She hasn't lost her touch
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, August 20, 2010
It can take a miracle to create a movie that's fun for kids and their parents. Luckily, Nanny McPhee has a little magic up her sleeve. It may not have the grown-up appeal of a Pixar creation, but there's plenty in "Nanny McPhee Returns" to keep everyone entertained for the surprisingly fleeting 108 minutes.
Emma Thompson reprises her 2005 role as the title character, a strict old bag who looks more Roald Dahl than Mary Poppins. Her appearance is startling: Along with some spectacularly hairy moles, Nanny McPhee touts a bulbous nose, a unibrow and one colossal front tooth. But her physical disarray is balanced by her supernatural ability to clean up a chaotic scene.
Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose attempt at a British accent was grating at first as Isabel Green, a flighty mother of three, ended up a worthy addition to the cast, thanks to her winning performance as a quirky, loving mother who tries to protect her children from the horrors of World War II. Isabel is trying to make ends meet in the English countryside while her husband fights in the war. To complicate matters, her scheming brother-in-law wants her to sell her half of the family farm so he can pay off gambling debts, and her hoity-toity niece and nephew are visiting from London.
As expected, the Green children are at odds with their spoiled big-city counterparts. Londoner Cyril (Eros Vlahos) provides the comedy as a haughty little man stuck in a child's body, donning silk pajamas, reading the newspaper and introducing himself smugly as from "the land of soap and indoor plumbing." Meanwhile, his sister's first encounter with her less sophisticated cousins leads her to gasp, "Savages!"
Nanny McPhee's introduction to the kids may prove slightly disturbing for some. It turns out the woman is adept at the old "Why are you hitting yourself?" game popular with brothers the world over. One slam of her cane and the kids are suddenly pulling at their own hair, throwing their bodies onto the ground and generally abusing themselves instead of each other.
There are other heavier moments, too, but for every grim discussion, there's a lighthearted scene, such as one crowd-pleaser involving piglets doing a synchronized swimming routine. Let it be said, though, that most of the humor is decidedly scatological, and since the movie takes place on a farm, there seems to be endless fodder for this kind of comedy. But there's a payoff to getting kids interested via gassy cows and burping birds: Nanny dishes out five solid lessons parents will probably appreciate, from helping each other to learning to share.
Things end with a predictably tidy conclusion. But would the persnickety Nanny McPhee have it any other way?
Contains rude humor, language and mild thematic elements.