GENRE: "It's magically disgusting!"
THE PITCH: In rural England during World War II, spunky farm kids clash with their posh city cousins until Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), a tough-love, butt-ugly Mary Poppins, magically teaches them to get along and save the farm from a weaselly in-law (Rhys Ifans).
MONEY SHOTS: The rural kids invent a Rube Goldberg "Scratch-o-matic" for their barnyard animals. Nanny McPhee creates a team-building exercise for the kids by giving runaway piglets the ability to scamper up trees and perform water ballet. A pair of hit-women (Sinead Matthews and Katy Brand) threaten to stuff Ifans taxidermy-style, and demonstrate with a little doll. A huge German bombshell lands at a convenient moment in the gorgeous barley field.
BEST LINE INVOLVING POTTY HUMOR: "You have the wind because you have the collywobbles, and you have the collywobbles because you've been eating window putty," Nanny McPhee informs her raven friend, Mr. Edelweiss.
WORST LINE INVOLVING POTTY HUMOR: "Mrs. Docherty, I regret to inform you that's a cowpat, not a cushion." The sad part? Maggie Smith plays the character who makes the poor seating choice.
REALLY, WHY ALL THE POTTY HUMOR? Thompson embodies English wit and class, having won Oscars for acting and screenwriting, but her Nanny McPhee Returns script has more barnyard gags than any family comedy this year, including a mud-and-poop "snowman" in the sty-like farm. It's more "Little Britain" than Merchant Ivory.
FASHION STATEMENTS: Renee Zellweger look-alike Master Cyril (Eros Vlahos) arrives wearing a yellow-checked suit. His sister (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) accidentally sullies her taffeta outfit, and wears her aunt's (Maggie Gyllenhaal) wedding dress instead. Fearful that Nanny McPhee's magic is actually mind-controlling gas, Cyril comes to breakfast in purple pajamas and a gas mask. Nanny McPhee dons an army matron uniform on a visit to the London.
LIFE DURING WARTIME: In by far the film's best section, Cyril and his country cousin confront the war office bureaucracy to confirm the whereabouts to Gyllenhaal's soldier husband. Ralph Fiennes adds his trademark intensity as Cyril's father, an icily-controlled general, though the scene belongs in another movie — one a lot better than Returns.
INSIDE POOP: Rumor has it that Thompson opted to make Returns at the cost of reprising her role as Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In England, the film is called Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (prompting a friend of mine to quip, "But how did they know if she returns?"). There's a little gag at the end of the closing credits that turns up in the trailers.
BETTER THAN THE FIRST? No. Thompson first disappeared beneath the moles, snaggly tooth, putty nose and uni-brow in 2005's inventive but disposable Nanny McPhee (an adaptation of Nurse Matilda). The follow-up contributes virtually no new ideas, although it does provide a pleasing shout-out to the first film at the end.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The kids are all right in Nanny McPhee Returns as the hilarious Eros Vlahos steals the picture with the English disdain and comic timing of a pint-sized Stephen Fry. Otherwise, the film's shrill tone, tedious overacting and cheap, gouge-your-eyes-out CGI effects lack any magic whatsoever. Nanny McPhee Returns amounts to neither a bang nor a whimper, but a long, flat, flatulent raspberry.
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