Opening August 1, 2019
Directed by: Tim Trachte
Writing credits: Bettina Börgerding
Principal actors: Heike Makatsch, Manuel Santos Gelke, Friedrich von Thun, Dieter Hallervorden, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Jürgen Klückert, Max von Thun
Benjamin Blümchen is a huge elephant, who lives in a zoo in Neustadt and interacts equally well with both humans and animals. He sleeps in a real bed, wears five different outfits, and loves sugar cubes. His best friend, 10-year-old Otto (Manuel Santos Gelke), has school vacation and both are thrilled that Otto can spend the summer in the zoo with Benjamin. They look forward to sharing experiences, but their enthusiasm is a bit curbed by news from Zoo Director Tierlieb (Friedrich von Thun) that the zoo needs money. They begin selling raffle tickets in the hopes of taking in some much-needed cash. Along comes Zora Zack (Heike Makatsch) with her two helpers Hans (Max von Thun) and Franz (Johannes Suhm). She promises to achieve all necessary improvements, but actually, she has a hidden agenda which will destroy the beloved atmosphere of the zoo and fill her own pockets. Otto and Benjamin begin to investigate the intentions of Ms. Zack, with the help of former secret agent Walter Weiß (Dieter Hallervorden). The sneaky town mayor (Uwe Ochsenknecht) supports the side which promises the most votes.
Benjamin Blümchen, created by Elfie Donnelly in 1977, was first an audio drama. Since then, there have been many more audio dramas, as well as an animated film, Das Zookonzert (1987), a magazine (1990), and a 13-part television series (1991). Originally, the concept targeted pre-school children. Here, both producer Christian Becker and script writer, Bettina Börgerding, wanted to please older children as well. Adults, who accompany their children, should also be happy; the film features an original song, “Der große graue Berg,” which the parents will recognize from their own childhood Benjamin experiences. The valuable message emphasizes the importance of friendship, helpfulness, and equality. Benjamin is computer animated (voiced by Jürgen Kluckert); all other characters are real, including the animals. Alfred the monkey steals many scenes. Zora Zack has a great sense of fashion, in spite of her devious plans. I loved the colors and the music (wonderful band called Sumaniacs), as well as the German actors, many of whom I recognized from film and television. Manuel Santos Gelke is excellent as Otto in this, his first feature film. From here, his career seemed to take off because he then played in the successful TKKG, as well as the follow-up sequel which will open in 2020. My friend Amber, age 7, said, “I never shut my eyes even once in this film.” Benjamin had her full attention. (Becky T.)