Weekly DVD/Video Picks

Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

Fans of Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Honor novel can rest easy: Winn-Dixie is true both to the letter and the Christian spirit of its source material. The film tells the story of a young girl named Opal (Annasophia Robb, The Island) and her single Baptist preacher father (Jeff Daniels) who come to a small town where the father takes a job at a storefront church and Opal meets a big, shaggy dog.

The animal slapstick will keep even young viewers entertained, but the story is really about Opal's summer of discovery.

The story addresses some tough themes, including broken families and alcoholism, in a way that is accessible to children and never inappropriate even for the youngest. Like one character's semi-magical candies, Winn-Dixie is both sweet and sad, a blend that does the heart good.

Content advisory: Accessible treatment of themes relating to a broken marriage and alcohol abuse. Fine family viewing.

The Karate Kid (1984)

Recently re–leased in a special-edition DVD, The Karate Kid is perhaps the best of the Rocky clones: formulaic, manipulative, hokey — and thoroughly rousing. Directed by John G. Avildsen (who directed Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky), the film's sincerity and emotional poignancy have a way of steamrolling over gaps in plausibility and logic.

Ralph Macchio stars as Daniel LaRusso, a sensitive lad reared in the nurturing enclaves of Newark, N.J., who finds the harsh realities of life in southern California a bit overwhelming after his single mother (Randee Heller) takes a new job.

On the one hand, there's Ali (Elisabeth Shue), a bright, sweet California blonde from the other side of the tracks who takes a shine to Daniel. On the other, there's Johnny (William Zabka), Ali's swaggering, karate-fighting ex-boyfriend, who travels with a menacing coterie of fellow bullies and doesn't deal well with rejection — or competition. The heart of the film, though, is Daniel's relationship with an unexpected mentor and father figure, inscrutable handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). He's wise, humorous and crusty, with unexpected skills and methods.

Content advisory: Recurring bullying; stylized martial-arts sequences; some objectionable language. Fine for tweens and up.

National Velvet (1944)

The classic girl-and-her-horse story, National Velvet stars 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in her best childhood role as horse-crazy Velvet Brown, a young English lass who moons over anything that goes on four horseshoes the way her older sister Edwina (19-year-old Angela Lansbury, also in her most appealing young role) moons over boys.

The horse that wins Velvet's heart is the Pie (short for Pirate), an unruly sorrel gelding with amazing jumping potential. Velvet sees his potential, but only Mi Taylor (24-year-old Mickey Rooney), a conniving orphan who professes to hate horses but clearly knows all about them, can help her train that potential into competition quality.

Velvet's mother (Anne Revere), a stern, no-nonsense farm wife who takes pride in her own impressive youthful achievements, offers her daughter much-needed encouragement and support.

Content advisory: Nothing problematic. Fine family viewing.