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Nanny McPhee Returns (or Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang as it was originally known in the United Kingdom) is a personal project for Emma Thompson, starring and writing both the 2005 original and this sequel. She has an obvious love for this children’s franchise and the novels of Christianna Brand. Nanny McPhee Returns was met with almost universal critical acclaim upon its initial release in the UK.
Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a stressed out mother to Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Wood) and Vincent (Oscar). Her husband (Ewan McGregor) is fighting in the Second World War and the family farm is suffering financial troubles. When Isabel’s spoiled brat nephew and niece, Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson), arrive from London they clash with her hardy county children: it is clear Isabel needs help. Luckily, Nanny McPhee (Thompson) comes to discipline the children, teach them important life lessons and help save the farm from being sold by the dastardly Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans).
Nanny McPhee Returns is clearly aimed for young children and director Susanna White (who is known for television work on Bleak House and Generation Kill) attempts to keep a childish, playful tone throughout the film. This is shown in some of the set designs and the use of CGI animals. Many of the set pieces in the film felt like from a cartoon.
Young children will enjoy this sequel and there are strong moral messages such as working together and learning to share that parents will want to encourage. Nanny McPhee Returns is perfectly light and fluffy for boys and girls. The humor of the film is aimed at a young audience, focusing on poop and burping gags and general slapstick, which makes it harder to appeal to teens and adults.
The children do grow as characters and slowly become more likeable with Thompson and White looking beyond the stereotypes. Nanny McPhee Returns is a very British, quaint family film with its period and rural setting. This film is also the type of sequel where you do not need or any knowledge of the previous film.
Yet the plot is basically a cross between Mary Poppins and a standard plot of someone trying to take property from the rightful owner through sabotage. Plus, the filmmakers did not try hard enough to allow adults to enjoy the film as much as children would. Less poop gags and more swimming pigs for next time is my advice.
Thompson obviously enjoys her role and she did well in her performance as a hard but fair magical woman with a dead-pan delivery. She knows exactly what she wants to do as Nanny McPhee.
Gyllenhaal offers a good performance and pulls off a decent English accent. Despite the over-the-top nature of the film, Gyllenhaal plays her character straight as a mother who is simply snowed under. The rest of the main cast are caricatures, with the child actors showing promise. But other performances did not fit well, like Sam
Kelly as the Air Warrant.
There are some cameos from big name actors like Ralph Fiennes and McGregor to smaller name actors like Bill Bailey, a talented comedian who is best known to Americans as the desk sergeant in Hot Fuzz. He was quite funny as a stereotypical farmer.
Nanny McPhee Returns
Directed by Susanna White
Written by Emma Thompson (screenplay), Christianna Brand (characters)
Starring: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Oscar Steer