A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that beneath the heartwarming, often funny, story of a young girl's relationship with a lovable mutt, Because of Winn-Dixie deals with some significant life experiences, (abandonment, alcoholism, death of a loved one, and the difficulties that come with major change in a child's life). The issues are treated sensitively and gently, without too much detail. Multiple positive messages are either clearly stated or subtly integrated into the story and character arcs. The few action sequences are either comic (dog pulling down policeman's trousers, falls, chases) or mildly suspenseful (flashback of a bear, the dog catching and releasing a mouse, and the dog fearfully reacting to thunderstorms). There is one use of "hell," and a couple of insults ("booger-eater," "retard"); someone steps in some messy dog poop.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Opal (Annasophia Robb) and her worried, distracted preacher father (Jeff Daniels) have just moved to tiny Naomi, Florida. At the grocery store, Opal meets a troublemaking stray dog causing chaos, claims him as hers, and names him Winn-Dixie after the store. Her dad and the landlord say "No!" But Winn-Dixie wants to stay with Opal and help her make some new friends. Soon, Opal has a job working the pet store and befriends the town librarian (Eva Marie Saint), a reclusive woman (Cecily Tyson), and some local kids. As Opal becomes more confident, she finds the courage to ask the Preacher about her mother. Because of Winn-Dixie, she has developed the maturity to begin to understand the answers. And because of Winn-Dixie, the small town of Naomi becomes once again a place where people know each other's sorrows and reach out to each other.
Is it any good?
While appealing, this story is also heavy-handed and full of clichés, and characters with names like "Sweetie Pie" and "Dunlap Dewberry." Annasophia Robb turns in an uncertain performance as Opal, but strong appearances by top talent in the adult roles and graceful evocation of a gently rural community by director Wayne Wang keep it for the most part more sweet than sugary.
The best moments are not the revelations or the coming-of-age turning points or the dog-causes-trouble slapstick but the small, quiet scenes of people connecting to each other. The film is gently touching when Opal tells the librarian and the recluse that she wants to hear their stories and then listens attentively and when Otis plays his guitar for the animals. Those are the moments that truly convey the magic of Winn-Dixie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Winn-Dixie was so important to Opal. They could also discuss the importance of the way Opal listens to the stories Miss Franny and Gloria tell her. If you had to choose ten things to describe each member of the family, what would they be? What do you think of Gloria's way of recognizing her mistakes? Why did Opal worry that it was her fault that her mother left? Why was it important that the candy was sweet and sad? Do the people in your community know each other's sorrows? How do you learn what your one important thing is?
- In theaters: February 18, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: August 9, 2005
- Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Harland Williams, Jeff Daniels
- Director: Wayne Wang
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and brief mild language.
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