The film (which closely follows the award-winning children's book with the same title) tells the story of a little girl named Opal (AnnaSophia Robb) and her preacher father (Jeff Daniels) who move to a small Southern town. Opal misses her mother who abandoned her and is lonely in her new town until she finds a friend in a pooch she adopts, named Winn-Dixie. The dog helps her mend her relationship with her father and helps the eclectic townspeople rediscover a sense of community. Isn't that sweet?
In attempting sweetness, however, the movie becomes a bit unbelievable. Robb is a talented new actress, but her grasp of her inner feelings and of other people's problems would be more believable in someone twice her age. For example, when Opal tastes a piece of candy from a neighbor, she says that the candy is like life -- sweet with some underlying bitterness. Right, I know a lot of 10-year-olds who say things like that all the time. And can anyone say clich & eacute;d metaphor?
The story also moves slowly, which sets up natural and poignant vignettes of Opal talking with the townspeople, but may make children go to sleep. Moreover, there are significant plot holes, such as why the policeman in this tiny town only realizes that the pet store clerk is a convicted criminal months after he starts working there. The most glaring fault, though, is the stereotyped policeman character, who provides all the compulsory sight gags with no finesse or comic timing.
Yet with these flaws, there is still an underlying charm to the movie. The odd townspeople are fascinating characters, and Robb's confusion and sadness over her mother is believable. Robb and Daniels also succeed at creating a natural father-daughter relationship, and the dog's antics (which could easily have been overdone) were delightful as well as believable.
It would be nice if problems such as loneliness and isolation could be fixed by something as simple as a precocious girl and her dog. And that's the strength -- and weakness -- of Winn-Dixie.