Because of Winn-Dixie
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Wayne Wang
scr Joan Singleton
with AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, Eva Marie Saint, Elle Fanning, Courtney Jines, Nick Price, Luke Benward, BJ Hopper, Harland Williams, Lenore Banks
release US 18.Feb.05,
UK 21.Oct.05
05/US Fox 1h46

Animal magnetism: Robb, Matthews and the menagerie

daniels tyson fanning

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Because of Winn-Dixie This film was clearly made for 8-year-old girls, so everyone else is free to bristle at the very idea. Relentlessly cute and adorable, it at least has a slight sour edge that gives us above-8s something to cling to. Briefly.

India Opal (Robb)is struggling to make new friends in rural Florida. Her single dad (Daniels) is the town's new preacher, and he's less than thrilled when she adopts an enormous, mischievous stray dog. Opal names him Winn-Dixie, after the supermarket, and he introduces her to the town's outcasts: the ex-con petshop clerk (Matthews), blind "witch" (Tyson), lonely librarian (Saint), grumpy trailer park owner (Hopper), goofy cop (Williams), and a random assortment of kids (Fanning, Jines, Price, Benward).

It's like a series of whimsical, bittersweet, fictionalised autobiographical adventures, as Opal and her shaggy dog encounter each isolated character and then, of course, bring them all together. There's nothing remotely original or even interesting about this premise, but at least the script dares to include a real note of sadness in each character. This actually adds a shade of resonance and meaning to all the fluffy sweetness.

But we know we're in trouble when the central character is an oversized mutt that can actually smile. Winn-Dixie wails like Chewbacca as he guides Opal into each mini-adventure. And if he's not enough, the petshop has an improbably varied population with more delightfully exotic critters than the town has people. It's fairly clear where the film's heart lies, so it's understandable that the human actors have so little to do, really. Robb is fine in the lead role, but is directed into such a wide-eyed performance that she's only mildly less annoying than the dog. Daniels at least adds some melancholy.

Wang films with an over-precious sheen and a deeply unoriginal song score (Splish Splash while Opal bathes the dog!), not to mention unfunny set-pieces like the rat in the church or the unemotional climax in the freaks and geeks party. This is all fine for young children, but grown-ups will find themselves grasping at straws for something engaging.

cert U themes, vulgarity 27.Jun.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall