I love family films that are not condescending. Today’s kids are subjected to, for the most part, recycled tripe that probably even seems old to them by now. Nanny McPhee contains all of the key ingredients of a successful family film as well as some off-the-wall and edgy British humor. The concoction propels it miles past of the current lot of “oversized family” movies that have been clogging theaters over the holidays. The film is still riotous fun, but it is also eerily unpredictable – and fresh.
Cedric Brown (Firth) has seven obnoxious children. The rug rats have just chased off their seventeenth nanny and Cedric is at his wits end. Help is on the way, however, in the form of Nanny McPhee (Thompson), a magical woman who uses her powers to show children respect and proper behavior. Things get fishy when the family’s financial security depends upon Cedric marrying Selma Quickly (Imrie), a two-timing schemer whose real feelings for the little ones are less than favorable.
Director Kirk Jones gives us a beautiful palette of colors to gaze upon. Parts of the film look like an explosion at a bubble gum factory, and it’s very unique. His direction is spot-on, particularly during Nanny McPhee’s grand introduction. He always maintains an undercurrent of unpredictability that will keep many kids guessing as to what is going to happen next. Emma Thompson’s screenplay (adapting from the “Nurse Matilda” books by Christianna Brand) is fun and fast-paced. All of the characters are given a unique identity and developed further than one would expect from such an offering. Even the quirky cook, played with endless energy by Imelda Staunton, is a refreshingly well-developed.
The performances are delightfully over-the-top, especially with the aforementioned Staunton. Colin Firth is right at home as Cedric, particularly in a scene where he must try to stop the children from sabotaging his date with Selma Quickly. Thompson, decked out in warts and a horse tooth that would make Dr. Bukk shiver in fear, is immensely likable as the magical McPhee. She brings just the right amount of uncertainty and humor to the role, especially with the running “I knocked” joke. Angela Lansbury also turns up and is a showstopper as the stereotypical snobbish “Lady.” Her facial reactions garner laughs single-handedly. The rest of the supporting cast is superb, including young Thomas Sangster (as Simon Brown), who continues to flourish with this and Love Actually under his belt.
Nanny McPhee should delight kids of all ages who are yearning for a new magical fix. The film delivers the kind of humor and excitement that is expected from the genre, with an extra helping of deviance and sharp wit. Parents even have a lot to enjoy here, which, when you get right down to it, is a shining endorsement. The person you need is Nanny McPhee!
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 97 Minutes
Rating: PG for mild thematic elements, some rude humor and brief language.
Theatrical Release: January 27, 2006
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Written by: Emma Thompson. Based upon the “Nurse Matilda” books by Christianna Brand.
Cast: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Celia Imrie, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Barlow