Because of Winn-Dixie

With all the junk that studios try to pass off as family fare, it's a shame that a movie like Because of Winn-Dixie came off as bland as it did. This is a film that has a chance of becoming a good family film, and instead becomes a so-so one. Because of Winn-Dixie, based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, is very similar to the far superior My Dog Skip. Both are about how the arrival of an adorable new dog helps bring friends to the central character. Here, it's ten year-old Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the new girl in the small Southern town of Naomi. Her father (Jeff Daniels, Gods & Generals, The Hours), is a preacher who moves around a lot, so Opal never has a chance to make lasting friends. Her mother left when she was three, and Preacher doesn't like talking about her.

The town of Naomi was once a great place to live, but now everybody does their own thing. This makes it harder for Opal to find friends. Until she "adopts" a dog at the local Winn-Dixie. It somehow got into the store, and was running around causing some minor havoc, and Opal claimed it as hers. Winn-Dixie was a large dog (Preacher likened it to a horse), and had the uncanny ability to smile. Preacher agreed to let Opal take care of him until they found him a place to live. Once Winn-Dixie arrives, Opal's whole life began to change. They played together, but often Winn-Dixie got up and started walking. Opal would follow, and they would inevitably make some new friends.

These included Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint, I Dreamed of Africa, Time to Say Goodbye?), the lonely librarian, Otis (Dave Matthews), the drifter that few were willing to trust, and Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson, Hoodlum, Fried Green Tomatoes). She even makes friends with those two annoying boys that used to pester her, and the owner of the trailer park they live in that hates dogs. Winn-Dixie teaches Opal about the importance of friendship, not judging people by rumors, and family. Everything about this film is nice and family oriented, it's only problem is that it's a little bland. Director Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan, The Center of the World) and adapter Joan Singleton were faithful to the source material, but failed to carry over much of the charm in the book.

Opal goes from episode to episode, making new friends and having fun with Winn-Dixie. Wang, whose films in the past few years have all been pretty blah, fails to add any magic or sense of emotion into the film. Because of Winn-Dixie coasts along with a stellar cast, including a nice Daniels, Saint, and Tyson. Matthews does a fair job his first time out. The script doesn't call upon the adults to do that much, most of the onus falls upon Robb, who provides the necessary cuteness and precociousness to Opal. Wang also relies on the cuteness factor - the church in the convenience store, Otis playing for a bunch of cute pet store animals, Opal trying to wash Winn-Dixie, and Winn-Dixie eating peanut butter, to please his audience. Because of Winn-Dixie is nice enough to make people smile, but probably won't do much beyond that.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language.

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