'Winn-Dixie' Is Simple, Touching Family Fare

It's a movie about a girl and her dog.

Based on a popular children's novel, "Because of Winn-Dixie" (search) is a simple, nonviolent kid flick, hoping to attract young and old viewers alike.

"It's about different relationships, and what's the quality of life. It has some pretty serious issues to think about," said 10-year-old star Annasophia Robb (search).

The story kicks in when Opal (Robb) inadvertently adopts a mixed-breed dog that she names Winn-Dixie, after the grocery store where she finds him.

The little, blond tomboy is desperate for a friend — it's summer and she's just moved to a small Florida town with her preacher father, played by Jeff Daniels (search).

Opal's mother left her when she was 3, which her father refuses to discuss. Winn-Dixie helps her make other friends around town with people who are lonely, too, and don't know how to reach out to anyone.

"I didn't find him. He found me," she explains in one of the film's many voice-overs. "Winn-Dixie was a dog who knew how to be a friend."

Among the people he introduces Opal to in the formidable, eclectic cast are a shy, withering librarian played by Eva Marie Saint (search); a nearly blind woman named Gloria Dump (Cicely Tyson), who all the kids in town assume is a witch because she lives alone in a dark, rambling house; and drifter played by singer Dave Matthews (search) who runs the pet store where Opal helps out.

There is, of course, the obligatory threat that Winn-Dixie will be taken away from Opal or that he'll dash off on his own. (Joan Singleton's script is based on the children's book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo.)

Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire said the film will appeal especially to dog lovers.

"If you're the kind of person who thinks dogs are just OK — you're not allergic to them and you've never had a traumatic confrontation with one on the sidewalk — you'll probably find yourself vaguely charmed by the family film "Because of Winn-Dixie." But if you're a dog person — wow. Forget it. Bring Kleenex. You'll be a blubbering puddle within the first 10, 15 minutes or so. And several more times after that," she wrote.

Saint thinks the film is good for children.

"It doesn't talk down. It's not sentimental. And they're some wonderful values for younger kids," she said.

Matthews agreed.

"There's something harmless about kids' movies, and there's something really beautiful about this story too."

For Robb, working with a dog on her first feature film was a challenge.

"You have to be really patient with him. But you kinda learn the hand signals," she said.

And if you thinks dogs can't smile, the cast begs to differ.

"Yes, yes, she actually smiled," said Tyson.

FOX News' Mike Waco and William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.

Click on the video box to see Annasophia Robb on "FOX and Friends."