Benny's Bathtub (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Dec 27, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
Benny's Bathtub (Blu-ray Review)


Jannik Hastrup, Flemming Quist Møller

Release Date(s)

1971 (December 26, 2023)


Fiasco Film (Deaf Crocodile/Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: A-

Benny's Bathtub (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Benny’s Bathtub (aka Bennys badekar) is 1971 Danish animated film that’s quite unlike typical English-language children’s fare. While the psychedelic imagery that it offers drew some inspiration from George Dunning’s Yellow Submarine, Benny’s Bathtub has a style and a tone all of its own. Part of that is thanks to the relatively relaxed attitudes toward children’s programming in Denmark, which wasn’t as deathly afraid of exposing kids to nudity as American programming tends to be—and in in this case, it’s not in an entirely innocent context, either. Yet the biggest factor why Benny’s Bathtub feels so fresh and unique more than five decades after it was originally produced is due the talents of writers and directors Jannik Hastrup and Flemming Quist Møller. They built on the style that Hastrup had developed in previous shorts like the Circleen series and took it to the next level. There’s a good reason why Benny’s Bathtub was one of a dozen films inducted into the Danish Cultural Canon (Kulturkanonen) alongside masterworks like Carl Th. Dreyer’s Day of Wrath and Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast. It’s that distinctive.

The basic framework for Benny’s Bathtub has young Benny trying to escape from his colorless existence in a Danish tenement bloc by letting his imagination run wild with his colorful toys. His parents don’t want to be bothered by him, so his mother sends him to play outside. While wandering the neighborhood, he encounters a strange amateur ornithologist as well as another child who has captured a tadpole, and Benny ends up borrowing the net to find a tadpole of his own. When he brings it back inside and places it in his bathtub, the tadpole claims to be an enchanted prince, and it takes Benny on an equally enchanted journey into previously unseen seas that lie in the depths of the tub. Benny ends up going on a musical escapade where he meets skeletal pirates, funky octopi, a dangerous shark, and seductive mermaids. When the blandness of his workaday life threatens to intrude, Benny rejects it and invites all the other children in his neighborhood to join him in escaping that reality.

Hastrup had worked with a cutout style of animation on Circleen, and he used some similar techniques in Benny’s Bathtub, with Møller adding much of the color and the flavor. The scenes set in the real world are literally colorless, with retouched black-and-white photographs serving as backgrounds. Benny and the other characters are animated in color on top of that, but once he journeys into the magical kingdom hidden in his bathroom, the backgrounds turn to full color instead (watercolors, appropriately enough). Everything grows increasingly stylized the deeper that he travels. Unencumbered by the need to maintain even a semblance of the stylized realism made popular by the likes of Walt Disney, Hastrup and Møller truly let their imaginations run wild for these sequences. It doesn’t hurt that they were inspired by the diverse jazz songs and score written by Hans-Henrik Ley; he offered them some bohemian music to inspire their bohemian imaginations.

The content of Benny’s Bathtub does stray into territory that may be considered eyebrow-raising by anyone with a puritanical streak. There’s plenty of earthy humor, as well as some offhand references that really are a bit shocking—when Benny first encounters the ornithologist, the child innocently(!) asks if the man is a pedo. Of course, there’s also the topless mermaids. They’re not pastoral centaurs sans nipples like in Fantasia, or even the more anatomically correct but monstrous harpies in that film, either. No, these topless mermaids know how to strut their stuff, and at one point Benny gets to watch them attempt to seduce a lobster boy who’s far more susceptible to their wiles than he is. Benny’s Bathtub isn’t the sanitized undersea kingdom of Disney’s The Little Mermaid; in a sense, it’s a little closer to the content of the original Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Yet that’s what makes Benny’s Bathtub so memorable. It’s a tribute to the power of children’s imaginations, but one that’s not shy to acknowledge the harsh reality that they often face, or the complexities that are involved in the process of growing up. Benny ends up rejecting all of that in favor of his happy fantasy world, but Benny’s Bathtub never forgets what lurks outside those waters. That’s why it’s been so beloved in Denmark by generations of children and adults alike.

Benny’s Bathtub was created via traditional cel animation and photographed on film by cinematographer Poul Dupont, framed at 1.66:1. This version is based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative, with cleanup work performed by Fiasco Film in Denmark. Aside from a few faint scratches, any damage was carefully removed, and yet all of the original cel dirt and grain is still perfectly intact. It doesn’t hurt that the encoding to disc was done by David Mackenzie at Fidelity in Motion, so there aren’t any compression artifacts to mar the grain and cel dirt that was inherent to the original production. Despite the black-and-white backgrounds in the “real world” scenes, Benny’s Bathtub is a colorful film, at least in terms of the breadth of colors involved. The colors in this rendition aren’t particularly bright and vivid, but they shouldn’t be. Yet there’s still a lovely array of relatively muted colors on display here. It’s a distinctive look, one that Fiasco Film and Deaf Crocodile have nailed in this presentation.

Audio is offered in Danish 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. Everything sounds clean and clear, with little audible noise or distortion. The wildly eclectic music and songs in Benny’s Bathtub sound full and robust, even in mono, and that helps give the film some extra energy.

The Deaf Crocodile Films Blu-ray release of Benny’s Bathtub is packaged in a clear amaray case that displays a layout from the film on the reverse side of the insert, which is visible when the case is opened. It also includes a 16-page booklet with an essay by Steve Ryfle. There’s a spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 2,000 units, that was designed by Alessa Kreger. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:

  • Audio Commentary by Millie Di Chirico
  • Audio Commentary by Mike White
  • Circleen TV Episodes:
    • Sammy Goes Flying (12:21)
    • The Snow Mouse (10:31)
    • Escape from America (with Optional Commentary by Millie Di Chirico) (14:07)
  • Interview with Jannik Hastrup (59:19)

The first commentary is with programmer, historian, author, and podcaster Millie Di Chirico. She provides some background for Benny’s Bathtub while exploring its influences and its style. She also talks about the music and the musicians, as well as the film’s legacy in Denmark. She sometimes gets caught in the trap of stopping to watch what’s happening onscreen, but hey, Benny’s Bathtub does weave that kind of spell. The second commentary is with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast. He covers similar topics from his own angle, offering some different thoughts about the experimental imagery and the use of photographic backgrounds. He also delves more into the biographies of the filmmakers, including the politics that Hastrup expressed quite overtly in his work.

Circleen (aka Cirkeline) was an elfin comic waif originally created by Jannik Hastrup’s wife Hanne. Over a three-year span between 1968 and 1971, Jannik directed a series of short films for Danish public television based on scripts written by Hanne. The franchise has grown since that time, spanning multiple media with all of the associated merchandising that’s inevitable these days, but there’s definitely a unique charm to the original shorts. Deaf Crocodile has collected three of them for this release, including one that was banned by Danish television that’s making its home video debut here. Sammy Goes Flying has Circleen and her kite-flying mouse friends encounter a series of other animals including singing tadpoles that foreshadowed the one in Benny’s Bathtub. The Snow Mouse has Circleen and her mouse friends facing off against a cat who interferes while they try to make a snowmouse instead of a snowman.

The crown jewel of the collection is Escape from America, where the adventures of Circleen and her friends take a particularly dark turn. It all starts out innocently enough, with Circleen awakening and greeting all of her friends. They build a toy train together and end up taking an imaginary journey to America, where the superficial fantasy of Mickey Mouse is destroyed by the harsh reality of the social unrest that was going on at the time. It’s all there: riots, racial discord, the Black Panthers, National Guardsmen ruling the streets, and even the unfortunate ramifications of manifest destiny. It’s heady stuff that provides a pointed reminder that the much-vaunted American Exceptionalism isn’t often perceived that way elsewhere across the globe. Despite the relatively lax standards of Danish children’s programming, it’s hardly surprising that this episode never saw the light of day. Escape from America is presented here with an optional commentary from Millie Di Chirico. She offers some background regarding the character of Circleen, and explores how Jannik Hastrup’s politics resulted in something that was just too strong for Danish television.

Finally, the Interview with Jannik Hastrup is an hour-long online conversation between the director and Deaf Crocodile’s Dennis Bartok. They discuss his influences, including his love of jazz, and also many details about the making of Benny’s Bathtub. That includes the animation techniques that were involved, as well as his collaboration with Flemming Quist Møller—Hastrup gives Møller full credit for the distinctive color scheme. They cover the topless mermaids and the different standards for children’s programming in Denmark (Hastrup isn’t impressed that the Disney Little Mermaid is wearing a bra). They also talk about the Circleen show and how Hastrup’s politics caused him some difficulty. Apparently one episode had Circleen and her friends traveling to Spain and meeting a cat named Franco (it’s too bad that episode isn’t included here). Hastrup adds that Escape from America was based on what he had been seeing in the news at the time, so it’s not surprising just how radical that it turned out.

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but Deaf Crocodile has knocked it out of the park once again with this release. The restoration by Fiasco Film is first-rate, and it’s a fine slate of extras—Escape from America alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s a Blu-ray that belongs in the collection of any fan of international animation.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook.)