Movie Reviews

Because of Winn Dixie

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Annasophia Robb as Opal
Jeff Daniels as Preacher
Cicely Tyson as Gloria
Dave Matthews as Otis
Eva Marie Saint as Miss Franny
Courtney Jines as Amanda Wilkinson
Nick Price as Dunlap Dewberry
Luke Benward as Stevie Dewberry
Elle Fanning as Sweetie Pie Thomas
Marca Price as Mrs. Dewberry
Lenore Banks as Mrs. Detweller
B.J. Hopper as Mr. Alfred

Summary:
"Because of Winn Dixie" is a fun family film for both kids and adults. It features a strong cast, good music, and good moral lessons for children.

Story:
This film is based on the children's book by Kate DiCamillo.

After moving to a small rural Florida town with her preacher father, Opal has a hard time making new friends. There's nobody there her age to play with and her father has pretty much left her to fend for herself while he starts his new job. Everything changes, though, when she goes to the local grocery store. She encounters a big, hairy, smelly dog running amok and being chased by employees. Feeling sorry for the mutt, she claims him as her own. She names the dog "Winn Dixie" after the store she found him in.

Winn Dixie soon leads Opal all over the town forcing her to meet new people. She quickly becomes friends with the librarian, the guitar playing pet shop clerk, the local "witch", and a number of kids. Opal soon learns all about their pasts and inner torments and they also end up helping her deal with the fact that her mother abandoned their family. Soon everyone starts feeling better because of Winn Dixie.

"Because of Winn Dixie" is rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language.

What Worked:
I hadn't read the children's book before seeing this movie, so I can't really comment on how the two compare. However, I can say that my kids and I all went and saw the film together and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It's one of those rare children's movies that is entertaining for both kids and adults. I took a kindergartener and a preschooler to see it. The older one sat totally entranced by the film, but the younger one was really only fully interested as long as Winn Dixie was on the screen, and that was only about 70% of the running time. You'll want to consider your kid's age and attention span before taking them to this movie.

Winn Dixie certainly gets top billing in the film and the dog is definitely cute. It's a big, hairy thing and though it doesn't do elaborate tricks, it acts like you would expect a real dog to act. It doesn't pull any children from wells or get shot at the end. Instead, it simply behaves like a real dog (except for the occasional CG enhanced grin). For example, the dog totally panics during a thunderstorm and runs all through the house in fear. (Since my daughter was afraid of thunderstorms, too, this made her really identify with what the dog was going through and it eased her mind a bit about that fear, too.) But while Winn Dixie gets most of the attention, this is a very human story and the dog is only a means to connect the human characters and have them work out their inner struggles.

Leading the human cast is Annasophia Robb as Opal. This little girl was perfectly cast. She's cute, articulate, funny, spunky, and a good actress. I think you can expect to see more from this kid in the future. She's a great match with the dog. Her father is played by Jeff Daniels as "Preacher". He's excellent, too, as the disillusioned preacher trying to balance his duties between the people of the town and his duties as a single father. You really get a good sense of love and anguish in him. The rest of the cast is a colorful bunch of supporting characters with dark pasts. Cicely Tyson adds a lot of energy as Gloria, the old blind woman who the local kids believe is a witch. She also has a history of being an alcoholic. Singer Dave Matthews plays Otis, a troubled street player with a past of run-ins with the law. Eva Marie Saint is also fun as the wacky librarian Miss Franny. She tells a funny story about a bear stealing a book from her library. Harland Williams also provides some comic relief for the kids as an inept policeman.

The music in the film is first rate. It's a great mix of gospel, folk music, and more. As you might guess, Dave Matthews provides some of the music. Joining him on the soundtrack is Emmylou Harris, Leigh Nash, Shawn Colvin, and more. Add this music to the beautiful Louisiana locations (which substitute for Florida) and you have a nice little country picture that's a good snapshot of rural America.

I think kids will enjoy Winn Dixie's antics while adults will enjoy the emotional journeys of the characters. It's a nice story that deals with many of life's harsh realities in a way that will keep children's attention.

What Didn't Work:
While I enjoyed the movie, I do recognize that it wasn't perfect. I enjoyed many of the adult themes of the plot, but there were definitely portions of it that can be considered cliché. We've seen plenty of movies about a dog wandering in a kid's life and changing everything for the better. We've seen stories where a little kid befriends the town recluse that everyone is afraid of. We've seen stories where a little girl helps a town reawaken its spirit (think Pollyanna). Fortunately "Because of Winn Dixie" wraps it all up in a nice package so that you either don't really notice or care that you've seen it all before.

I would also recommend that parents of young children note the PG rating. There were a couple of words in the film that I wouldn't want my kid repeating. It's nothing that you wouldn't hear on primetime TV, but kids might be more inclined to repeat it after seeing it in this film.

The Bottom Line:
"Because of Winn Dixie" is a fun film for kids thanks to the antics of Winn Dixie and Opal. Adults will also like it, but they'll enjoy it more because of the emotional journey of all of the human characters. It's an entertaining film for the whole family.

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