Agood children's movie isn't afraid to be a little wistful. You can have your dog-run-riot-in-the-supermarket scene, your kiddie name-calling. But add a tinge of sadness and regret and you're on to something.
Because of Winn-Dixie gets that. Kate DiCamillo's award-winning novel about a girl and the dog she found at a supermarket has been charmingly adapted by the folks who produced Holes, which is the new yardstick against which smart kids' entertainment is judged. Winn-Dixie is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. But what works, what will connect with parents and their 5-12 year olds, is that hint of melancholy that floats around the edges of this feather-light comedy.
Opal (Annasophia Robb) is a lonely little new kid in a one-horse town where her daddy, the preacher (Jeff Daniels), is ministering a storefront church. She doesn't know anybody, and nobody wants to know her.
Until this stray critter wanders into the local Winn-Dixie.
Opal fibs to save the pooch from the dog catcher. She hassles Daddy. "Can we keep him?" And she names the mutt after the place she found him.
"Just about everything good that happened that summer," she narrates, "happened because of Winn-Dixie."
Winn-Dixie helps her meet people - the aged librarian (Eva Marie Saint); the blind recluse the local kids call a witch (Cicely Tyson); and the drifter (singer Dave Matthews) who somehow is in charge of a pet store that appears designed more to delight your typical 6-year-old, not to sell animals.
Opal discovers the storytelling skills of the librarian, the wisdom of regret from the blind woman, and the singer-drifter's gift for entertaining animals.
And she finds a way into her preacher-dad's broken heart.
All because of you-know-who.
Not everything about Winn-Dixie works. The kid is, truth be told, more adequate than good. But Daniels, Matthews, Saint and Tyson are solid.
Forget the modern setting. This is nostalgia, pure and simple. And you can't remember a great dog without a touch of regret for the lost childhood, the lessons you can't unlearn, that your long-ago mutt represents.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Because of Winn-Dixie
Starring Annasophia Robb, Jeff Daniels
Directed by Wayne Wang
Released by 20th Century Fox
Time: 100 minutes
SUN SCORE ** 1/2