BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE
Learning About Love, Forgiveness and Commitment
Release Date: February 18, 2005
Genre: Children’s Comedy
Runtime: 106 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Wayne Wang
Executive Producer: Ralph S. Singleton
Producer: Trevor Albert and Joan Singleton
Address Comments To:Rupert Murdoch
Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, Chairmen
Fox Filmed Entertainment
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: (310) 369-1000
Opal convinces her emotionally-distant father to let her keep the expressive dog, at least until she can find him a new home. A mean old landlord (with a cat in his arms) makes it clear he will not let them keep the dog for long. Winn-Dixie, after all, is an intimidating sight. He is large and long-haired, ugly and beautiful at the same time. He is prone to knocking things and people down while maintaining a pleasant demeanor. In other words, he is immediately likable. In fact, only old curmudgeons are able to find something unpleasant about him.
Winn-Dixie and Opal weave through the small town like a needle and thread repairing a patchwork quilt. They seek friendships earnestly and take time to listen to the locals’ sad and sometimes amusing stories. Throughout their journey, Opal and Winn-Dixie befriend an elderly librarian (Eva Marie Saint), an isolated “crazy” woman (Cicely Tyson) thought to be a witch by the local kids, a guitar-playing pet shop operator fresh out of jail (Dave Matthews), and many other eccentric characters over the lazy summer months. They enrich the lives of the residents and ultimately create a renewed sense of community in this little town that time forgot.
When Winn-Dixie finds something that makes him smile, the remaining jaded viewers will be won over. (Cat lovers and dog haters be warned: It’s hard to resist the antics of this far-from-perfect pup.) Winn-Dixie is not exactly well-behaved, but that only adds to his infectious charm.
Opal finds comfort and companionship in Winn-Dixie, while struggling to understand why her own mother abandoned their home seven years earlier. She pleads with her father for more information, but “the Preacher” is still too wounded to talk about it. Slowly and delicately, he shares more and more about his wife and why she left them. He reveals that she “hated being a preacher’s wife” because she was always being judged by the ladies in the church. Drinking added to her isolation until, one day, she rode away in a cab and never returned.
Opal has plenty of time to ponder the sad issues of life. She spends her summer days visiting friends around town and working as a floor sweeper in the pet store. She gains warm-hearted insights and support from the townsfolk by listening to their own tales of struggle and sorrow. Winn-Dixie’s large pointed ears suggest he likes to listen, too. Together, they endeavor to reunite the disconnected town by throwing a party for all their friends. After a frightening thunderstorm causes Winn-Dixie to run away, the Preacher’s sad exterior finally breaks, and Opal learns about faith, love, forgiveness and commitment.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE is based on the award-winning children’s novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. Her books have been a hit with children and the movie will likely win viewers over, too. Director Wayne Wang (THE JOY LUCK CLUB and MAID IN MANHATTAN) helps this story transcend its “after school special” leanings and gives it a lot of heart. As a result, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE surpasses the fading memory of those old BENJI movies. Sure, older moviegoers will sense being manipulated during some parts of the story, but the tender moments are authentic enough to help viewers overlook the movie’s faults.
It is said that the story retains much of the spiritual content found in the novel. However, the subsidiary “follow-your-heart” messages in BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE are confusing and theologically weak. One character advises Opal to find “the most important” things in life. When pressed about what they are, the woman replies that “it’s different for everyone,” even though this woman turns out to be a believing Christian. The writing is uneven in these places and discerning Christians will pick up on these weak spots. Opal later tells her about someone who cussed, and the woman throws out, “War is a cuss word, too.” (Where did THAT come from?) So, the movie’s messages are mixed but strongly moral. In fact, the movie contains very strong messages about accepting responsibility for one’s actions, forgiveness and restoration. These positive messages are often repeated.
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE is a highly enjoyable family-friendly movie. The sadder themes may be too intense for older sympathetic children, but the ending is upbeat and charming. MOVIEGUIDE appreciates the wholesome qualities of the story, but is disappointed with the poor representation of the church-folk. The Preacher reads his Bible and prays frequently, but cannot seem to find joy or forgiveness himself. He certainly does not offer much in the way of joy to others around him. The small congregation seems bored with their Sunday-service-religion and only finds enjoyment when Winn-Dixie stirs a meeting up. Other characters convey traditional values while most avoid any overt God-connection. Opal is motivated to do good to others, but gives Winn-Dixie the dog more credit than God for the final result. Even so, however, the dog represents an answer to Opal’s prayer to God that He send her a friend. Ultimately, therefore, the movie implies that God is the one who improves the lives of Opal, her father and the townspeople.
In spite of its missteps, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE is a heartwarming story that will appeal to children, parents, educators, and other moviegoers looking for fun, positive entertainment. It is endearing and realistic. It is sure to make viewers smile and feel good.
Older moviegoers will sense being manipulated during some parts of the story, but the tender moments are authentic enough to help viewers overlook the movie’s faults. A “follow your heart” message, for example, dilutes the movie’s strong Christian, redemptive elements. Consequently, the movie lacks the kind of spiritual substance it could have had. In spite of these missteps, Opal learns about faith, love, forgiveness and commitment when her father opens up to her. Ultimately, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE is a highly enjoyable and endearing story that will appeal to children, parents and educators.