A college student who saw "Because of Winn-Dixie" and was asked what he or she did this past weekend would probably respond by saying something similar to the following: "Not too much, man. I went out to eat, went to a couple friends' houses, saw some movie about a dog and did a little homework."
Now if a 5-year-old was asked the same question he or she would respond with, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I went and saw the bestest movie ever about this girl who finds a cute dog and tries to get the whole town to fall in love with them and her dad."
Opal, played by Annasophia Robb, was abandoned by her mother when she was only 3 and has just moved to a backcountry town in Florida with her father, the town's preacher, played by Jeff Daniels. One day while in the supermarket, a dog runs in and knocks everything over in his path until stopping in front of Opal.
The owner tells his employees to call the pound and haul the shaggy mutt away. Before she stops to think, Opal proclaims that it's her dog, names it Winn-Dixie after the market and takes the dog home with her. Opal convinces her dad that Winn-Dixie is her only friend and in need of a good family, and the two take him in until they find him a new family. As the story moves along Opal and Winn-Dixie bring the entire town together and mend her broken relationship with her father, all the while working for Dave Matthews (yeah, you read that right, it really is THE Dave Matthews) at the local pet shop.
"Because of Winn-Dixie" is exactly what you think it is and not much more: a cute little story about a cute little girl and a cute little shaggy dog. Period. Several times throughout, however, it feels like the director, Wayne Wang, was trying to tie in a few lessons for the little ones. Opal meets a voodoo-witch type lady named Gloria, who goes on to show her the tree in her back yard strung with hundreds of booze bottles, from 40-ounce beers to wine jugs. She then explains to Opal the dangers of drinking and the bad decisions that can come from a drunken stupor, which is kind of out of place and could take the unexpected parent by surprise.
If a day with the nieces and nephews is on the horizon, go pick up a few matinee tickets for this one. However, don't make an afternoon out of it by yourself; it'll make for a boring day.
2 out of 4 infant rams