May 19, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 26 August 2010 11:23
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch with their children. This week’s pick is a new film from Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee Returns.If Nanny McPhee Returns was a television movie — or a DVD for home viewing — its moderate entertainment would be a welcome addition to any family’s movie menu. The film, while slight, offers some fun, a bit of colorful commentary, and a tidy message about how people should treat each other.
But this movie didn’t arrive in our homes, we actually have to go to the theater to see it. That means we have to get everyone in the car, drive to the movieplex, find a parking place, navigate through the concession purchase, hope for a seat beyond the first three rows and watch endless commercials and previews before the opening credits begin. So while Nanny McPhee Returns is an entertaining diversion, it’s not worth all the trouble. Wait until it comes out on home video.
A followup to the earlier Nanny McPhee, the new edition — again written by and starring Oscar winner (for writing and acting) Emma Thompson — fast forwards to a new time period to a chapter when merry old England isn’t so merry after all. It is war time — perhaps the Second World War — when children in London are sent to the countryside for safety during the bombings. Two rather spoiled kids are delivered to their aunt’s home in the country, raise all kinds of trouble, leaving only one person who can save them and the aunt (and, presumably, the country if given half a chance): the wondrous Nanny McPhee with her prickly personality, moles, snaggle tooth and eyes filled with expression.
Not since Mary Poppins took the Banks children to an animated horse race has a nanny had her hands this full. If these children fear their time in the country will be boring, Nanny proves them wrong; there are always adventures to be had, people to be helped, challenges to be faced. And if the moral of the story is a bit too sweet to be believed, it reminds us all that, perhaps, we should suspend belief now and then and simply absorb the wisdom of the peculiar. For Nanny always has something wise to share.
Thompson, a supremely gifted writer and actress, never lets loose as she can thrillingly do on screen, and keeps her Nanny in a bit of a comic harness, refusing to fully embrace the comic opportunities she creates as a writer. It’s as if she is holding something back, perhaps hoping for a third Nanny film, or more likely because she doesn’t want to overpower the timid performers surrounding her (except, of course, Maggie Smith, who soars as usual). Thompson is a force on screen; this time, unfortunately, she only plays at half her horsepower.
What makes the movie — even though seen in a theater filled with children noisily unwrapping candy — feel like a television film is its weak production. This Nanny is obviously working on a budget. Everything feels as if it is done on the cheap, from the drab costuming to the under-executed design.
Today, on television, many channels offer excellent, wholesome family programming. If Nanny McPhee Returns was a feature on the tube I’d strongly encourage you to share the experience. But I can’t ask you to drive to the movies for this one. Save the gasoline, and the time, and stay home. Play a game. That’s what Nanny would suggest.
Nanny McPhee Returns
* Content: Medium. The story will appeal to parents while the humor will appease the children.
* Entertainment: Medium. The film offers a good time watching a movie if only it could be from the comfort of home.
* Message: Medium. Nanny always leaves a situation better than she finds it with everyone learning a lesson or two.
* Relevance: Medium. No matter how stressed our family lives may be, there are always others who face more hurdles.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. Children may not be in the mood to discuss the messages here but may be curious about the moment in time.
2-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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