leave a comment --Angel Cohn
Based on the children's novel by Kate DiCamillo, this simple coming-of-age tale tends to drift away on tangential story lines, but should still warm the hearts of audiences of all ages. India Opal Buloni (AnnaSophia Robb) is a lonely 10-year-old whose single father (Jeff Daniels), a preacher, has just relocated them both to a small town in rural Florida. Opal finds little to do in the tiny, dusty village, until one day, while running an errand at the local Winn-Dixie grocery store, she discovers a mangy dog loose inside, knocking over displays and generally annoying the other patrons. She claims the stinky pooch — whom she dubs Winn-Dixie — as her own and takes him back to the trailer she shares with her father. Dad is understandably irked and reminds his daughter that their grouchy landlord, Mr. Alfred (B.J. Hopper), who lets them live there rent-free, has already bent his strict no-pet and no-children policy for Opal. Mr. Alfred reluctantly allows the homeless animal to stay put until Opal finds him a good home, but for Opal and Winn-Dixie it's love at first sight. Both are starving for companionship, and Winn-Dixie helps the shy girl win over some of the town's other misfits and loners: Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint), the spinster librarian who is afraid of bears; the town "witch," Gloria (Cicely Tyson), who in reality is a recovering alcoholic; the dreaded Dewberry brothers (Nick Price and Luke Benward), who tease Opal incessantly; two soft-spoken neighbor girls, Sweetie Pie (Elle Fanning) and Amanda (Courtney Jines); and a drifter, Otis (pop singer Dave Matthews), who's gotten a job at the local pet store. Slowly, and all because of Winn-Dixie, Opal finds herself with a plethora of friends, but all is not well. The looming threat that the dog will be taken away from her at any moment and her father's reluctance to discuss the mother who deserted them both weigh heavily on her mind. Newcomer Robb is a delight to watch, and her canine costar is equally adorable; both are capable of carrying this movie on their small shoulders. Matthews also makes a respectable entree onto the big screen in a role that's conveniently short on dialogue; his Otis uses music to sooth the savage beast. A sweet film with no big action moments may be a hard sell to young male audiences, but it's nevertheless a quality story that the whole family can watch together.