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Nanny McPhee Returns(2010)
In the latest installment, Nanny McPhee appears at the door of a harried young mother, Mrs. Isabel Green, who is trying to run the family farm while her husband is away at war. But once she's arrived, Nanny McPhee discovers that Mrs. Green's children are fighting a war of their own against two spoiled city cousins who have just moved in and refuse to leave. Relying on everything from a flying motorcycle and a statue that comes to life to a tree-climbing piglet and a baby elephant who turns up in the oddest places, Nanny McPhee uses her magic to teach her mischievous charges five new lessons.
For more about Nanny McPhee Returns and the Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray release, see Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 8, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Susanna White
Writer: Emma Thompson
Starring: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Asa Butterfield, Ralph Fiennes
» See full cast & crew
Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray Review
Every little, medium sized and big thing she does is magic.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 8, 2010
The not exactly subtle music playing as underscore in one of the short featurettes supplementing Nanny McPhee Returns is The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic," and while that's a perfect summation of the charms—if that's the right word—of Nanny McPhee, it also points out the singular dramatic problem with both the original Nanny McPhee film and this sequel (which was titled Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang in the UK). When a character like Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) is posited as a woman who can overcome any problem, no matter how farfetched or seemingly insurmountable, is there anything to wonder about, other than how long it's going to take to get to the all too expected happy ending? I lamented in my review of the first Nanny McPhee that it had everything that money could buy but little of that supposed "magic" which Sting and his cohorts sing about. The results are a little more mixed with Nanny McPhee Returns. The film is still dramatically inert a lot of the time, but it has a major saving grace in the luminous presence of Maggie Gyllenhaal, here playing a sort of distaff mirror version of the widower Colin Firth essayed in the first film. Gyllenhaal portrays Isabel Green, a hard working farm wife whose husband is away fighting World War II. Yes, among other things, Nanny McPhee is either incredibly long-lived or perhaps actually immortal, as the first film was placed squarely in the 19th century (something that turns out to have a nice linking element with this film, something I'll attempt not to spoil in my review).
There's not much you can say about either Nanny McPhee film in terms of plot. Both of these films traverse a paint-by-numbers "arc", if it can even be called that, wherein a harried parent is dealing with out of control kids, Nanny McPhee miraculously appears, teaches the children the "lessons" they're required to learn, and then moves on to her next assignment like some feature film version of television's Supernanny or Nanny 911. So if a film is built on a premise where you already know the general outlines of what's going to happen, where is the allure and the—ahem—magic? In the details, of course, and the good news is that Nanny McPhee offers some whimsical moments and some excellent characterizations that will at the very least delight the younger children, even if their parents are indeed checking their wrist watches wondering when they'll ever get to that promised happily ever after.
Is there a more versatile actress in contemporary film than Maggie Gyllenhaal? This frankly somewhat odd looking woman simply knocks it out of the ballpark just about every time she appears before a camera. As I watched her steadfast and slightly harried (and veddy veddy British) Isabel Green, I couldn't help but think back on Gyllenhaal's completely different work in Secretary. This is an actress who has an incredible range, and, more importantly, a very real humanity which shines through her often doleful eyes, and she brings that spark of verisimilitude to the character of Isabel. In fact Isabel is such a commanding presence in this film (mostly due to Gyllenhaal's efforts) that the character of Nanny McPhee, magic and all, almost becomes an after thought.
Taking the place of the dotty Angela Lansbury character in the first film is a dotty character portrayed by Maggie Smith in this film. As Mrs. Docherty, the incredible Miss Smith may be shunted to the sidelines for much of the film, expected to deliver a bit of slapstick—like sitting in a cow pie—that really is beneath her (no pun intended), but writer Thompson manages to pull a rather neat bit of sleight of hand near the film's denouement by revealing a very salient piece of information about Smith's character.
The children here aren't all that obnoxious, at least the three who are playing Isabel's children. They're rambunctious, absolutely, and engage in rather exuberant sibling rivalry, but the real brats of the film are two visiting cousins from London. Of course in both Nanny McPhee films thus far (there's a third already on the way), there really can't be any total villains, and so even these children are shown to be victims in a way of their own parents' missteps (their father is played by Ralph Fiennes in a brief but effective cameo). The putative bad guy of the film, Uncle Phil (Rhys Ifans), turns out to be a buffoon reduced, much like Smith's character, to bouts of silly slapstick. It's fun for the kids, no doubt, but there's absolutely no dramatic tension in any part of Nanny McPhee Returns, simply because there's no real conflict and no one to be seriously afraid of.
As in the first film, this iteration boasts an effective production design, if in Returns slightly less opulent (intentionally) than the first film. The Green farm is a nicely dilapidated structure full of nooks and crannies, much like the large manor house in the first film. This film boasts some extremely lovely location shots of sylvan English countryside, especially in a sequence where the kids attempt to reign in some magically inspired piglets who have escaped the farm. Of course, working together to bring the prize piglets backs home is yet another one of Nanny McPhee's important lessons, lest that come as any surprise.
The first Nanny McPhee fell largely flat for me, and while this film is no masterpiece by any stretch, it actually did manage to tug at my heartstrings a time or two. Perhaps the World War II setting helped, and certainly Gyllenhaal's presence adds a whole emotional impact to the story that the first film largely lacked. But what would help this franchise more than anything is a bit of surprise now and then. This Nanny cribs from everything from Mary Poppins to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Nanny drives a magical motorcycle with a sidecar which is able to perform all sorts of wizardry, including flying). Thompson is an elegant and accomplished writer, but she's hardly stretching herself with these films. Nanny, and Thompson herself, would do well to take a little vacation and think about what would happen if McPhee came up against a problem she can't solve with a thump of her magical walking stick.
Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray, Video Quality
Like the first film, Nanny McPhee Returns arrives on Blu-ray with a VC-1 encoded image in 1080p and 2.40:1. And yet this film doesn't look quite as spectacular as the first. That's especially odd in that this film has some glorious shots of the English countryside, and in fact those are the best looking moments of this film, full of beautiful natural light, wonderfully well saturated color and some amazing depth of field. But some of the studio footage looks just a little soft. Don't get alarmed, it's nothing that you're going to scream about, but the sharpness of the first film is simply not present in at least some of Nanny McPhee Returns. Overall, fine detail is quite strong, there doesn't appear to be egregious DNR, and while clarity and sharpness may not rise to the excellent levels of the first installment, they're quite strong in and of themselves.
Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Nanny McPhee Returns boasts a spectacularly effective lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is full of some of the magic and whimsy that the film itself only half manages to create. The first thing you'll notice is the absolutely overpowering LFE of Nanny's walking stick making contact with the earth. A circle of sound penetrates over the listener like a huge low frequency wave, moving clearly overhead, and it's a very cool and completely immersive effect. But the film is full of inventive sound design which quite capably utilizes the surrounds, in everything from piglet oinks to the maddening screams of fighting children. The denouement, where the Green's wheat harvest is magically transformed into a variety of sky animals is also accompanied by excellent foley effects which pan nicely through the surrounds. In terms of the "day to day" sound mix, dialogue is clear and crisp, easily heard, and well mixed into the soundfield. James Newton Howard's underscore is also well mixed, never overpowering the dialogue or the sound effects.
Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Nanny McPhee has a slight but sometimes entertaining array of supplements:
Nanny McPhee Returns Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Make no mistake about it, young kids are going to love Nanny McPhee Returns. It's full of poo jokes, synchronized swimming pigs and a rude, burping bird. But the best "family" films need to have something for the adults, too, and on that score, Nanny McPhee Returns is somewhat lacking. This film boasts a stronger emotional pull than the first one did, due largely to the expressive performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when you have actors working within the confines of such a structured format of the McPhee films, there's only so much they can do. Still and all, if you have young kids in need of some harmless fun, Nanny McPhee Returns is Recommended.
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