February 28, 2005 12:00 PM

Jeff Daniels, AnnaSophia Robb



Most kids gulp down a piece of candy and simply demand more. Not Opal (Robb), the spunky, insightful 10-year-old heroine of this sincere, unpretentious movie. After sucking on a lozenge, she observes that the candy tastes “sweet and sad at the same time.” Which serves as an accurate assessment of Because of Winn-Dixie, a laudable film based on a Newbery Honor-recognized novel by Kate DiCamillo and sensitively (if occasionally lurchingly) directed by Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan).

Opal and her preacher dad (Daniels) move to a tiny town where she adopts a dog and slowly makes new friends. The sad part? Opal’s mom split years ago and the dog, briefly, runs away. For youngsters and parents needing a break from films featuring smart-talking cartoons, this heartwarming tale will prove a boon. The only misstep comes when Opal throws a garden party and the rococo decorations make one briefly suspect that she’s a junior Martha Stewart in the making. (PG)

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