Because of Winn-Dixie review by Mike Long

W.C. Fields once commented that actors shouldn't work with animals or children. While this was no doubt practical advice for filmmakers, that combination can often lead to a successful film. The mixture of the universal love for animals combined with a child's innocence can result in a heart-warming film, if done correctly. The recently released Because of Winn-Dixie proves that a cute animal and a cute kid don't always produce a successful film and that an appealing story is just as important.

Because of Winn-Dixie opens with young Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) and her father, known simply as "The Preacher" (Jeff Daniels) moving to a very small Southern town, so that "The Preacher" can start a new church inside an old convenience store. Opal misses her old home and feels that she doesn't fit in in the new town. One day while shopping at the local Winn-Dixie, she witnesses a dog running amok in the store and claims that it's hers, stating that the dog's name is in fact, "Winn-Dixie". Despite her Father's protests, Opal insists on keeping the dog, and soon this inseparable pair are meeting many interesting people throughout the town, such as Otis (Dave Matthews), who works at the local pet store, and a mysterious old woman named Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson). All the while, Opal wonders why her Father is so sad and why he's so reluctant to talk about Opal's mother.

This film is based on a novel, and although I haven't read the book, I get the feeling that the screenplay was lifted directly from the book, as the film has very episodic, chapter-by-chapter feel to it. There's the chapter where Opal meets Winn-Dixie, there's the chapter where Opal meets Gloria Dump, there's the chapter where Opal meets the librarian, Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint). Of course, this is purely speculation, but the sense that the film is made up of individual segments rather than a cohesive story is inescapable.

And this is Because of Winn-Dixie's downfall. The idea of a lonely little girl befriending a dog is a universal one which will need a lot of spicing up in order to create an interesting movie, and this film simply doesn't go the distance. The movie tries to have some overriding themes, the foremost of which is Opal's relationship with her father, but these take a backseat to the vignettes the movie. And while these vignettes are diverse enough (thanks to the people which Opal meets) to be interesting, they aren't enough to make the film satisfying. Director Wayne Wang has given the film a very nice look and does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of the sleepy little town, but he can't make the story any better.

Despite the lackluster condition of the script, the cast of Because of Winn-Dixie does try their best. Young Annasophia Robb goes a bit overboard at times with the cutesy faces, but as the center of the film, she is memorable. Jeff Daniels, who doesn't get nearly enough work these days, makes a nice dramatic turn as the taciturn Preacher. Singer Dave Matthews is surprisingly good as Otis, a man with a checkered past, who may be mentally challenged. Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint both make a welcome return to the screen in eccentric roles. The most entertaining scenes in the film involve the bizarre comedy of Harland Williams, who twice gets into sparring matches with animals. Because of Winn-Dixie isn't a bad movie, but it's certainly a film which doesn't exploit its potential. We get interesting characters and a cute dog who are left without a decent story in which to exist.

Because of Winn-Dixie romps onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the picture is sharp and clear. The picture is relatively free from grain and is very well-balanced. Wang has shot the film in a very natural style, and the colors look very good, most notably the reds. The picture shows some mild artifacting, but it's not too distracting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a family drama, the Because of Winn-Dixie has very good sound, as the thunderstorm scenes produce excellent surround sound and subwoofer effects.

The Because of Winn-Dixie DVD is a flipper and each side contains a some extra features. The Widescreen Side opens with an audio commentary from star Jeff Daniels and producer Trevor Albert. This is a fairly straight-forward talk, as the pair discusses the cast, locations, and what it was like to work with the dog. But, it's also a fun commentary, as the two fondly remember the shoot and crack jokes. There is a 2-minute "Gag Reel". "Diamond in the Ruff" (4 minutes) contains comments from the cast and crew concerning the two dogs used to play Winn-Dixie. The Full-screen Side has "Scene-Specific Commentary" from star Annasophia Robb on 5 select scenes. The 4-minute "Behind the Scenes with Winn-Dixie" is essentially a press-kit, as it contains some behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast and crew, but it's made up mostly of clips from the movie.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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