There is CGI and there is magic. CGI is the ability to use technology to make fantastical things appear on the screen. Magic involves using various storytelling aspects to make a whimsical reaction from the audience. Nanny McPhee Returns has CGI.
This is the sequel to the 2005 hit(?) where Emma Thompson plays the ugly version of Mary Poppins. She arrives at your home, teaches five arbitrary lessons and will disappear to go to the next family. In this installment, the family in question is run by the British(?) Maggie Gyllenhaal. Her husband is off at war and she is left to take care of the farm with her three children. Her misguided brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) wants to sell the farm to pay off his gambling debt. To top it all off, her nephew and niece have come to stay with them and they are insufferable brats
So the grandmother, played by Maggie Smith, suggests, “What you need is Nanny McPhee.” So she arrives after some odd sequences and starts to teach the children some lessons about how you shouldn’t fight or how it’s important to work together. Except it’s not really lessons, but magically messing with them until they do it once.
The first film primarily focused on the parent and his problems. This has more of a focus on the five kids, which is too bad because they’re either very bland or infuriating. The two cousins are so irritating and bizarrely cruel, there is no interest in their redemption. There is too much going on as the film keeps going back and forth between all of its subplots. Despite the title, Nanny McPhee begins to feel like a supporting character in the story.
The film mocks some of the imagery from the first movie, but it still takes itself very seriously in certain aspects. Whenever Nanny McPhee taps her magical stick the camera always has to be incredibly epic in its movement despite that there is very little visual payoff from the act. There is an attempt at more emotional depth in this movie, but it doesn’t really work. The film tries to walk the line from being a fairy tale and a movie set in a form of reality, but it doesn’t gel. Having a synchronized dance sequence with piglets while also dealing with the possibly dire whereabouts of their soldier father may work for individual scenes but not the movie as a whole.
The rest of the movie is way too many poop jokes, more CGI animals, and really random British cameos. There is too much talent involved with this film for it to be this bland. Emma Thompson was a fantastic screenwriter for Sense and Sensibilty and Wit. Director Susanna White was brilliant in capturing emotions during her episodes of Generation Kill. Everyone knows this cast can do great things, but this just feels like too many are phoning it in with poor results.
The extras have a handful of featurettes focusing on small parts of the film like the pigs and Thompson’s makeup. There are also a ton of deleted scenes, which is surprisingly because the film is too long as is. There is also a commentary track from White without Thompson surprisingly.
Film: 2.5 Yaps
Extras: 2.5 Yaps