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‘Benji’ to be resurrected

Creator's son partners with Walden Media on project

Walden Media wants to put scruffy but lovable canine Benji back on the bigscreen.

The Fox-based shingle, behind such family fare as the “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise, has paired with Brandon Camp, son of “Benji” creator Joe Camp Jr., to write, direct and produce a pic that will reboot the character for a new crop of young moviegoers.

Camp will begin a nationwide search to find a dog and hopes to partner with a rescue organization to “screen test dogs in pounds,” he said, because the original Benji, a dog named Higgins, was a pound puppy.

“My fantasy is to find a stray,” Camp said. “The original Benji, the one most of us grew up with, is the look that I’ll be going for.”

Camp recently co-wrote and helmed Universal’s “Love Happens,” starring Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, and he is attached to direct Walden’s family comedy “Relativity.”

Camp had been thinking about reviving the “Benji” brand for years. With the majors increasingly focused on well-known pop culture icons from a generation ago for remakes, Camp said he felt the time was ripe “from a business point of view.” The producer felt the property needed a heavy hitter behind the brand to get the new Benji in front of as many audiences as possible. But Camp didn’t want to pair up with just any production shingle for the UTA-packaged project.

“Benji is a heartfelt character, and he’s always been an underdog,” Camp said. “Many companies are interested in bringing back a project purely for the namesake and not the storytelling.”

In Walden Media, he said, he found a partner that would stick closely to the “true emotional journey that Benji went on.”

Benji first appeared in 1974’s “Benji,” as a homeless mutt adopted by a family.

That film, produced for less than $100,000, went on to earn nearly $40 million domestically and spawned four follow-ups, including the Chevy Chase detective comedy “Oh, Heavenly Dog”; a short-lived Saturday morning kids show; a holiday TV special; a comicstrip; and merchandise lines during the ’70s and early ’80s.

Last pic, “Benji: Off the Leash,” got lost in theaters and earned just $3.8 million in 2004. However, a relaunch of the “Benji” DVDs sold 1.2 million copies last year.

All the projects were independently produced and distributed through the Camps’ Mulberry Square shingle after Joe Camp Jr., a commercials director at ad giant McCann Erickson, couldn’t land a studio home for “Benji.” Joe and his wife, Carolyn, booked the first pic in two Dallas theaters before platforming it across the country. It earned an additional $16 million overseas.

Brandon Camp retains all rights to the Benji character on behalf of his family.

“Brandon is the only person on this planet I would trust to carry the torch, and Walden is the perfect fit,” said Joe Camp Jr. “It’s very satisfying, if not downright emotional, to know that the Camp name will continue to be attached to Benji.”

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