Nanny McPhee Returns, Needs Spoonful of Sugar and Then Some


Disney’s dictum that external appearances reflect internal character is promoted by Universal’s Nanny McPhee Returns. In director Susanna White’s sequel to the 2005 Nanny McPhee, the titular ugly nanny (played, under unsightly makeup, by star/writer Emma Thompson) appears in wartime on the doorstep of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s harried mother, whose efforts to control three unruly kids and their snooty visiting cousins is complicated by her soldier husband’s absence, as well as by her sniveling brother-in-law’s (Rhys Ifans) attempts to make her sell the poo-covered family farm. Imparting life lessons with a bang from her magic cane, Thompson’s intimidating caregiver is a charmless snooze. As the children’s bad habits disappear so, too, do McPhee’s hairy moles and snaggletooth, and just as every book can be judged by its cover in this English countryside-set fable, every source that the film futilely strives to emulate proves transparent. Awash in CG pandemonium involving synchronized-swimming pigs and burping birds, McPhee’s latest saga neither conjures the humanistic heart of Babe nor addresses father-son separation issues with the sobriety of The Water Horse. Instead, it’s merely a compendium of photocopied elements, cartoonish special effects, and easy-bake happily-ever-afters.