Universal // 2010 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // December 24th, 2010
"Greetings, oh covered in pooh people; do you speak English?"
Who's Your Nanny?
While her husband is off fighting in WWII, Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight) is left to look after the family farm and their three children. But if Norman (Asa Butterfield), Vincent (Oscar Streer), and Megsie (Lil Woods) weren't enough of a handful; Isabel is soon tasked with looking after her well-to-do sister's children, Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia Gray (Rosie Taylor-Riston).
The children clash instantly, with the upper class Gray children showing an open disgust at the way the Greens live. If that weren't enough, Isabel's brother-in-law, Phil Green (Rhys Ifans, Notting Hill), is looking for a way to sell the farm from under Isabel to pay off a large gambling debt.
But just as Isabel reaches the end of her tether, the mysterious Nanny McPhee arrives on her doorstep...
Nanny McPhee Returns is a more polished, fantasy driven, retread of the original Nanny McPhee. Once again we have a single parent, in this case Maggie Gyllenhaal (replacing Colin Firth), struggling to cope with a houseful of unruly little brats, and, once again, Nanny McPhee turns up to save the day. But try as it might, and as fun as it undoubtedly is, Nanny McPhee Returns can't quite recapture the magic of the original film. More a retread than a bona fide sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns is too familiar, and all of its twists and turns are obvious from the off. The same rules apply, just as they did back in 2005, with Nanny Mcphee's 5-lessons that will lead to the families salvation and the restoration of her looks.
The children, who were very much the focus of the original film, feel more of an afterthought this time around. Sure, the little buggers are jumping up and down on the furniture when the film opens, and there's one mean-spirited incident involving a wedding dress, but overall their transformation from brats to little angels is, well, too simple. There's never any doubt about the outcome; indeed, the children are working together before the second act has had chance to pick up any steam. Seemingly aware of this, the film drops that whole angle midway through, and shifts its focus to the fate of Ewan McGregor's Rory Green who is off fighting in the war. This change in direction, which sees the family united in their concern, raises the question of whether Nanny McPhee's assistance was required at all; her lessons -- so important last time around -- feel rather redundant all of a sudden.
The humor -- though admittedly still funny -- all too often comes from the gutter this time around, and rather than the clever pranks of the original film, much of the humor in the sequel revolves around excrement. The opening 15 minutes alone contain shots of cows defecating (complete with the splash of liquid turd across the cow's legs), a chauffeur slipping in a barnyard covered in crap, and, best of all, a snowman...except he's not made of snow. Likewise, McPhee's sidekick -- a gassy jackdaw named Mr. Edelweiss -- continues the films trend of pushing humor over the morals of the original. And while Rhys Ifans' Phil Green makes for an entertaining rogue, he never quite shakes the feeling of being a poor tracing of Celia Imrie's Selma Quickly from the original Nanny McPhee.
Next to its toilet humor, Nanny McPhee Returns has a greater emphasis on Nanny McPhee's magical powers, resulting in some thoroughly entertaining scenes. A sequence where Nanny McPhee conjures up an assortment of animals for the children is undeniably cute, as is an amusing spot of synchronized swimming from a herd of piglets.
Emma Thompson's screenplay lacks the sparkle of its predecessor, but still delights with a genuinely warm central storyline once again reminding us of the importance of family. The film revels in the simple joys in life, and if you're not touched by Nanny McPhee's departure (which links this film with the original), you must have a heart of stone.
Once again the cast is rich with a broad range of acting talent. Representing Hollywood we have Maggie Gyllenhaal, while Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Rhys Ifans, Sam Kelly, and Ewan McGregor make up the bulk of the Brit contingent; there's even room for comedians Bill Bailey and Katy Brand to make an appearance -- the latter adding a delightfully dark tone to proceedings.
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is rich with bright colors, particularly in outdoor scenes. Detail levels are high, while the excellent black levels ensure the image has depth. Nanny McPhee Returns features a warm musical score that is well represented by the 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue is never less than clear.
A decent set of extras are included on the single disc DVD. First off we get a rather formulaic audio commentary, courtesy of director Susanna White. The track is more informative than entertaining. Along with a selection of deleted scenes, the DVD contains several short featurettes, each dealing with a different element of the film; be it the development of the story or the work involved in creating the pig's synchronized swimming sequence.
As a sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns commits the ultimate crime of refusing to add anything new to the original. And yet, it works.
It can be very easy to offer a harsh critique on a film that, in all honesty, only sets out to entertain, and in doing so one can overlook the film's charms. In an age where children are often exposed to screen violence from an early age, it's a refreshing change to have a franchise that offers good, old fashioned, wholesome, family fun.
This is a film the whole family can enjoy -- perhaps with the exception of the difficult 17-year old who spends their entire day listening to The Smiths, and only ventures out of their room to return half eaten plates of food. And if the pooh jokes may get old quick for some grown ups, I certainly wouldn't want to meet the 8-year-old who doesn't giggle at the sight of Maggie Smith sitting in a cowpat.
Inferior to the magical original, yes, but Nanny McPhee Returns is still rollicking good fun nonetheless. And if this sequel suggests the franchise is already out of ideas, there's still enough charm left to win out on this occasion.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site