Making the Grades
Order in the English countryside is about to be restored thanks to the return of the unflappable and rather frightful looking Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson). Dressed entirely in black, the bulbous-nosed caregiver with warts and an oversized incisor arrives on the darkened doorstep of Isabel Green (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
At first Isabel hesitates to accept help from the unexpected nursemaid that shows up courtesy of the army. But it is soon evident to Nanny that her services (and the five lessons she intends to teach the family) are desperately needed.
While her husband (Ewan McGregor) is off at war, Isabel is trying to manage a farm, a day job, her three active offspring and the arrival of two citified cousins from London. As well, her brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) constantly hounds her to turn the farm’s deed over to him. Despite the young mother’s best efforts, things have reached a fevered pitch on the picturesque little patch of British soil.
Not one to take no for an answer, Nanny immediately issues a cease and desist order on the children’s fighting. But when her charges are slow to comply with the moratorium, she produces a gnarled walking stick that she bangs on the floor with magical results. Later when Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Vincent (Oscar Steer) refuse to share their beds with their cousins Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson), Nanny once again employs the powers of the enchanted staff.
However squabbling and sharing are only two of the challenges this little family faces. Their farm is sure to be lost unless they can come up with some quick cash. When their prized piglets disappear the morning they are to be sold, it takes some cooperative actions by the kids to round up the skittery swine. Under Nanny’s kind and watchful eye, the children solve other problems as well, by combining their skills and resources with occasional mystical intervention.
Wielding a pen with the same skill as she does the walking stick, Emma Thompson, who authored the script, blends the fantastical world of synchronized swimming pigs and flying motorcycles with the realities of wartime hardships, an impending divorce and overworked parents. She also addresses the consequences of irresponsible gambling when two blond, female enforcers (Sinead Matthews, Katy Brand) come looking for a debt repayment. Yet the screenplay comes together with a poignancy and charm that is enhanced by the engaging and colorful sets. (Even Isabel’s nagging relative is more of an irritant than the excessively evil antagonist often portrayed in children’s movies.)
While younger children may be frightened by the two debt collectors’ taxidermic plans for Phil the brother-in-law and a bomb that lands near the farmhouse, this film contains even less mean-spirited interactions between characters than the original movie. The frequent use of a mild word for barnyard waste also lessens as the plot develops.
With a gentle but firm approach to mentoring, Nanny uses her cane as the initial instrument for change. However, she accomplishes her real magic by encouraging cooperation, compassion, ingenuity and faith among this little brood as they work to establish peace and harmony at home. And with her help, they all come to recognize the real beauty in others.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Nanny McPhee Returns.
How can parents (who dont have access to a magical cane) teach these same important life lessons to their children? How often does Nanny use magic? In what other ways does she encourage cooperation and kindness?
Nanny never raises her voice when addressing the children. Is there power in a soft voice?
What impact does the children’s kindness have on Nanny? Though real people don’t undergo the same physical transformations, can the way we view a person’s beauty change as we grow to know or love them?
How can a group or individual help families who currently have someone serving in the military? What other difficulties could be lessened by offering a supportive hand to those in need?