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The heavily-reported decline of the American movie critic hasn't touched New York Times first-stringer A.O. Scott, who has gradually outgrown and stabilized our wildly fluctuating regard for him over the years. After a long period of wondering where he might have found all this new maturity and gravitas, a perceptive Scott reader points out today that like Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, James Agee and all the greats who preceded him, he simply stole from his kids:

"One recent afternoon I was sitting at my computer studying old clips of Gene [Siskel] and Roger [Ebert]. After a while my daughter sat down next to me. We watched in silence for a while, and then she said: 'These guys are always fighting. Even when they both like a movie, they have to fight about why it's good.' That may not be an exhaustive definition of criticism as a discipline or a mode of thought, but it strikes me as a pretty good summary." —April 13, 2008

"On Christmas, my annual busman's holiday, I took my daughter to see Enchanted, a just-right movie for her if ever there was one. Its blend of satire and sweetness, princessy romance and feminist pluck was expertly calibrated to satisfy a third-grade girl. Which was just the problem. At the end, as is my custom (I have to get my insights from somewhere), I asked her what she thought. 'It was good,' she said. 'But I felt like I knew what was going to happen the whole time.'" —Jan. 11, 2008 ...

"Shrek the Third, directed by Chris Miller and Raman Hui from a script with a half-dozen credited begetters, already feels less like a children's movie than either of its predecessors. (This may be why I liked it better than the others. But then again, so did my kids.)" —May 18, 2007

So on and so forth, going all the way back to the early days of 2002 — hence the evolving critical voice apparently informed by sassy youngsters who know better. It's a savvy move from Scott, who clearly saw the writing on the wall and anticipated a hostile media future in which the family that gets poster blurbs together stays together. Or at least stays employed. Even Pinch Sulzberger wouldn't shit-can a third-grader.