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A 10-year-old girl, abandoned by her mother when she was three, moves to a small town in Florida with her father, a preacher. While there, she adopts a stray dog whom she names after the local supermarket where he was found. With her goofy pooch by her side, she meets an eclectic group of townspeople and rekindles an almost lost relationship with her father. Written by
Based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie, brings some much-needed sincerity to this Spring's forthcoming line-up of family films. Winn-Dixie, which comes to theatres February 18, stars newcomer AnnaSophia Robb as 10-year-old India Opal Buloni, who finds herself struggling to make friends in her new home, the small town of Naomi, Florida. Jeff Daniels plays Opal's father, known throughout the story simply as Preacher. Opal and Preacher's relationship is strained due to the fact that Opal's mother abandoned them both seven years earlier. Their relationship is changed, however, when Opal is sent to the local Winn-Dixie store for some groceries and brings home a goofy, bumbling mutt with a knack for making friends and a unique ability to smile. She names the dog after the store in which she found him, and soon they are constant companions. With Winn-Dixie's help, Opal gets to know the eclectic community of Naomi and her exploits bring together some of Naomi's most unusual citizens. Though the premise may seem conventional, the movie possesses many qualities that are lacking in most family films. Director Wayne Wang, whose previous films include The Joy Luck Club and Anywhere But Here, avoids much of the whimsical elements that turn off older viewers, portraying some of the more far-fetched scenes through imaginative flashbacks that occur only in Opal's mind. Though Because of Winn-Dixie succumbs to many family film clichés including slapstick physical comedy and plenty of sappy moments, it is redeemed by moments of pure quirkiness and originality. The film is also unafraid of dealing with adult themes such as alcohol abuse.
The film's cast is supported by veteran talents like Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint and counterbalanced by the fresh faces of the younger cast members. Songwriter Dave Matthews makes an impressive effort in his second film appearance as Otis, an introverted pet store clerk who plays guitar to soothe the animals. Though AnnaSophia Robb's inexperience sometimes shows itself in comparison to her co-stars, she imparts a sense of genuine naïvete and childlike curiosity to the role that would have been difficult to achieve with a more experienced child actress. Robb can next be seen playing Violet Beauregard in Tim Burton's upcoming adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Because of Winn-Dixie is a tale rich in values with themes of forgiveness, tolerance, and hope for the future. It is a classic story, told with imaginative eccentricity and style. Rather than taking the kids to see yet another Winnie the Pooh movie, do yourself a favor and take a chance on something original.
The Verdict: 3 ½ Stars
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