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Nanny McPhee Returns

The 2004 Nanny McPhee, starring Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay) as a nanny who uses her magical powers to teach life lessons to her young charges, was only a modest hit. But it has its fans, and in a world where so much product is ground out for so many consumers, there’s no reason why movies should be made only for blockbuster audiences. So on that level it’s nice to see this sequel: There are certainly far worse children’s movies on display this summer. The setting has changed from the Victorian era to the English countryside circa World War II, where Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose British accent seems to have been post-dubbed) struggles both to hold the family farm together and raise her three children while their father is off to war. Pushed to the breaking point when a snooty niece and nephew are sent to live with her, she is saved by the arrival of Nanny McPhee, who claims to have been sent by the war office. From there it’s pretty much the same as last time, as she uses her magical powers to teach lessons in cooperation and helpfulness, as well as to defeat the efforts of Isabel’s spiv of a brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) to sell the farm out from underneath them. I’m not sure that the visual hook of having Nanny become less scrofulous with each successful lesson is a good thing for kids, and I certainly could have done with a lot less animal flatulence and excrement, appropriate as they may be to the setting. (“We’re in the land of poo” is how the setting is summed up nephew Cyril, who looks like nothing so much as a member of the Drones Club’s junior division.) The computer-generated effects, most notably a sequence with synchronized swimming piglets, pad the film out longer than young audiences may be expected to still, and while it was thoughtful of Ms. Thompson to bring along friends like Ewan McGregor, Sam Kelly, Ralph Fiennes, and Maggie Smith to keep the adults happy, one wonders if it was really necessary to affront the dignity of the 75-year-old Dame Smith by having her sit in a large cow flop.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Nanny McPhee

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