Because of Winn-Dixie

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In Theaters


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Rhonda Handlon

Movie Review

Please Lord, send me a friend. I only know the kids from church and that’s not too many.

Moving is hard on any kid, but for 10-year-old India “Opal” Buloni, it borders on the downright traumatic. Her Baptist preacher dad has just taken the pulpit in the small town of Naomi, Fla., where, as you just “heard” in her prayer, there aren’t many kids. She’s had to leave behind a great group of friends and her status as the baseball pitcher in her old hometown. To make matters worse, her mom abandoned her when she was three and she doesn’t know why.

But don’t get the wrong impression—Opal’s far from depressed. She’s too precocious and irrepressible to stay down for long.

Opal’s dad, meanwhile, is struggling with abandonment issues in his own way, which Opal compares to a turtle hiding in a shell. She calls him (to herself) “Preacher,” sort of summing up their polite but detached relationship. One morning, Opal wakes up to an empty trailer (Preacher’s already at the church “office”) and finds a note on the fridge asking her to bike over to the local grocery mart and pick up a few items. There, she finds the answer to her prayers in the form of a mangy mutt who’s creating absolute chaos in the produce department. When the store manager, flat on his back atop knocked-over fruit, demands to know whose dog it is, Opal quickly claims him and escapes with her new “friend,” whom she dubs Winn-Dixie … after the store.

She convinces her dad and the trailer park manager, Mr. Alfred, to let her keep the dog until the owner can be found. Then she and her canine companion set out to win over the town. Opal soon discovers that Winn-Dixie “is best at making friends than anyone I ever knew.” Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal finds herself encountering new people and situations that intertwine to create friendships, heal old wounds and develop a sense of community in Naomi that’s been missing for a long time.

Positive Elements

Winn-Dixie often leads Opal into situations that give them opportunity to offer unconditional friendship to someone who’s been feared, scarred, ignored or misunderstood.

There’s Otis, the guitar-playing, reticent pet shop caretaker who the two befriend when Winn-Dixie falls in love with a collar in the store window, and Opal works out a bargain to do odd jobs to earn it. Later, Opal learns that Otis is an ex-con, but as she and her dog continue to offer their friendship, the shy man begins to venture out into the community.

Miss Franny Block is an elderly spinster who runs a small private library purchased for her by her rich daddy. She enjoys telling a tale as much as Opal and Winn-Dixie like to listen, and soon another friendship is born. It’s Miss Franny who weaves the story of the town’s history around the invention of the mysterious Littmus Lozenge that tastes both “sad and sweet.” And it’s she who suggests Opal read Gone With the Wind to Gloria Dump, the nearly-blind old woman labeled the town witch by the incorrigible Dewberry brothers.

It’s with great trepidation that Opal follows a determined Winn-Dixie through the tangle of shrubs and weeds leading to Gloria’s home. Her fears are quickly put to rest, though, as they bond over peanut butter sandwiches and last names. (Gloria’s is Dump; Opal’s is Buloni. “Kids are always calling me ‘lunchmeat,’” Opal moans.) Gloria gives Opal the gift of her undivided attention, and invites her to “tell me about yourself so I can see you with my heart.” So Opal does, and Gloria responds in kind. It’s while reading Gone With the Wind that Opal gets the idea to throw a party and introduce all her new friends to each other.

But it gets better! The greatest friendship born that summer is between Opal and her dad. Rev. Buloni had responded to the pain of his wife’s leaving by shutting down emotionally and not speaking of her. Finally, he responds to Opal’s challenge to tell her about her mother. The healing process begins. The once-reserved man expresses love to his daughter, telling her, “Thank God your mamma left me you.”

With a bull-in-a-china-shop dog like Winn-Dixie, it’s a good thing Opal is polite and quick with her apologies, taking responsibility for his many foibles. Opal and most of the other kids in this film are cut from an old-fashioned cloth. They ride bikes, read books and call each other silly names (they are kids, after all). There’s not a television (or boom box) to be seen.

Spiritual Elements

Because of Winn-Dixie is unabashedly respectful of Christians, although some viewers may find the unorthodox church services (usually due to Winn-Dixie’s escapades) a bit off-putting. I found them refreshingly lighthearted.

Those services are held at an abandoned convenience store called “Pick It Quick” (the door chimes every time someone comes in). When the dog’s howling upstages a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” Opal responds to Preacher’s reproach by quipping, much to the congregation’s amusement, “He doesn’t know the words is all, but he sure is moved by the Spirit!” More laughter is triggered when Rev. Buloni invites the congregation to join him in prayer for a rodent that Winn-Dixie has just caught (and left unharmed). Opal tells a flustered Mr. Alfred he can’t shoot Winn Dixie because he’s a “church-goin’ dog—it’d be a sin.”

On the more traditional side, Preacher kicks off a party with prayer, and he leads the congregation in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

One thing would have made the film more spiritually satisfying: if God had been given at least a little credit for the good things that happened, rather than Winn-Dixie. Opal’s prayer for friends is spectacularly answered, but she never offers thanks to the Appropriate Party. “Just about everything good that happened that summer,” she muses, “happened because of Winn-Dixie.”

Sexual Content


Violent Content

A boy’s drowning is briefly mentioned, but most of the “violence” is humorous depictions of the destruction wreaked by Opal’s hyperactive dog. Winn-Dixie can reduce a room (or a grocery store) to shambles in minutes. Shortly after the dog arrives in his new home, the Bulonis leave him alone while they go out to post “lost dog” signs; they return to find their trailer all but turned upside down. Later, Winn-Dixie shows his fear of thunderstorms by again tearing up the trailer. (Preacher and Opal soon learn how to help him ride out the many summer storms.) A kiddy pool dog bath turns into a fiasco when Mr. Alfred slips in a pile of mud. Elsewhere, he slides on dog doo-doo. A goose pecks a policeman’s leg; a goat butts his car. Winn-Dixie bites the pants off the same officer (he’s left standing in his boxers).

Crude or Profane Language

A main character says, “I’ll be d–ned” once. Children (and a parrot) toss around “shut up,” “idiot,” “booger-eaters” and “butt.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

The only alcohol consumption has been done long before the movie opens, creating sad stories that send a great sobriety message sans sermon. Gloria Dump has a tree in her yard that she’s hung with empty bottles of whiskey and beer, to “keep the ghosts away … the ghosts of all the things I’ve done wrong.” When Opal asks, “Is the liquor what made you do those bad things?” Gloria replies honestly, “Some of them. But I don’t drink anything stronger than coffee anymore.”

Opal quickly puts two and two together and asks her dad if drinking led to her mother’s abandonment. “We were happy for a long time, and then she started drinking,” he affirms, while gently assuring Opal it wasn’t her fault.

Other Negative Elements

Opal lies to the store manager when she tells him the yet-to-be-named Winn-Dixie is hers (she “kind of” repents, telling us via narration, I knew I’d done something really big and probably stupid). Preacher also tells a “white lie” to save Winn-Dixie from the dog pound.


Because of Winn Dixie is based on Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Honor book of the same name. Before writing this review, I picked up a copy at the local library and spent the next few hours immersed in one of the most enjoyable reads I can remember in a long time.

The film stays pretty true to its source, although some creative license was taken to flesh out the small book into a full-length cinematic feature. Fans of Dave Matthews will enjoy his low-key performance, and dog lovers will fall hard for the so-ugly-he’s-cute star who actually does know how to smile. But by far the main show stealer is newcomer AnnaSophia Robb, who reportedly beat out 650 young auditioners for the part.

It’s obvious Miss Robb understood her role well. “Opal and Winn-Dixie have something in common,” the now 11-year-old Coloradan says. “She doesn’t have a mother and he doesn’t have a home. They both want somebody to love and somebody to love them. And as a team, they begin to realize that other people just might want the same thing.”

That just about captures the big, warm Southern heart of Winn-Dixie. People (and dogs), no matter how unattractive they may seem on the outside, no matter how much they “look” like they’re pushing others away, are eager to share their life stories with someone who cares about them. Winn-Dixie, then, is the enduring story of mankind’s need for unconditional love, a need both created and fulfilled by God. While Winn-Dixie is fictional, in real life it would be just like our Creator to answer the prayers of a lonely little girl in need of a friend by providing her a dog that needed a home.

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Rhonda Handlon