Because of Winn-Dixie [2005]

Some people think "family entertainment" is an oxymoron, but even they might enjoy Because of Winn-Dixie. This straightforward story of a girl and her dog is simple without being simplistic, heartfelt without being sappy, and thoughtful without being ponderous. Opal (Annasophia Robb, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who manages the near-impossible feat of being cute without being cutesy) can't make any friends in the small town of Naomi until she hooks up with a dog that's running loose in a supermarket. She spontaneously names him after the store and soon the dog is leading her into unexpected places--a pet store, where she meets an awkward musician (Dave Matthews); a library, where she meets a librarian with as many stories as books (Eva Marie Saint); and into a house shrouded with underbrush, where she meets a blind old woman who sees with her heart (Cicely Tyson). This could have been sentimental glop, but director Wayne Wang (Smoke, The Joy Luck Club) and a restrained script draw honest emotions from the actors and an eerie beauty from the Florida landscape; this one of the few family movies that captures the childhood sense that everyday life can be mystical. Also starring Jeff Daniels (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Something Wild) as Opal's minister father. --Bret Fetzer

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