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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Because of Winn-Dixie (review)

Just when you thought the kids’ movie was lost forever in a cesspool of toilet humor and cartoon violence, along comes a wonderful film like this one, smart and sweet but unsentimental and warmly genuine in its portrait of childhood innocence and the adventure of growing up. The trials of 10-year-old Opal (newcomer AnnaSophia Robb, a real charmer) in small-town Florida will be instantly recognizable to kids everywhere. The new girl in town, Opal clings to the mutt she names Winn-Dixie after the supermarket in which she finds him, and the gregarious dog opens all sorts of doors of friendship to her: with the mysterious troubled man who runs the pet shop (rocker Dave Matthews, in an auspicious film debut), with the strange old lady the local kids call a “witch” (Cicely Tyson), and even with her dad (Jeff Daniels: Gods and Generals), who’s been distant and distracted for years, since Opal’s mother abandoned them. Based on Kate DiCamillo’s beloved novel and directed with a sure, light touch by Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan), this lovely film is full of a whimsy and a melancholy that will delight kids and their parents alike.


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MPAA: rated PG for thematic elements and brief mild language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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