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Movie Review

Nanny McPhee Returns also known as “Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang,” “Nancy McPhee 2,” “Eine zauberhafte Nanny—Knall auf Fall in ein neues Abenteuer,” “El regreso de la nana mágica,” “La niñera mágica y el Big Bang,” “Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang,” “Nanny McPhee—Büyük patlama,” “Nanny McPhee—Marea infruntare,” “Nanny McPhee 2: Ha'kesem hozer,” “Nanny McPhee e as Lições Mágicas,” “Nanny McPhee e o Toque de Magia,” “Nanny McPhee et le Big Bang,” “Nanny McPhee ja suur pauk,” “Nanny McPhee med nye tryllerier,” “Nanny McPhee och den magiska skrällen,” “Nanny McPhee: De vonken vliegen eraf,” “Niania i wielkie bum,” “Tata Matilda e il grande botto,” “Моя ужасная няня 2”

MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor, some language and mild thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids Family Teens Adults
Genre:
Family Fantasy Comedy Sequel
Length:
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
2010
USA Release:
August 20, 2010 (wide—2,600+ theaters)
DVD: December 14, 2010
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Pigs in the Bible

Featuring: Ewan McGregor (Mr. Green), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Gray), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Mrs. Green), Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee), Rhys Ifans (Uncle Phil), more »
Director: Susanna White
Producer: Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Relativity Media, Working Title Films, Three Strange Angels, Emma Thompson, more »
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Things are going to get ugly!”

Prequel to this film: “Nanny McPhee” (2006)

Nanny McPhee is no ordinary nanny; that is for sure. She shows up mysteriously at the Green house, because the children there “need her,” although they insist they don’t want her. As Nanny McPhee says in the movie, “There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me—then I have to go.” Her persona is very much like Mary Poppins, only in more of a dark and foreboding disguise, at first. She has a protruding front tooth, two large facial moles and is dressed in black attire fit for Puritan women in the 1600’s. She is not pleasant to look at, to say the least. But don’t let that fool you. She has wondrous lessons to teach, and wisdom beyond what you can see on the surface. And, as the children learn each of the 5 lessons she has been sent to teach them, an unattractive feature of Nanny McPhee disappears—one at a time—implying that she only looked ugly to them, because they themselves were so dreadful on the inside. [My interpretation] But I digress.

The title, “Nanny McPhee Returns,” infers there was a first film (“Nanny McPhee”), which is true. It was hailed as a successful family film by many, and it was a surprise hit in 2006. Full disclosure here—I never saw it. Because of that fact, I went to see this film feeling handicapped and, also, with a bit of a bias, knowing that sequels rarely live up to their successful prequels. However, after about 15 minutes into the plot, I made my first notation: “Note to self: See the prequel. If this film has hooked me this quickly, the first one must really be good!” Well, here you have it at the top. I really liked this movie.

I do know the film is based on the British children’s book series from the 1960’s called Nurse Matilda, and I also know the screenplay (for both films) was written by none other than Academy Award® winner, Emma Thompson, who also stars in the film as the Nanny herself. She is supported by a brilliant cast including Maggie Gyllenhaal (“Crazy Heart”), who believably portrays the overwhelmed mother of three, Mrs. Isabel Green. She is a young mom, working part-time and trying to raise the kids and keep a farm going outside of London, while her husband Rory (Ewan McGregor) is off to fight during the WW II era (or so it seemed).

The entire film has this familiar feeling to it, kind of like a story book come to life. The surrealistic countryside of England, a la 1940’s, made it seem as if the 4 children from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis could easily have appeared on screen as some distant cousins and joined the Green children on their farm to share in their adventures. However, it should be noted that Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy had far better manners than Norman, Megsie, and Vincent, and even more so than the manners of Cyril and Celia—who actually were the rich cousins from London that did show up at the Green farm—for a prearranged visit with no return date.

The plot revolves around Isabel’s brother-in-law, Phil (Rhys Ifans) and his efforts to get Isabel to sell her half of the farm to him, as he desperately needs to pay off some gambling debts. He is half-owner of the farm, but his brother, Isabel’s husband, is off to war and hasn’t been heard from in a very long time. The shenanigans and tom foolery that occurs with him trying to get her “to sell,” while avoiding Mrs. Topsey and Mrs. Turvey (two over-the-top blond women sent out to collect the gambling debt) is worth the price of the ticket, just for the laughs. It’s classic slapstick like Laurel and Hardy or the 3 Stooges. That, combined with the magic of CGI and seeing piglets do synchronized swimming, or a baby elephant sleeping in bed with a boy, was worth its weight in movie gold. And finally, seeing the well-worn phrase, “When pigs fly…” come to life on the big screen was laugh-out-loud-funny!

There is the small role of Mrs. Docherty, played by another favorite of mine, Maggie Smith, who has her own special surprise in the film during the dénouement, which I won’t give away. But the cameo of Ralph Fiennes, who played the character of Lord Gray, Cyril’s father, is my favorite one of the entire motion picture. There is a scene between Lord Gray and Cyril in the war room of London (a great metaphor) where a father-son reconciliation of sorts takes place and which speaks so powerfully in the film.

The scripture that was quickened to me during this scene was from 1 Cor 4:15—Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel [NIV]. In this scene I was reminded of several recent films that I have reviewed (“Flipped,” “Ramona and Beezus” and “The Perfect Game”) in which there were powerful words spoken over a child by the father that were either negative or very positive which had an incredible impact on the life of that child. This film also underscores the importance of the role of the father in children’s lives—in a very moving way.

While I would love to delineate each of the 5 lessons that Nanny McPhee teaches the children, I will not, for the sake of brevity, but more so out of respect for those who intend to see the film or rent the DVD when it comes out. What I will say is that they are good lessons, moral ones, and ones which have easy parallels to the Christian walk. The first 2 are ones that we may have learned in kindergarten, but need to be reminded of from time to time. The last 3 are ones that we should know as Christian adults, but may need a reminder about, especially for the last one which is well-defined in Hebrews 11:6.

Cautions and Concerns

As I stated above, the film has a little bit of a dark overtone, particularly in the first 20 minutes. There is a dark bird that flies about and a voice that’s calling out for Nanny McPhee in the wind. There is a scene where drawers and cupboards and boots are moving about that would have frightened me, as I child—that I know for sure. There are also a few scary moments when Nanny McPhee makes the children stop their fighting with one another and start fighting with themselves, including throwing themselves onto the carpet and breaking china (which eventually gets put back together).

There is, also, a bit of silly kid humor about cow pooh, chicken pooh, and “the land of pooh,” as Cyril refers to the Green farm in the movie, and even a scene where Mrs. Docherty insists on sitting on a cow patty—which was a little odd. I counted only one “h” word, which is only used in a description, not really as profanity. The burly women, Topsey and Turvey are kind of intimidating and definitely too much for small children. There is also a scene where Megsie has to diffuse a bomb, which, even though it was all fantasy, still felt too intense for smaller children, in my opinion.

As to the objections that some parents may have about magic and such, I can say that this film is no Harry Potter. It is more like Mary Poppins-meets-Narnia. As for me, I chose to interpret the character of McPhee as a prophetic angel figure. She banged her staff on the ground (like Moses or Aaron), and she caused things to happen like the angels did in the Bible (people not being able to speak temporarily, or having a dislocated hip and so on). It has a more benevolent feeling to it, and the movie promotes family values and morals throughout; however, I will concede it names no source for the moral compass that is presented.

As a child, I read so many different kinds of books that I didn’t find this film threatening or off-kilter in any way. I really think it is a great family film, especially for older children, perhaps 8 and above. Parents should use caution when viewing with little ones, after reading what I have said in the previous paragraphs. On the other hand, there are so many positives that could be discussed after seeing this movie with a child that there wouldn’t be room enough to write about them all. This movie is clever, funny, witty and charming altogether. Emma Thompson is a delight as Nanny McPhee. I really want Nanny McPhee to come to my house, which means, of course, she won’t—because I really don’t need her. Maybe 1 Cor 13:11 has some application here:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

One of my favorite lines in the movie is Nanny McPhee’s deadpan statement about who she is:

“I am Nanny McPhee. Small ‘c’, big ‘P.’”

That may help me sum up this film. It’s a small “c” for Christian content, but a big “P” for Promoting Positive values.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—My friend and I decided to go see “Nanny McPhee Returns.” I had never seen the first “Nanny McPhee” and wasn’t sure if this movie was going to be any good. Well, I’m pleased to state that I did, in fact, enjoy this film. The acting was impressive, for most of the characters (the mother of the children was the only exception). The plot was not too thick or too thin and was very funny. Also, the objectionable content was minimal, which is suprising me more and more lately because PG rated movies have tended to push the bar on the potty humor a lot lately.

So what is the moral of this story? As one of the characters stated, “You got to have a little faith.” The family was going through difficult times, yet with a little faith they were able to overcome their issues (with the help of Nanny McPhee, of course). In the same way, if we put our faith in God, he will always be there for us and will help us overcome obstacles that stand in our way. Do I recommend this movie? Yes. This is definetely a family-friendly movie. Good job Hollywood! Keep up the good work!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Alexander Malsan, age 20 (USA)
Positive—This is a great family film with excellent moral standings. Children will learn lessons on the importance of sharing and obeying their parents, as well as respecting their parents and others—as well as getting along with their siblings rather than fighting with them. In the age of finding films that are filled with violence, gore, and every type of immorality, it is a joy for a Christian such as myself to find a film that I can go and enjoy and leave the theatre with a clear conscience knowing that what I just viewed was not offensive to my Saviour. Parents will not be embarrased by allowing their children to see this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—William, age 54 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—I watched this film with my mother and sister. I sort of watched it in bits and pieces, because I got bored and was doing other things. I didn’t like this film as much as the first one. It was kind of a typical sequel. It didn’t quite capture the characters as well as the first one. Many of the scenes were predictable and could have been thought out a little more. I didn’t enjoy how Nanny McFee was introduced as an almost witchlike voice, where in the first one she was more hinted at in subtle ways. An advertisement that just happened to be in the paper. A sign on a window. A whisper in a doorway.

I found the photography, lighting, and artistic direction was very good, just like the first one, but the script was a little weak. As for moral content, this movie was quite good. I would definitely recommend seeing the first one.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Adam, age 30 (Canada)
Negative

none

Comments from young people
Positive—It was a very good movie. I give it a thumbs up .
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Justin, age 8 (USA)
Positive—I had the pleasure of viewing this movie the day it came out, and was SO glad I did. I had seen the first one too and am delighted to say that this movie was in no way less magical and amusing. The only things that I felt squeamish about was the appearances of the floozy blackmail ladies, Topsy and Turvy. But then again, they’re not supposed to be liked. Also, there is a picnic scene where an oblivious elderly woman sits on a cow pat. That really did not need to be there. But in my opinion, the good outweighs the bad very nicely.

The scene where the enchanted piglets were doing synchronized swimming had me chuckling through its entirety, and I was very pleased when the children learned to get along with their cousins and ***BEGIN SPOILER*** The father came home. ***END SPOILER***

Overall, this movie was enormously entertaining, and I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Lindsey, age 12 (USA)
Positive—Watching “Nanny McPhee Returns” was a breath of fresh air with the innocent, charming fairy tale magic touch. I would definitely see this movie again and wish to see the prequel again, as well!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Emily, age 12 (USA)
Movie Critics
…a delightful film… The resolution of the story, involving the absent father, packs a surprising emotional punch. …
—Rebecca Cusey, World Magazine
…a pure delight from beginning to end. It’s packed with uplifting wit, nice plot twists, and a thought-provoking storyline that’s bound to bring out the best in both adults and kids. …
—Richard Abanes, Crosswalk
…many delightful, funny and heartwarming moments and teaches some good values, but its references to magic, brief rude humor and brief mild language require serious caution. …
—Movieguide