Old 08-19-2010, 11:57 PM
Susanna White's Nanny McPhee Returns

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Nanny McPhee Returns (2010)

Emma Thompson is back to reprise her role as the nanny with strict means to teach children, but who's heart is in the right place. It's been five years since the release of the original film that had been a surprisingly charming story of rambunctious kids in a desperate family emergency, and now, with "Nanny McPhee Returns," we have....pretty much the same thing.

The story involves a family living on a farm. A wife and mother, Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is trying to run the family farm while waiting for her husband to return home from fighting in World War II. Her kids, Vincent (Oscar Steer), Norman (Asa Butterfield), and Megsie (Lil Woods), are a rowdy bunch, but even more so when their cousins, Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson), come to visit from London. The rowdiness increases as the city kids clash with the country kids.

Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), who somehow always knows exactly when and where she is needed. During the fighting, a quick display of her abilities settles the children, and the relationships between them slowly begin to change for the better. Meanwhile, Isabel's brother-in-law, Phil (Rhys Ifans), constantly begs her to agree to sell the farm, which is half hers and half his. What he doesn't tell her is that the reason he wants to sell is because of a large gambling debt that, if not paid, will result in great bodily harm to him.

My apologies up front if this turns into a massive comparison of the first and second films, but I think that's the best way to show why this sequel doesn't work as well as it should. First off, the basic plot of the family in danger is being repeated, but even before that we have the same obligatory introduction to the kids' wild behavior. Granted, these are new kids in a new location, but the same basic plot points are being followed again, with the result still being that they will lose real estate should their predicament not be solved.

Nanny McPhee once again uses what seem like cruel means to get her point across resulting in the kids submitting to her authority. However, this is done much faster in this film than it was in the last film, leaving a lot more time to fill, which is why the film gets to some very low points such as several piglets performing a synchronized swimming routine and Maggie Smith, who plays a local shopkeeper, sitting on a pile of cow feces.

One of the things that had really helped the first film along was a great performance from Colin Firth as a widower trying to keep his family together. This sequel doesn't really have a central performance to drive it along. The film tries to encompass everyone from Nanny McPhee to the five children to the mother and the story of her husband, but with it being too similar to the first film, there's not much to do but sit back and wait for it all to magically resolve.

Then there’s Emma Thompson, Academy Award-winner in acting and screenwriting. With the character of Nanny McPhee, she is given so little to do but mumble her few lines of dialogue and bang her magic stick on the ground, making you wonder why she would want to bother being in either film in the first place. The character pops in and out of scenes to help when the children need controlling, and then later gives assistance with the main problem, but not much else.

Lastly, but probably most importantly, "Nanny McPhee Returns" lacks the charm of the original film. The first film had a kind of whimsy about it that made it a joy to watch and which actually made me care about whether or not Firth would be able to keep his family together. With the sequel, we get a bizarre, stretched-out third act that has one of the children disarming an unexploded bomb that has landed near their farm. When the charm is taken away and replaced with a retread of the first film, you can see how something like this could be seen as strange and uninteresting.

That being said, the film does offer a few interesting spots including when the children all start working together to try and round up some escaped piglets or when two of the children must go to the War Office in London to find information on Isabel's husband, but it's simply not enough to recommend the film. It's possible that it could come off as a little surprising, despite its predictable nature, if you haven't seen the first film. But even then, I think it would be rather obvious that the charm is missing, so my advice is this: If you've seen the first film, don't bother with the second film, and if you haven't seen either, see the first film. 2.5/4 stars.
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