Because of Winn-Dixie is a dog with pedigree. The source is a Newbery-honored children’s novel by Kate DiCamillo, and the director is the not inestimable Wayne Wang, catering to the exact opposite demographic as in The Center of the World. New to Naomi, Florida, 10-year-old Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) goes shopping for mac and cheese and walks out with a stray Picardy shepherd; impulsively, she names him after the store. Together, girl and canine bring joy to Naomi’s lonely hunting hearts: Miss Franny the librarian (Eva Marie Saint), whose only company is her books; Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson), a blind, African American hermit whom Opal enlightens by reading Gone With the Wind; Otis (yes, Dave Matthews), a musically inclined pet shop owner with a checkered past; and Opal’s preacher father (Jeff Daniels), abandoned by an alcoholic wife. Unlike in Smoke, Wang can’t reconcile the various threads—the story seems awkwardly positioned between coming-of-age realism and whimsical fantasy. It’s difficult to know how to even process a scene where Matthews serenades his pets, including a parrot, a monkey, several rabbits, and a small goat. The animals are no less bewildered than the viewer.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 8, 2005