"Because of Winn-Dixie", while not without a few flaws, is proof that a movie for kids can be made that's inoffensive, yet tells a good story and doesn't talk down to the audience. The latest picture from director Wayne Wang (who's behind such studio fare as "Maid in Manhattan" and art house fare like "Center of the World") is a pleasant little character study starring newcomer Annasophia Robb (who went on to star in director Tim Burton's remake of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") as Opal, the daughter of a preacher (Jeff Daniels) who's faced with another move away from her friends - this time, she finds herself in a quiet Florida town.
When she runs across a stray pooch tearing up the local Winn-Dixie mart, Opal claims him as her own, although it takes a lot of convincing her father for the pooch - which she's named Winn-Dixie, due to where she found it - to at least take up temporary residence. The film then goes through the expected - Winn-Dixie causes some trouble, but also leads Opal towards new and lasting friendships with some of the local kids her own age, as well as some of the adults, like a librarian (Eva Marie Saint) and the local pet store clerk (Dave Matthews).
So, despite the fact that the picture is rather formulaic and predictable, it works as well as it does largely because the performances are good and the movie doesn't play up the emotional moments. Rachel Portman's elegant score is a prime addition to the film, as it adds a pleasantly folksy tone and highlights the emotional moments without being manipulative.
The performances are also rather good. Annasophia Robb is subtle and moving as Opal, while Jeff Daniels does well with a somewhat thankless role as her preacher father. Good supporting efforts from Cicely Tyson, Saint and Matthews are also highlights. Overall, "Winn-Dixie" isn't anything too exceptional, but it's good-natured, sweet and entertaining, operating with a charming, low-key energy that worked quite well. The dog puts in an awfully good animal performance, too.
VIDEO: "Because of Winn-Dixie" is presented by Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (on one side) and 1.33:1 full-frame on the other. The anamorphic widescreen presentation is generally pretty good, as it does boast very fine sharpness and detail, for the most part. Some low-light moments and wide shots are a tad soft, but the majority of the movie looks crisp and well-defined.
Aside from the softness, there are some moments of light edge enhancement and a couple of very slight instances of pixelation. However, aside from those concerns, the presentation looked solid. No instances of wear were present, as the print appeared consistently crystal clear. The movie's natural color palette showed through nicely, as colors appeared well-saturated and bright throughout, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Because of Winn-Dixie" offers a very pleasing 5.1 presentation. Although the majority of the dialogue-driven film's audio is rooted in the front speakers, some environmental sounds, an effect or two and some reinforcement of the score occasionally come from the rear speakers. Quality was fine, as dialogue was crisp and clear, Portman's lovely score sounded well-recorded and effects sounded just fine. Obviously, there's little in the way of bass present, nor did there need to be.
EXTRAS: On the widescreen side is a commentary from Jeff Daniels and producer Trevor Alpert. The other side has a commentary from actress Annasophia Robb on a few scenes. Also found on the DVD are an "Inside Look" promo for "Ice Age 2", a gag reel, a "behind-the-scenes" piece and the "Diamond in the Ruff" dog training featurette.
Final Thoughts: "Because of Winn-Dixie" is certainly familiar stuff, but I liked the tone of the movie, thought the performances were good and enjoyed the mix of light comedy and some more emotional moments. Overall, I don't think it's a classic picture, but it's a very sweet family movie that I recommend. Fox's DVD edition provides a nice helping of supplements and fine audio/video quality.