It’s tough to beat Mary Poppins, the 1964 classic that showcased a nanny dealing with and teaching the children of a moderately uncouth family. In 2005, that film was basically remade in the form of Nanny McPhee, a charming, if slight picture that had a heart of gold and a type of energy that was undeniably endearing. While not enchanting enough for multiple viewings, it was nevertheless worth seeing once. Its sequel, Nanny McPhee Returns, unfortunately, is not.
If Nanny McPhee was a retread of Mary Poppins, consider Nanny McPhee Returns a retread of a retread. The story is largely the same as the original: a parent is overpowered by her naughty children when Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) comes along and teaches them five lessons. This time the parent is Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her three children, Vincent (Oscar Steer), Norman (Asa Butterfield) and Megsie (Lil Woods), are too much for her, or at least she’d like to think so. In the original film, the seven children were indeed rotten, spoiled brats that gave their father, played by Colin Firth, hell. He was in desperate need of a nanny. Here, Isabel’s kids are no naughtier than the usual similarly aged children. In fact, while she is off working, they keep up the farm, caring for the livestock, shoveling dung and finishing any other chores to ensure it runs like it should. Isabel’s acting out is childish and much ado about nothing.
Until her niece (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and nephew (Eros Vlahos) show up, and even then they pale in comparison to the hellions from the film’s predecessor. Sure, they fight and run amuck, but they’re children. It’s what they do. Nevertheless, Nanny McPhee arrives and begins her lessons telling them that she has one final rule. When they need her, but do not want her, she must stay, but when they want her, but no longer need her, she has to go.
And so begins, for better or worse, the same movie set in a different time period. The biggest difference between Nanny McPhee Returns and the original film is that the title character is more prominent. She has become a showman since her last job, swirling barley in the air to create a parade of animals, and she is given a friend, a bird by the name of Mr. Edelweiss. Pieces of her mystical world seep through in the movie, thus lessening the mystery around her.
There’s also a more adult story revolving around Isabel’s brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) who has fallen behind on gambling debts and is trying to persuade Isabel into selling the farm, of which he owns half, but cannot sell unless she agrees. Although she refuses, she does not have the money to keep up a productive farm, much like how this story doesn’t have enough originality to keep up an interesting movie.
With at least three times the amount of infantile poop jokes than the original, Nanny McPhee Returns is a downgrade. It has a limited amount of whimsy and charm and it’s certainly not terrible, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth seeing.
Nanny McPhee Returns receives 2/5