Emma Thompson, my sincerest sympathies. While you may have brought us the first disposable and decently harmless original Nanny McPhee, it appears that in order to one-up the first film you’ve gone and done a little dumpster diving. Thank you for giving us a movie that could quite literally be called Nanny McPoop. As she always informs characters, “Small c, big P.” I’m surprised there weren’t any urination jokes, but I digress.
In no less than five minutes, Nanny McPhee Returns allows the audience the wonderment that is a fresh cow pie plopping onto the ground, followed, of course, by another shot of said scat being flung from a barn door. Then it graces us no less than one minute later, mind you, with a black crow belching in the face of poor Nanny McPhee (Thompson herself). Nanny McPhee calls this crow her friend, but if this is the company she seeks… well, we all know how much misery loves company.
Yes, things run so afoul so quickly. The script can’t be completely to blame. While lots of directors cut their teeth in television, sometimes when that’s all they’ve done, it’s all they can do. Somehow first-time feature director Susanna White has attracted the likes of not just Thompson, but also Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, the great Maggie Smith, and Ewan McGregor. Wait… Ewan McGregor? What’s he doing here? Oh yeah, he’s off in a war leaving Gyllenhaal’s character to fend for the family farm to show up in a hilarious flashback and walk on set at the end to make for happily ever after.
For a children’s film, this thing is the definition of convoluted. While it may be easy to break down into a few sentences, let’s see what’s in store for you with Nanny McPhee Returns. This was, by the way, originally titled Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. If only the rest of the movie had been shortened, or simply focused on the synchronized swimming piglets.
Isabel Green (Gyllenhaal) has three rotten kids: Vincent (Oscar Steer), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Norman (Asa Butterfield). Isabel’s brother-in-law, Phil Green (Ifans), who owns half of the family farm, is convinced her husband is not returning from war and will go to his wit's ends to try to convince her to sell the farm. Phil really wants Isabel to sell the farm after he’s been harassed by Miss Topsey (Sinead Matthews) and Miss Turvey (Katy Brand) because Phil owes their boss some money.
Meanwhile, “the cousins,” Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia Gray (Rosie Taylor-Ritson, who looks like she could play a part in a live action version of An American Tail sans makeup), are on their way but arrive a day early. If you thought Isabel’s children were awful, just wait till you meet these two. No one gets along and this, of course, brings us to Nanny McPhee, who shows up to teach the kids five life lessons because she comes when she’s needed but not wanted and must leave once she’s wanted but not needed.