Nanny McPhee Returns [Blu-ray] on Blu-ray
A nanny reveals ways of making children behave that are much more effective than a time-out in this fantasy comedy based on the "Nurse Matilda" books for children by Christianna Brand. Near the dawn of the twentieth century, Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) is a widower who must tend to his business as an undertaker while looking after his brood of seven children. Brown's offspring are a singularly ill-mannered lot who have managed to drive away 17 different nannies when their father arranges for one Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) to help out with the children. McPhee is an strange looking woman with a large nose, protruding teeth, and pock-marked skin, but it isn't long before the kids realize she has magical powers and isn't afraid to use them to help keep them in line. While the children aren't taken with McPhee's insistence on such things as saying "please" and listening to their elders, it becomes clear everyone has bigger things to worry about. Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) has insisted that if Mr. Brown cannot find a new wife within a month, she'll take custody of one of the children and cut off Brown's inheritance, and while Brown and the widow Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie) seem fond of one another, his ineptitude in courtship seems to insure he'll never get her to the altar. But while the Brown Children realize Nanny McPhee is a formidable opponent, she can also be a valuable ally as they learn to make use of her talents by being better children; they also discover that as they behave better, she begins to look less frightening. Emma Thompson, who played the title role in Nanny McPhee, also wrote the film's screenplay. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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There's a saying -- or, there should be -- that you can judge a family film by the quality of its moppets. Child actors who are both cute and talented are a must, or else even the world's best story might end up on the scrap heap. Kirk Jones' Nanny McPhee has all the makings of classic material, then: a timeless story, a delightful cast of precocious children, a truly magical production design, and the cream of the crop among adult actors. (As one of those actors, Emma Thompson's presence isn't surprising, given that she adapted the screenplay from Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books.) Nanny McPhee contains the perfect blend of the whimsical and the macabre, in keeping with an age-old fairy-tale tradition. The story certainly features details that require a delicate touch, namely, a child who decapitates dolls with a guillotine, and a parent (Colin Firth) who works in a funeral parlor. But because Thompson and Jones keep the tone lightly absurd, these elements are not too scary for younger children. Nor is Thompson's creepy title character, whose methods walk the line between strictness and malevolence, and whose appearance is a makeup artist's dream of prosthetic nastiness. Of course, the story eventually boasts great warmth and compassion as its lessons unfold, particularly during the delicious conclusion -- "delicious" quite literally, as the characters become spattered with colorful gobs of cake icing. In addition to Firth, Thompson and the children (led by Love Actually's Thomas Sangster), two others deserve special mention: Kelly MacDonald as the Browns' darling scullery maid, and Angela Lansbury, hilarious as the stuffy old coot who dictates their fortunes. Thompson's character explains that when the children start wanting her rather than needing her, it's time for her to move on. Indeed, Nanny McPhee leaves its viewers wanting more, too. ~ Derek Armstrong, Rovi Nanny McPhee was a charming, well-written family film full of good laughs, first-rate performances, and inventive costumes and art direction that had a strong moral for both kids and parents. The sequel, though still often amusing and full of good cheer, doesn't measure up.
With World War II well under way, Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) cares for her three children on a run-down, excrement-covered farm in the English countryside as her husband fights overseas. When her snooty niece and nephew arrive in order to avoid the bomb attacks on the city, the different sets of siblings immediately begin feuding. Before Isabel loses complete control of the house and the kidlets, magical Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) arrives to teach the kids important lessons and set everything right -- including Isabel's scheming brother-in-law, who's trying to sell the struggling farm out from under her.
The first 20 minutes or so of the movie are everything the first Nanny McPhee wasn't -- loud, annoying, and full of poop jokes. However, once the setup is complete, the movie settles into a warm, reassuring rhythm where the kids learn the lessons they need to, and the adults in turn learn that they could be better parents.
There are solid supporting turns by Dame Maggie Smith as their mother's dotty old friend; Ralph Fiennes as the strict military commander father of the bratty city kids; and Rhys Ifans as the unctuous brother-in-law. Thankfully, the kid actors become more appealing as the movie goes on, especially Eros Vlahos, who makes uber-snotty Cyril a pocket-sized version of all upper-class British twits. And the script by Emma Thompson lets us know that bad kids usually have a reason for acting the way they do, making us like all the tykes even more.
In an unexpected development, all of the bathroom jokes actually lead to a major plot point -- a deus-ex-burpia, if you will -- that makes you realize the script, and the movie, are better than you first thought. Nanny McPhee Returns can't hold a candle to the original -- which is worth seeking out if you're looking for smart and funny family films -- but anyone who was charmed the first time around should enjoy seeing the character yet again, and it's made with more care and craft than most family-oriented flicks out there. ~ Perry Seibert, Rovi