Movie Review: Nanny McPhee Returns

Nanny McPhee Returns is the second film adapted by Emma Thompson from the Nurse Matilda books.  Though it opens today in theatres throughout US and Canada, my sons and I were able to attend an advanced screening last night, compliments of Universal Pictures.

The setting is many years after the first Nanny McPhee movie, though she (magically) hasn’t aged a day.  This time she comes to the rescue of a young mother, her three children, and niece and nephew who are dealing with a father at war, the risk of losing their farm, and the many fights and chaos that ensue between the children.  Nanny McPhee employs her sharp wit and magical staff to bring order to this family and teach them five of life’s most important lessons.

If you’ve seen the first Nanny McPhee, there’s nothing very surprising about her arsenal of magical tricks.  In fact, I think that’s what I missed most in this film – the subtlety and gentle unraveling of McPhee’s nature in the original.  Things are a bit more obvious and over-the-top here, and I think it cost the film a bit of its predecessor’s earnestness.

I will say, though, that the acting in Nanny McPhee Returns is divine.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is radiant as Isabel Green, the young mother in need of McPhee’s help.  She is spot-on with her British accent, and at once joyously bubbly and emotionally tender.  All of the child actors were a joy to watch, and I felt that even in their limited roles were each able to add complexity to their characters.  I also enjoyed the wonderful surprises of Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, and Ewan McGregor in their small roles.

There are several good laughs in this movie (the pigs and their synchronized swimming made me laugh.out.loud), even if much of the plot is predictable; my youngest son is not yet 3 and was thoroughly entertained.  The countryside where this movie was filmed is lovely, making for an often beautiful picture.  And the ultimate lessons of courage, togetherness, and faith made Nanny McPhee Returns a movie we wanted to cheer for in the end.

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Note:  Nanny McPhee Returns was released overseas earlier this year as Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang and is already available there on DVD and Blu-ray.

Disclosure:  Universal Pictures provided access for myself and my two sons to see the movie at an advanced screening.  No other compensation was received, and the opinions expressed here are honest and my own.