatus is now over, Benji is back in a new feature film on Netflix, out March 16.
Like the first Benji film, this 2018 reboot is named for the pooch and is also directed by a Camp. This time Joe Camp’s son Brandon is behind the camera bringing this endearing dog to life for a whole new generation to enjoy.
PEOPLE talked to Brandon Camp about his version of Benji, what it’s like to join the family business and where his adorable canine star came from.
How did you find your Benji?
He was a stray that had been abandoned in a grocery store parking lot. How that’s even possible is beyond me. Luckily, someone found him and took him to a local rescue shelter. I saw a picture of him and knew I had found our star! I guess you could say it’s a wags to riches story.
How did you know this dog was the right one?
The same way I know if any actor or actress is right for a role — the eyes say everything. You could see this little mutt’s soul with every blink.
What is the same and different about this Benji movie compared to past Benji stories?
My goal was to pay homage to the spunk of the original, while giving it a bit of a modern makeover. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, as much as I was attempting to remind parents that live-action family films are just as viable now as they were when we were growing up. Hopefully, it’s classic and contemporary at the same time. Call it new-fashioned.
How does it feel be part of the Benji legacy your family built?
I learned everything about the film business from my director dad and my producer mom. They were outsider underdogs themselves. They self-distributed the original Benji after every studio in Hollywood passed. To follow in their footsteps is an honor. And yes, a little nerve-racking at times. I knew if I screwed it up, Thanksgiving would be awkward.
What can people expect from this movie?
Scrappy Mutt Heroism!
Be honest, will I cry if I watch Benji?
Doggonit, I hope so. But I also hope you’ll laugh, smile, shout, scream and stand up and cheer!
What was your favorite part of making this movie?
Seriously, every day was a gift! My producing partner on the film, Jason Blum, helped me build one of the most passionate, talented production teams I have ever worked with. Thomas Stanton’s cinematography is gorgeous, Kostas Christides’ score is pitch-perfect, Carsten Kurpanek’s editing is masterful! Their collective heart is in this movie — you can see, hear, feel it in every frame. They made each day better than the last.
Do you have any pets of your own?
My wife, Laura, and I recently rescued a German shepherd named Shula from NKLA. She’s a very earnest, very special old girl. And I think she might have a crush on Benji, but that’s just between us.
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