Decent Films is Angry with Benji!

What new “family movie” movie offers a caution to viewers because of “a depiction of an abusive household including references to wife beating and child abuse; depiction of cruelty to animals…”?

Benji Off the Leash has film critic Steven D. Greydanus fuming.

And is anybody else a bit surprised at this family-friendly film’s slogan? “Rules are made to be housebroken.”

Here are a few excerpts from Steven’s review:

Benji Off the Leash is undoubtedly the first dog movie ever made that thinks that a happy ending for a boy and his dog is not for the boy to get to keep the dog, but for the dog to go off to Hollywood to make a motion picture. It may also be the first family film in which the happy ending involves the father getting arrested and taken away from his wife and son. On both counts, God willing, it should also be the last.

I’m sure you’ll be edified to learn that when those two buffoonish dogcatchers take a pratfall in a field, that’s good clean mud they’re rolling in, not dog poop. But when the dogcatchers show up in their next scene with inexplicably immaculate uniforms and faces, it’s clear that, despite its independent pedigree, Off the Leash! is as sloppily crafted as any big-studio product from the Hollywood family-film puppy mill.

Some families who saw Two Brothers found the tigers’ hard-knocks lives too stressful for young or sensitive children. They had better watch out for Off the Leash!, which opens with Hatchett hurling an adorable puppy across the room, and largely centers on the plight of the puppy’s overbred mother, who spends most of the film in a pitiful state, near death, too sick and dispirited to move.

First came Hidalgo and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, celebrating the bond between horses and humans by telling us that what our horses really want is to be wild and free. Now we have the limpest, dodgiest family film since Kangaroo Jack telling us that a dog would rather star in a movie than belong to a boy. Poor Lassie, wasting the best years of her life with Timmy when she could have been in pictures.

I applaud Joe Camp’s principles. I deplore his execution. He is right that families deserve better than “vacuous and safe” pap. Vacuous and unsafe is not a step in the right direction.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.