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Sunday, February 12, 2006


Film Review: Nanny McPhee

Nanny McPhee (2005)

Production Company: Universal Pictures (and others)
Producer: Tim Bevan
Cast: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Angela Lansbury
Writers: Christianna Brand (Nurse Matilda books), Emma Thompson (screenplay)
Director: Kirk Jones
MPAA Rating: PG
Mom Rating: 5 out of 5
Kid Rating: 5 out of 5

Why would an otherwise sane mother take her two toddlers to a matinee showing of Nanny McPhee? To see Emma Thompson, of course! Because there are no animated movies out right now and because I just adore Emma Thompson, I picked PG-rated Nanny McPhee to help me and my kids pass ninety-seven wonderful minutes on a recent rainy afternoon.

Nanny McPhee is a colorful movie about a young widower Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) and his seven ill-mannered children. The movie opens with the scene of a frazzled nanny running screaming from a large country estate. When she reaches the mortuary where Mr. Brown works, she stops screaming long enough to quit her job and to gasp, "They've eaten the baby!"

"They" are Mr. Brown's six older children, who are on a mission to make sure that any nanny that comes in the house leaves just as quickly. They've already gone through sixteen nannies and this one is the seventeenth. Of course, they haven't eaten the baby, but Mr. Brown is unable to obtain another nanny from the agency in town. The owners of the agency lock their doors at his approach and declare themselves out of nannies. As a dejected Mr. Brown is leaving the nanny agency he hears a suggestion being whispered through the mail slot: "The person you need is Nanny McPhee." The voice is mysterious and Mr. Brown is unable to find out more, such as how to get in contact with this must-have nanny.

During an amazing scene in the kitchen where the children have tied up the cook and are using clever methods to destroy everything in sight, none other than mysterious and magical Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) knocks on the door, and thus begins the relationship between the world's ugliest nanny and the world's worst behaved children. I have to admit that I was unprepared for the sight of Nanny McPhee when Mr. Brown opened his door to her. She is hideously ugly, a snaggle-toothed creature with several large warts on her face. But that's just the kind of character young children are most attracted to, a fact that was confirmed by the giggles that erupted from the mostly school-aged audience.

We don't doubt that Mr. Brown's children need discipline; the kitchen scene proves as much. The question then becomes, can Nanny McPhee bring order to the chaos and make these children behave? As Nanny McPhee explains to the children, "When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go."

During the course of the movie, the children must learn how to behave more like adults when they realize that it's up to them to help their father find a new bride. If they don't, Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) will cut off his monthly allowance. Angela Lansbury makes a great tight-laced aunt and she also has the best line in the movie: "If there's one thing I won't stand for, it's loose vowels!" Maybe that line went over the head of the younger audience members, but it got a chuckle out of the adults.

The movie is simple in terms of plot and--except for Lansbury's line--humor. There's a potential horrible stepmother whom the children must deal with in a "buggy" kind of way. There's a sweet kind person who would make an excellent wife and stepmother, if only the parties involved would realize it. And there's Nanny McPhee, whose quiet, intense demeanor and large walking stick commands the respect of the children. Emma Thompson is wonderful in this movie and her character grows beautiful in spirit as she magically touches the lives of the large motherless brood.

The movie blends theatrics and slapstick with a touch of magic. The set design and costumes are sometimes gloomy and sometimes as colorful as candy. Most of the audience--my small children included--enjoyed the loud scenes the best, including the one that took place in the kitchen and another that features a food fight. The darker themes of the movie: death of a parent, loss of a loved one, the feelings of a child when he thinks a parent doesn't care, are necessary for the storyline, yet they aren't dwelled upon in great length. I never felt the material was too scary for a child and I didn't hear any crying from juvenile audience members.

This movie is perfect for a six-year-old and older audience. Except for during the most climactic noisy scenes, the movie couldn't always hold the interest of my younger kids. After the triumphant ending, the audience broke out into spontaneous applause, which is a sure sign that this flick is a winner for the young as well as for those of us who are young at heart.

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