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A mysterious woman with special powers enters the household of the recently widowed Mr. Brown and attempts to tame his seven very naughty children. The children have managed to drive away 17 previous nannies, but as Nanny McPhee takes control, they begin to notice that their misbehaving has magical and startling consequences.
For more about Nanny McPhee and the Nanny McPhee Blu-ray release, see Nanny McPhee Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 5, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kelly Macdonald, Eliza Bennett
Director: Kirk Jones
» See full cast & crew
Nanny McPhee Blu-ray Review
'Nanny McPhee' has everything money can buy—except the magic.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 5, 2010
There were critical tongues wagging in 1963-64 which deplored what Julie Andrews was doing to herself when it was announced Mary Poppins was about to go before the cameras. After all, here was a brilliantly talented lady, able to both act and sing, who had taken Broadway by storm as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and by most accounts been utterly shafted by not having been given the role in the film version. Why would this poor lady want to "slum" in a "mere" Disney vehicle, especially one with a song score by the perhaps less than Lerner and Loewe caliber Sherman Brothers? Of course, wagging critical tongues were wrong. I'm not quite sure there was much fuss when the lovely Juliet Mills showed up on American television in the short-lived yet bizarrely cherished series (by a certain demographic) Nanny and the Professor, perhaps because she was probably the least known of the Mills in those days, well behind Daddy John and sister Hayley. But what is one to make of the redoubtable Emma Thompson's involvement with the largely subpar Nanny McPhee, an involvement which stretches not only to starring, but also to writing this pretty shoddy mishmash? It's enough to get critical tongues deploring all over again, and Lord help us all when that happens.
I mention both Mary Poppins and Nanny and the Professor in my opening paragraph for a reason, for Nanny McPhee certainly bares more than a passing resemblance to both of those projects, as well as several others, not the least of which is the Harry Potter franchise. Based on the three Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand, McPhee keeps the general outline of Brand's creation while inventing at least one major new character and changing several other aspects of the original stories. (For you film buffs, Brand's name may sound familiar, for she wrote the source novel upon which one of the most beloved post-WWII thrillers is based, Green for Danger). While the original Matilda stories did indeed involve a magically-prone "nurse" (read: nanny) working with the largely despicable children of the Brown family, there was no recently deceased Mrs. Brown in the original stories, nor was Mr. Brown about to marry a gold-digging floozy. Of course, screenwriter Thompson no doubt felt the stories needed some sort of romantic interest, and since Nanny herself was out of the question (at least in her original, hideous appearance), Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) needed a romantic entanglement introduced, before (of course) happily ever after came calling in the guise of a woman who had been in front of his nose all along.
One begins to understand, perhaps partially at least, Thompson's predicament when one sees the rather strange amalgamation of studios who co-produced Nanny McPhee. As the opening credits spin by, no fewer than three major studios—Universal, Studio Canal, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer—come in for some sort of acknowledgement (less charitable people might say "blame"), and it's not hard to imagine board rooms of stiff corporate suits insisting that Thompson's screenplay conform to expectations. (There are a slew of other producing partners, as is usually the case with these bigger budget features, including Working Title Films). But that's at least part of what's wrong with Nanny McPhee: despite a cast to die for (more about which in a moment), lavish production design, good all around performances and a fair amount of whimsy, the film just lies there like a soufflé after Nanny herself brings her walking stick pounding down to the ground with a furious bang.
Looking at the cast of Nanny McPhee would lead any normal person to imagine they were in for a whirlwind of brilliant performances. Not only do we have Firth as Mr. Brown and Thompson as Nanny, also on board are a veritable who's who of British acting royalty, including Angela Lansbury as imperious (and half-blind) Aunt Adelaide; Imelda Staunton as the Brown's harried cook, Mrs. Blatherwick; and Derek Jacobi as Mr. Wheen, one of Mr. Brown's co-workers at the local mortuary where Mr. Brown is employed (yet another patently odd thing about this film). All of these superb performers do excellent work here, but it's sadly all (or at least mostly) for naught, as the preening and strutting often add up to little more than a temporary distraction from the film's overall blandness.
Though probably lesser known, also in the cast is the radiant Kelly MacDonald as Evangeline, the Brown's scullery maid who is one of the few able to manage the misbehavior of the Brown children, and who harbors a secret crush on her employer. (Three guesses as to how that turns out). MacDonald is quite simply an actress who can do and play just about anything, and she is something of a chameleon in both her television and film work. Though her name may not be familiar to a lot of you, you've seen her in such disparate films as Trainspotting, Gosford Park and No Country for Old Men, and on television in outstanding pieces like the original British miniseries version of State of Play. Here she contributes some of the few "real" emotional moments that Nanny McPhee struggles so valiantly to attain, imbuing the film with some real heart and poignancy.
Director Kirk Jones helms an extremely sumptuous looking film that benefits immensely from the brilliant production design of Michael Howells. The Browns' haphazard but lovable house becomes something akin to Hogwarts writ small, with nooks and crannies galore, and an almost surreal quality to some of the set design. Costumes are often outrageous (Celia Imrie's Mrs. Quickly is probably the best example), and incredibly colorful. Jones also manages to get excellent performances out of the seven Brown children, who are both eminently disgraceful and oddly lovable at the same time. And Firth, all gangly and accident prone, and Thompson, frankly scary and imperious (especially in her early scenes where she's buried under pounds of hideous makeup), play Nanny McPhee for all it's worth. But what is it worth, really? For all the eye candy and supposed hilarity, this is one of the most peculiarly flat "family films" in recent memory, one with a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Younger children will no doubt giggle madly at some of Nanny's adventures with the Brown children, and the film's moral conscience is certainly in the right place. Older kids and adults may sit there, vaguely enchanted by the visual splendor of the film and the all around appealing cast, but still regularly checking their watches for an expected exit strategy, all the time haunted by an uneasy ennui. This is a film that should have soared to Poppins-esque flights of fancy, but which remains resolutely earthbound for the bulk of its running time. The "real" Nanny McPhee may have loads of magic up her black-caped sleeve, but Nanny McPhee is sadly lacking in that most ephemeral of elements.
Nanny McPhee Blu-ray, Video Quality
For all of its flaws as a film, few faults can be found with this sterling Blu-ray release, with an exceedingly sharp and colorful VC-1 encoded 1080p image in 2.35:1. This is a film which almost bursts off the screen in a panoply of bright colors and exceptional detail. One can literally make out brushstrokes on the exterior of the Browns' brightly colored front porch area, and everything from the costumes to Howells' exceptional sets bristle with detail. Nanny McPhee boasts some of the most beautifully saturated colors in recent memory, with a carousel of bright reds, purples, greens and yellows lighting up the screen. Thompson's makeup is exceptional, especially remarkable in that the Blu-ray, while incredibly sharp and well detailed, doesn't reveal any of the "seams", so to speak. CGI also looks very good throughout the film, with the final wedding scene and the magical snow blending to create a wedding dress especially effective.
Nanny McPhee Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Also superb is Nanny McPhee's excellent lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Despite a lackluster, meandering score by the usually dependable Patrick Doyle, Nanny erupts through the surround channels with several inventive segments, not the least of which is Thompson's disembodied voice floating through the soundfield early in the film, informing Mr. Brown that what he needs is Nanny McPhee. Nanny's bursts of magical power through her crooked walking stick are also very impressive, with a wall-shaking low end that explodes through the surround channels and provides a little nursely shock and awe. Dialogue is very crisp and clean, and at times nicely directional, especially in some of the crowded scenes where all seven Brown children are in their mayhem mode. Ambient effects are also nicely handled, especially in some relatively low key moments outside of the Brown home, where the beautiful sylvan English countryside comes alive with the flutter of leaves and sound of chirping birds.
Nanny McPhee Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Almost all of the SD extras (with one odd and notable exception) have been ported over from the SD-DVD release. These include:
Nanny McPhee Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's hard to put into words just exactly where Nanny McPhee goes awry. It has stellar performers, an eye-popping production design, and seemingly all the elements to make it a modern family classic. And yet, there's simply something ineffable missing. For wont of a better word, that element is "magic," something rather ironic considering Nanny's prestidigitatious tendencies. Still, younger kids will no doubt get a kick out of the film, and with its gorgeous presentation on Blu-ray, it's certainly worth a rental to check out whether you'd like it in your personal collections.
Nanny McPhee: Other Editions
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Nanny McPhee Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Nanny McPhee Returns Announced on Blu-ray - October 13, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that on December 14 it will release the family movie Nanny McPhee Returns (also known as Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang), with Emma Thompson reprising her role from the 2006 Nanny McPhee. Buyers of the Blu-ray will ...
• Nanny McPhee Announced on Blu-ray - May 11, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Nanny McPhee for release on Blu-ray on August 17, tying in with the theatrical release of its sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns (also known as Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang). This family film stars Emma Thompson as ...
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