Photo by Photo Credit: Liam Daniel
Nanny McPhee Returns (PG)
2 stars out of 4
The sequel to the 2005 original is another riff on “Mary Poppins” with essentially the same story as the first, features lesser known actors and contains more slapstick and potty humor. In other words, it’s a standard issue sequel with absolutely nothing new to say or even a new way to say it.
The fact that Universal dumped it in the cinematic wasteland that is late August suggests that even the films’ distributor is certain the movie will come and go quickly, service its established audience and debut on home video before the first fall frost.
Based on the “Nurse Matilda” series of children’s books by Christianna Brand, both movies were written by leading lady Emma Thompson who once won an Oscar for her adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
In no way a slight to Thompson, but even by children’s book standards, the “Nurse Matilda” tomes are pedestrian and ultra-lightweight. The lesson is simple: get along with everybody and life will be easy. Penning these scripts couldn’t have presented Thompson with much of a creative challenge.
In lieu of dramatic friction, Thompson and veteran TV director Susanna White rely on mayhem, pratfalls, copious amounts of animal droppings and the kind of breakneck editing that is usually reserved for kung-fu and car chase adventures. The action is imbecilic, nonstop and loud as a jet engine. As in the first, Nanny (Thompson) appears literally out of thin air and starts doling out the tough love that will keep order and instill a feeling of forced tranquility.
In the original, Nanny came to the aid of a widowed single father (Colin Firth) but here it is Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the mother of three whose husband is off fighting in what looks to be World War II. On a misbehavior scale of 10, Isabel’s brood registers about a five but that goes way up with the arrival of their wealthier, privileged and snooty cousins. The girl is prissy and the boy is just plain obnoxious. He also looks like the offspring of Renee Zellweger and Benny Hill.
With some Nanny hocus-pocus the children go from manic to calm and can now help Isabel stave off the looming foreclosure of the family farm at the hands of her own brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans). Later on the children team up again, this time to defuse a ticking bomb. This is one talented group of kids.
As improbable as all of it is (there is also a scene with six baby pigs performing a water ballet), the second half borders on quaintly charming, thanks mostly to the toned-down pace and one or two morsels of intelligent thought.
Though neither movie explains this, the Nanny character goes through a slow physical transformation in each. Starting out mean and overweight with a bulbous nose, bad teeth and a hairy mole on her chin, each of her undesirable features melts away the closer the children get to acting civil and liking her. What is the message here? Unattractive and heavy equates to mean while pretty and thin equates to nice? That’s just one of many possible theories and you might want to prepare yourself — your children might ask you what you think. (Universal)