Movie Review

 

Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Director: Wayne Wang
Principals: Annasophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, Eva Marie Saint
Rating: PG (mild language)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMCom) -- You don’t have to be a sucker for stories with lovable dogs, precocious kids, wise elders and happy endings to enjoy Because of Winn-Dixie, but it sure helps!  Everyone who says, “they don’t make family films like they used to,” will be charmed by this heart-warming tale about a fragmented little town of lost souls, coming together because of a scruffy mutt, with a perpetual smile, who somehow “knows how to be a friend.”

Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) and Winn-Dixie prepare to transform a sad southern town. Copyright © 2005 20th Century Fox
Based on the award winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, acclaimed director Wayne Wang’s  Because of Winn-Dixie tells the story of a lonely young girl who goes on an errand for groceries, and comes home with a dog—a stray she names Winn-Dixie, after the market where she finds.  As the bond between the girl, India Opal (wonderfully played by AnnaSophia Robb) and her canine companion grows, so do the connections between the people in her life.

Naomi, the small Florida town where Opal and her father, a Baptist minister (Jeff Daniels) have just moved, used to be the kind of town where the renowned “southern hospitality” was a reality—a place where people felt connected, cared for each other and helped one another.  But over the years, that spirit of community was lost.  Maybe it was due to the closing of the local candy factory, or just the fragmentation of modern life, but once-friendly Naomi has become a town of strangers. 

As Winn-Dixie frolics around town, with Opal in tow, each random encounter uncovers another lonely soul—shopkeepers, librarians, children and recluses.  The loveable mutt somehow has a way of making people open up.  Soon they are sharing their stories, their dreams, and most importantly their sorrows, in a way that some people only will when their defenses are disarmed by a guileless pooch or child.  

A scruffy pooch named Winn-Dixie helps heal the troubled relationship between Opal (AnnaSophia Robb, right) and her father, the Preacher (Jeff Daniels). Copyright © 2005 20th Century Fox
Everyone in Naomi seems to have a secret sorrow that they bottle up and refuse to share—not necessarily a sin they need forgiven, or a mistake they need to make right—but one of the sad, painful things that happen in every life. This includes Opal and her dad, who she always calls “The Preacher,” and never father. Opal’s mother left them when she was just six and the split has strained her relationship with her father, who refuses to talk about his wife or why she left.

In the film’s most touching scene, Opal (suggesting it was her dog’s idea) convinces The Preacher to tell her ten things he remembers about her mother.  This is a turning point that marks the beginning of healing for the two of them.  Like many old-fashioned family films, Because of Winn-Dixie sets out to teach a few gentle lessons about life and love, and each has the ring of truth.  Inspired by the list of ten things about Opal’s mother, I’ve made my own list.

Ten things I learned from Because of Winn-Dixie:

  1. Cold and wet is a good thing, when it’s a dog’s nose.
  2. Sometimes the sweet and the sad in life are so tied together it’s hard to separate them.
  3. Everybody needs a friend.
  4. There’s nothing wrong with making church more convenient.
  5. Even a turtle must sometimes stick its head out of its shell.
  6. Some people see with their eyes.  Others see with their heart.
  7. You shouldn’t be too quick to judge people, or dogs, by their past mistakes.
  8. “Teach us Lord, to love one another,” is a short prayer that says a whole lot.
  9. You’ve got to love what you’ve got, while you’ve got it.
  10. Life’s joys and sorrows are always better shared with others.

A joyous get-together of some of the local residents of a local town is the handiwork of a girl and her new best friend: a dog named Winn-Dixie. Copyright © 2005 20th Century Fox

Because of Winn-Dixie wears its heart on its sleeve, its old-fashioned sentimentality barely masking a surprisingly serious message that might be a little too deep for younger kids, but just fine for children ten or older, like Opal.  This film should appeal particularly to Christian families because of its strong sense of faith that allows one, without too much trouble, to actually see the hand of God at work in the guise of a shaggy, smiling dog.

Author DiCamillo has described her book as “a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship and the South.”  This film becomes one of those hymns that makes you smile when you sing, even during the sad parts.  You smile because, just like an uplifting hymn, this film assures you that troubles are temporary, better times are ahead and everything is better when it’s shared with friends. 

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.

This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.



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