Published Aug 19, 2010The original Nanny McPhee opened with seven rambunctious kids in the 1860s scaring off their 17th nanny by convincing her that they had cannibalized their infant sister, later telling the titular moral henchwoman that their names were "Bosoms," "Bum," "Knickers O'Muffin" and so on. This sequel has a similarly scatological setup, with children making snowmen out of animal faeces and a cute little blackbird belching in Maggie Gyllenhaal's face.
In fact, every plot point, magical intervention and dancing animal sequence comes at exactly the same time, with almost the same dialogue and execution, as the original. Of distinction are the WWII timeframe and Mrs. Green's (Gyllenhaal) central plight involving the possible sale of her farm to her shady brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) while her husband is away fighting in the war.
Nanny McPhee's (Emma Thompson) role is the same, stepping in to teach sharing and getting along to the three Green children and their snooty cousins, using magical coercion involving self-abuse and sleeping with farm animals. Sure, the lessons are glib and the learning unbelievably aggressive, but the playfulness and power dynamics between the kids and their mysterious nanny are consistently entertaining, even if a random scene with synchronized swimming pigs is a little too saccharine and lame for the film's darker tone.
What is most commendable about the Nanny McPhee franchise is the aforementioned crudity juxtaposed with challenging themes of grief and lost hope. They don't patronize the target youth audience, appreciating that they can handle risqué humour and real world issues.
Ultimately, both films are sufficiently heart-warming and anarchic, ensuring a fun time for the family at the movies. But when it comes down to it, Nanny McPhee Returns is little more than a well-made sequel retread with slightly less heart and a lot more poo. (Universal)