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The Croods (2013)
In my life as a parent of a 10 and 12 year old, I have been to see a lot of animated kids movies, some of them quite painful to sit through. This one ranks at the top. The action, the humor, the characters, the plot, all rolled up in to a big ball of fun. I was belly laughing with my kids the whole way through it. And the message is lovely to boot. Excellent casting...the chemistry between the characters stood out in a way I never thought a cartoon could, no doubt due to the talent of the actors and standout animation (not something that I'm usually all that dazzled by.) It was the interaction, along with thoughtful humor of what is important in life, that really put this over the top for me. The complete implausibility of the plot didn't even mildly annoy me, the way stories of this genre sometimes do.
I could actually stand to watch this a second time. Well done Hollywood, please put this level of thought in to more children's movies.
Downton Abbey (2010)
Review of Season Two
What a disappointment in comparison with the truly deliciously immoral connivings of season one! It is as if everyone has been brushed by TV goody-goody dust. O'Brien, Thomas, Edith, Mary....all rendered sweet and sympathetic. The only villains are characters that enter and exit from the periphery, never shaking the moral high ground of the central cast of the high born and servant classes. And I get that the Great War is supposed to be viewed as the Great Equalizer, but the level of intimacy between the servants and the Earl of Grantham's family is SO unrealistic for the period (although slightly later, just look to Julian Fellowes' own Gosford Park for verification). No one is truly concerned for anyone's reputation, everyone expresses the right contemporary moral sentiments...Even the upright grande dame of Lady Violet stumbles upon the scullery maid in a state of distress and chooses to use the opportunity to tenderly feed her motherly advice. Yeah, sure, that would happen.
The writing is just downright lazy! There are so many instances of facile exchanges that tie off loose ends with absolutely no faithfulness to authentic character development. It is like a TV movie of the week! I think my "favorite" one was when the Earl says to his wife "do you think there could be something I have overlooked about this whole affair" in relation to his daughter's betrothal to the evil Richard, it creates an opening for exposing the GREAT SECRET that you could drive a truck through, and his wife obligingly spills all.
I wouldn't be so negative if I hadn't seen Gosford Park and enjoyed season one somewhat. But clearly Fellowes must be given credit for knowing what his audience wants (or at least the American version) as the comments here and at IMDb are uniformly positive. I just wish he could have pulled it all off with a bit more integrity. What is so grinding is that we've got so much evidence from his other work that he knows how to do it; he just clearly chose not to.
After reviewing the minority negative reviews of the entire show, I wonder if even season one was as good as I thought it was. Maybe I was overdazzled by the high production values and the well cast group of actors. All I know is that I really wanted to laugh at Maggie Smith's zinger at season 2's close ("Do you promise?")....but it was all just too convenient.