I took my family to see “Because of Winn-Dixie” last night. Miami Mormon Movie Critic gives it a hearty thumbs-up with a caution that it may be a little slow for kids who don’t like to sit through thoughtful flicks.
“Because of Winn-Dixie” is the story of a 10-year-old girl named Opal who has just moved to a small Florida town with her father, who is a Baptist preacher (played by Jeff Daniels). She has no friends in town and feels lonely. (We later learn that her mother has abandoned the family).
Making a trip to the nearby Winn-Dixie grocery store, Opal encounters a mongrel dog that is wrecking havoc on the store. The dog befriends her, she befriends the dog, and — voila! — she has a new best friend, whom she renames after the store.
Opal is surrounded by small-town characters who are loners. The owner of the trailer park where she and her father live is a grumpy old guy who of course wants to throw out Winn-Dixie. Her father spends all his time on his laptop presumably researching sermons and, in Opal’s view, “hiding like a turtle.” Most of the kids she encounters seem to be attached to adults, rather than interacting with each other. The pet store owner (played by Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band) stays in his store all day playing tunes for his animal friends.
Opal also encounters two other local characters, a librarian (played by a still-gorgeous Eva Marie Saint) and the local blind “witch” (played by Cicely Tyson).
Winn-Dixie practically drags her through town interacting with each of these lonely characters. And something magical happens: as she begins to spend time with them, they become less lonely and less strange. And Opal becomes happier. Meanwhile, her relationship with her father improves and she finally learns some of the reasons that her mother abandoned the family.
Winn-Dixie is, in my opinion, symbolic of the Holy Ghost. He is the Comforter traveling through town uplifting and helping the lonely people stuck in their shells. Everybody ends up loving the dog and relying on him to help improve their lives. He is what helps them find true happiness in their sometimes sad existences.
It is refreshing and somewhat surprising to see a major motion picture from Hollywood treat religion in a respectful and positive light. The preacher is a positive, honest character. Faith and prayer and hymns are honored.
Winn-Dixie is a movie for the whole family. My two girls (6 and 9 years old) loved it. But some kids might find it a bit slow because it is mostly about relationships (boring adult stuff).