PG for thematic elements and brief mild language.
Feb. 18, 2005
AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Elle Fanning,
Dave Matthews, Cicely Tyson
BASED ON NOVEL BY:
20th Century Fox
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'Because of Winn-Dixie'
By Nathaniel Bell
-One of the reasons dog movies are so popular is that audiences are able to identify with their canine heroes and sustain some kind of soulful connection. Coming from a long tradition of dog movies, Because of Winn-Dixie is true to this formula. In fact, the eponymous hero of Wayne Wang’s likable but innocuous new film is one of the most sympathetic of all screen pooches (behind the original Lassie and Asta from the Thin Man series).
Dubbed Winn-Dixie for wrecking a grocery store of the same name, this particular pup has a knack for bringing out the best in people, whether it’s Otis, the pet store owner with the shady past (musician Dave Matthews), Miss Franny, the lonely librarian (Eva Marie Saint), or Gloria, the blind woman who hangs whiskey bottles in her backyard as a reminder of her former life as an alcoholic (a nice performance by Cicely Tyson, 33 years removed from her Oscar-nominated turn in Sounder).
Winn-Dixie alters the destiny of 10-year-old Opal (Annasopphia Robb), a forlorn tyke who adopts the stray Picardy Shepherd after some dispute with her minister father (Jeff Daniels). Moving to a Florida trailer park wasn’t easy for Opal, who still has lots of questions about her mother leaving the family (in one of the film’s warmest moments, she and Daniels have a tender Q&A regarding this absent parent).
Wang, whose credits include the arty Smoke and the romantic Maid in Manhattan, piles on the cute close-ups of Winn-Dixie and finds broad comic relief in a bumbling Southern sheriff (do the movies have any other kind?) played by Harland Williams. And though it’s been scientifically proven that dogs can’t smile, Wang doesn’t shy away from plastering a computer-generated grin onto Winn-Dixie’s loveable mug. Small blunders like these prove trivial, however, in the face of Winn-Dixie’s thoughtful message: that it’s necessary to accept the bitter with the sweet, the joyful with the melancholy, and the tragic with the comic—lessons clearly understood through the whimsical example of the Litmus Lozenge, a candy in which sadness is the secret ingredient.
Walden Media, the company that produced the movie, is an organization that specializes in bringing works of children’s literature to the screen. Their repertoire includes titles like Holes, I Am David, and Around the World in Eighty Days, and they are soon to release a lavish mounting of C.S. Lewis’The Chronicles of Narnia later this year. Because of Winn-Dixie is based on Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery-winning novel, and occasionally, Joan Singleton’s screenplay suffers from the convolutions that inevitably arise from adapting a piece literary fiction. All the characters have exaggerated behavioral patterns and the plot resolves a little too tidily. But the movie, like its shaggy protagonist, has a good heart, and its disposition is as sunny as a Florida afternoon.
Because of Winn-Dixie is rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language.
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Nathaniel Bell is a film student at Biola University. Review used
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