A stray dog and a 'little girl lost' become inseparable in cutesy kid-flick Because Of Winn-Dixie. Based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo, it drips with down-home Southern charm, as does bright-eyed newcomer Anna Sophia Robb. She plays a 10-year-old tomboy who yearns for her absent mother and worries about her dispirited father (the always endearing Jeff Daniels). Both struggle to fit into a small town that seems almost entirely inhabited with rejects from a Harper Lee novel, like the scary "old witch" in her ramshackle house (Cicely Tyson) and the ne'er-do-well who's "not a bad man, just not a lucky man" (Dave Matthews).
Naturally there are lessons of tolerance and understanding within a series of meaningful encounters but, for all the clichés, director Wayne Wang is never condescending. In the end, youthful optimism prevails over wishful idealism to lift this above the usual pack of shaggy dog stories.
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