Nanny McPhee Returns
Directed by: Susanna White
Cast: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith
Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
Release Date: August 20, 2010
PLOT: Isabel Green (Gyllenhaal) is left to run the farm and bring up her three children while her husband is off fighting in WW2. After two spoiled cousins from London come to stay, everything erupts into chaos. The magical and mysterious Nanny McPhee (Thompson) arrives on the scene to save the day.
WHO’S IT FOR? Kids and any adult with a healthy connection to their inner child.
EXPECTATIONS: I didn’t see the first one, so I figured I’d be left out in the cold. I also figured I’d be surrounded by hordes of shrieking children and that it would be a long, slow crawl to torturous agony.
Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee: There’s a lot about Nanny McPhee that I don’t get, but she’s a marvelous character and she is perfectly played by Emma Thompson. A magical, immortal, military nanny with hairy facial moles and one long, jutting bucktooth? Count me in! And every time she says in her measured, slightly creepy way “I’m Nanny McPhee…small ‘c’, big ‘p’” I was unaccountably delighted. Thompson has so much fun frumping it up and lisping past her snaggletooth, that she creates an atmosphere of great fun for the rest of us. I am always really impressed when a gorgeous, classically trained actress decides to play an unglamorous role like this, just to make children happy. So fun!
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Isabel Green: Ever since Secretary (a decidedly non-kid’s movie), Gyllenhaal continues to knock my socks off. She’s just too good, and not in the highly polished vein of your Leonardo DiCaprios and Angelina Jolies of the world: Gyllenhaal is real. You don’t look at her and think, “There’s an actor playing this part,” because she’s just such a terrific natural. And she’s playing a character here who is a wonderful mother and a unique individual. There is one scene in particular that is such a surprise and it really drives home what a dedicated mother Isabel really is.
Oscar Steel, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, and Rosie Taylor-Ritson as Vincent Green, Norman Green, Megsie Green, Cyril Gray, and Celia Gray: The child actors are good and that’s good enough. They play their roles with conviction and the younger members in the audience will really identify. If you hold them up against Thomson and Gyllenhaal, which is sort of silly, they can’t compete. But they do the necessary job to hold the movie together and keep the kids laughing.
Rhys Ifans as Phil Green: If I were ten years old, I’d love to hate this snaky, conniving caricature. He spends a lot of time plotting and acting goofy and trying to keep the blond forelock out of his eyes, but he was the least interesting part of the movie. I did love whenever he was being cornered by “the hit-women” Ms. Topsey (Sinead Matthews) and Ms. Turvey (Katy Brand), but left on his own it got old. For me. Not the dozens of well-behaved movie-going young people who happily loved to hate him.
TALKING: I was pretty gaga for the script, because it didn’t dumb it down for its demographic. So many kids movies have high-brow references for the adults, but the bulk of the script is kept pretty simplistic. Nanny McPhee Returns seems to take the stance that children are just as capable of intelligence and sophistication, when Hollywood is mostly content to just pat them on the head.
SIGHTS: There is a lot of beauty and a lot of whimsy, and that translates to something entertaining to look at in every scene. There are sweeping English landscapes, synchronized swimming piglets, magic sparks, a baby elephant, and a cloud of harvested barley dancing through the sky. The CGI didn’t even bother me, because by that point my own inner little person had resurfaced and was firmly in control of my big, smiling mug.
SOUNDS: There is some wonderful period music from the 1940s, but it’s almost too sparse. The rest of the soundtrack consists of your typical rollicking mischievous kid’s movie score and that moves the film along without being something you’d really notice.
BEST SCENE: There were two stellar scenes competing for my favorite. The first was Isabel’s reaction to how the children used her wedding veil, and the second was when Norman and Cyril had to face Cyril’s father. They were both a warm surprise.
ENDING: Predictable and, ultimately, necessary. The happy ending is a must, but since Nanny McPhee takes her leave, it doesn’t feel quite as happy. Also, there’s a nice nod to the first movie that will make the kids really happy.
QUESTIONS: None. She’s a magical, god-like military nanny. After you’ve accepted that, any questions fall by the wayside.
REWATCHABILITY: I would want to watch it again with my niece and nephew, because I’d love to see their reaction to it.
My favorite parts about Nanny McPhee Returns were the subtle nuances that will go unnoticed by its intended audience, but still have a positive effect on them nonetheless. The kids aren’t written into universal gender roles. You have Megsie, the tomboy with the tool belt, and you have Celia, the prissy princess who loves a good pair of shoes. Arguably, they are both archetypal, but the movie makes it clear that it has nothing to do with gender – that’s these two girls’ personalities. There is no judgmental subtext about any of the children – they are who they are, and they all fill an important role within the Green family. And that includes both bratty cousins, who you’ll want to strangle for the first thirty minutes you’re with them.
My second favorite part is that Nanny McPhee’s most important message is confidence and self-sufficiency. These kids have to do some really hard things and I wanted Nanny McPhee to step in and do it for them. She doesn’t and they come out triumphant with only a slight hand up from their magical guardian. What’s even more mind-blowing is that these challenges are always based on intelligence and courage, not physical prowess. These kids have to be brave and they have to be smart, and they might not want to be at first, but they proudly rise to the challenge.
I firmly believe that this is one of the healthiest movies for kids out there, but it’s disguised as pure fun. It’s the movie version of tricking them into eating their vegetables when they think they got away with having chocolate for dinner. I cannot recommend this enough!
FINAL SCORE: 8/10