Because of Winn Dixie
Opal doesn’t know why her mommy left her and her Baptist preacher father, but moving to a new town in the middle of nowhere sure hasn’t helped things out. But Opal’s lively and irrepressible, so she’s gonna make friends no matter what, even if there’s only really the obnoxious Dewberry boys in town that’s her own age. So when Opal comes across a stray dog in need of rescuing- literally- she isn’t going to let that dog go without a fight!
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 the town that’s been missing for a long time.
Friendship is the heart of this story, and those friendships are often unconventional and unexpected when we do come across them. Winn-Dixie and Opal end up offering unconditional friendship to people in the town who have become misfits or forgotten with time. There’s Otis, a shy, guitar-playing ex con who’s trying his hardest to move out of his past. Miss Franny Block, an elderly spinster who runs a small private library purchased for her by her rich daddy. And most frightening of all, Miss Gloria Dump, “the witch” (she’s not a witch, just a blind woman with fantastically frizzy hair!).
But the greatest friendship born that summer is between Opal and her dad. When the movie starts out, we see that Opal’s dad 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 detached relationship. The Rev. had responded to the pain of his wife’s leaving by shutting down emotionally, but over time allows himself to heal. By the end of the movie the once-reserved man tells his daughter “Thank God your mamma left me you”, and lets loose a little, enjoying an evening party with her.
On the more spiritual side, Preacher kicks off a party with prayer, and he leads the congregation in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. There is constant reference to church and Christianity, but they are all soft, good ‘ol boy type references which might not satisfy some viewers. To me, though, the movie’s lightheartedness was fun and refreshing.
As I said above, some viewers may not find humor in the unorthodox comments and church services made in the movie, though they are all done respectfully. Church services are held at an abandoned convenience store called “Pick It Quick”. 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!”And then, seeing the humor in the situation, the Rev. 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.”
The only downside for me was the ending. “Just about everything good that happened that summer, happened because of Winn-Dixie.” God was not given the credit for having answered Opal’s initial prayer in the beginning of the movie for a friend.
Violence in the movie all starts and ends with the hyperactive and rather ill mannered Winn-Dixie (the dog), who can reduce an situation to a hot mess in an instant (or a fruity one, in the case of the grocery store). Also, Winn-Dixie has a pathological fear of thunderstorms, thus causing him to tear through Opal’s house like a crazed creature. A goose pecks a policeman’s leg; a goat butts his car, and Winn-Dixie bites the pants off the same officer (he’s left standing in his boxers). You get the picture.
Language only present once, when a character says, “I’ll be d–ned”. Everything else is childish name calls like “idiot,” “booger-eaters” and the likes.
The only alcohol consumption in the movie is conveyed through a story, told by Gloria, that sends a great sobriety message. In her yard there is this majestic tree on which she has hung hundreds of empty bottles of whiskey and beer. She say she hangs them there 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.
AnnaSophia Robb, the brilliant young actress who played Opal in the film, summed up the movie beautifully in her 11 year old words. “Opal and Winn-Dixie have something in common. 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.”
The Southern warmth and hospitality of this movie is lighthearted and fun. Winn-Dixie accurately portrays mankind’s need for unconditional love. While the movie certainly played soft ball on the Christianity side, its moral message was still good, and in real life it would be just like our Creator to answer the prayers of a lonely little girl by providing her a dog that needed a home.