Aristocracy and an abominable snowman creature feature top the new DVD releases for Dec. 17.
• “Downton Abbey”: Amid uncertain times at home and across the pond, it’s a fine time for some good old-fashioned escapist drama. (And it’s always the right time for the brilliantly sardonic Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley.) Following the hit TV show’s six seasons, the film announces some important visitors to the estate: King George V and Queen Mary. As the Crawley family prepares for the visit, the servants discover the royals travel with their own staff and concoct a scheme.
Fans of the series would likely be placated by the fan service-heavy movie, though there’s not much else to it, wrote Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips in his review.
“It’s fun, for a while, to see the gang back together in ‘Downton Abbey,’ with nearly two dozen rotating characters played by actors whose eyes twinkle with confidence,” wrote Phillips. “As long-form storytelling the ‘Downton Abbey’ TV show certainly did the trick for millions, though without developing the dramatic impact or subtlety of character found in one of its clearest influences, ‘Upstairs Downstairs.’ Fellowes, as a writer, was up to something different in his Oscar-winning script for ‘Gosford Park’: a mordant, bittersweet examination of class and corruption within the comforting framework of an Agatha Christie whodunit…. ‘Downton Abbey’ settles for lower franchise stakes; it’s more like ‘Downton Abbey: The Exhibition,’ or an accompanying ‘making of’ video thereof.”
• “Abominable”: In this computer-animated film, teenage Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) and her friends (Albert Tsai and Tenzing Norgay Trainor) discover a Yeti and set out on a treacherous journey to return him safely to his family. Meanwhile, a scheming businessman (Eddie Izzard) and zoologist (Sarah Paulson) attempt to thwart the teenagers’ efforts and kidnap the creature for themselves.
Not only does the film take a refreshing tone with its nuanced protagonists, it also breathes new life into the quintessential concept of the hero’s journey, wrote Tribune News Service critic Katie Walsh.
“It can be a rare occurrence to find a kid-friendly animated film these days that actually surprises and delights. Dreamworks’ ‘Abominable,’ written and co-directed by Jill Culton, does indeed surprise and delight, all while following a familiar hero’s journey tale that borrows from favorite friendly creature films,” Walsh wrote. “One part ‘E.T.’ and one part ‘King Kong,’ this fits into the category of movies like ‘The Iron Giant,’ ‘Lilo & Stitch’ and the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ franchise, where plucky kids bond with strange, exotic creatures and attempt to save them from the capitalistic forces of exploitation. ‘Abominable’ doesn’t change this formula; it just executes it exceptionally well, with a fresh perspective and plenty of magic.”