Nanny McPhee Returns (PG)
Unruly but ultimately kind British children learn lessons about caring and teamwork in the charming Nanny McPhee Returns.
Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is raising her children, Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Vincent (Oscar Steer), alone on their farm in the English countryside while her husband (Ewan McGregor) is off at war (World War II). To add to her hectic life and the constant pressure from her brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) to sell the farm, her niece and nephew from London are coming to live with them. Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) are posh, rather prissy children who have been told they are going to the country because of the bombing of London but suspect there are other reasons. Naturally, city mice and country mice begin fighting at once, all adding to the stress of Isabel, who is also trying to keep from the children how worried she is about not having heard from their father in several weeks.
The person you need is Nanny McPhee — so the tea kettles and sundries whisper to Isabel in the shop where she works for the sweet but taxing Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith).
When the wart-having and large-nosed Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) shows up, Isabel isn’t so sure. But Nanny McPhee has a way of overriding wafflers and soon she’s ensconced, helping the five children try to find some common ground so they can keep the farm going.
Nanny McPhee is sort of the anti-Mary Poppins. She isn’t sweetness and light. She’s a quiet voice, a serious look and a magic cane that has a way of getting children to behave by teaching them lessons about their own silliness. (When the five children are fighting each other, her magic gets them to fight themselves — and the self-hair-pulling and self-eye-pokes only stop if they will apologize to each other.) Thompson does this all with a very Julie Andrews-like charm. She isn’t so much the central character as she is the character who sets in motion all the adventure, the goofy animal antics (the farm setting means that pigs and poop can help add levity to the stuff about family and teamwork) and even the climactic scenes where the children get to take their turns being brave.
Nanny McPhee Returns is a delightful reminder of the sweetness that fairy tales can have while still being fun and boisterous. B+
Rated PG for rude humor, some language and mild thematic elements. Directed by Susanna White and written by Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee Returns is an hour and 48 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.