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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

((Photo by Suzanne Tenner, © and TM Twentieth Century Fox)

photo caption:
A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND: Winn-Dixie has become Opal's (AnnaSophia Robb) inseparable canine companion. He patiently watches while she reads in bed by flashlight.end caption.

Because of Winn-Dixie: Popular Children's Novel Adapted Into First-Rate Family Film

Review by Kam Williams

It is a steamy summer in Florida, and 10 year-old Opal Buloni (AnnaSophia Robb) has followed her preacher father (Jeff Daniels) to the sleepy, backwoods hamlet of Naomi where he has found work at the Open Arms Baptist Church. The congregation holds services in a what used to be a"Pick-It-Quick" convenience store which still looks more like a food mart than a house of worship.

Opal, sad about having to start over again in another locale, prays to God to make new friends and to see her mother (Lara Grice) again someday. She has been walking around with a hole in heart since her momma disappeared seven years ago. Because her daddy doesn't want to talk about it, Opal has a lot of unanswered questions about why she was abandoned.

Because of Winn-Dixie is a first-rate family film based on the best-seller of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. In 2001, the novel was named a Newbery Honor Book, a distinction reserved for the year's outstanding children's literature. The book has been adapted to the screen by director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), who preserves the story's earnestness instead of using Hollywood's kiddie fare formula.

Narrated by young Opal, Because of Winn-Dixie paints a picture of life from the perspective of a new kid in town. Initially, instead of developing any meaningful relationships, Opal meets with resistance at every turn.

For example, a couple of bullies her own age tease her about her last name which sounds awfully similar to "baloney." She finds it hard to adjust to life in a trailer park run by an unfriendly old grouch (B.J. Hopper) with a lot of rules, like "no pets."

When she resigns herself to her worst summer ever, a life-altering incident occurs while she's shopping for groceries at the Winn-Dixie supermarket. A mangy mutt is running amuck and embarrassing the exasperated manager (John McConnell) and the employees attempting to corral him. Opal steps forward to claim the stray, impulsively naming him Winn-Dixie and saving him from the dog pound.

The pair soon become inseparable which not only improves Opal's outlook but aso transforms everyone they encounter. Among the colorful characters in need of a blessing are ex-con Otis (Dave Matthews), the manager of Gertrude's pet shop; Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson), the elderly blind woman unfairly labeled a scary witch; and Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint), the local librarian with a tin can of magical, melancholy lozenges.

Because of Winn-Dixie, the city of Naomi comes together like never before, Opal begins communicating with her father, even though hearing the truth about her mother fails to heal her emotional wounds.

A tender-hearted fable about a child's determination to find the truth and her place on the planet even if that means a deep sadness and an almost unbearable sense of solitude.

Excellent (3 and 1/2 stars). Rating: PG for adult themes and mild epithets. Running time: 106 minutes. Studio: 20th Century Fox.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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