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Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang

Nanny McPhee 2

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2.5 out of 5

THE success of the first Nanny McPhee is something that still, to this day, baffles me. A Mary Poppins knock-off populated by annoying kids, it was a dispiriting exercise in pointless movie-making.

Its sequel is only marginally better but still pales by comparison to the source of its inspiration.

Set during World War II, the film finds Emma Thompson’s eponymous heroine coming to the aid of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Mrs Green, as she struggles to prevent the impending loss of her farm along with the the trials and tribulations of her children and their visiting posh cousins.

As with the original, Nanny McPhee goes from grotesque to beautiful as she imparts valuable life lessons to the kids, all the while mindful that they can also be counted upon to help beat the threat posed by some similarly out of line adults.

In the sequel’s favour is incoming director Susanna White, an intelligent and playful director who has cut her teeth on quality TV dramas such as Teachers, Bleak House and – most notably – Generation Kill.

White is clearly a filmmaker to watch and adeptly tosses in enough poo and fight jokes to keep the youngest kids laughing with visual references to past movies and pop culture that should appeal to adults (everyone from Pink Floyd to Sergio Leone via David Lean is homaged in some way).

She also throws in a couple of really smart sight gags (one, in particular, involving Nanny McPhee’s silhouette), and some genuinely involving human drama.

But she’s also constrained at other times by Thompson’s steadfastly traditional approach, which renders large parts of the movie hopelessly twee, while repeating the same formula that made the original so forgettable.

The naughty kids remain annoying (admittedly less so), while sequences involving magic and CGI animals feel poorly conceived. There’s also an over-reliance on putting the quaint and the quirky into the quintessentially British characters that is more usually the reserve of Hollywood blockbusters.

At almost two hours, the film also tests the patience a little too often and – as a result – is often forced to resort to obvious jokes.

Of the cast, the new batch of kids acquit themselves fairly well, while Rhys Ifans makes an excellent comedy villain and Gyllenhaal displays a near-flawless English accent. There are also scene-stealing cameos from Ralph Fiennes and Bill Bailey, as well as Ewan McGregor.

But in the main, this is a by-the-numbers family picture that pales by comparison to the genuine magic that’s so often on display in Pixar movies.

Certificate: U
Running time: 109mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: July 19, 2010