Beyond Few Magical Moments, "Nanny McPhee" Misses
- Lisa Rice Contributing Writer
- 2006 26 Jan
Release Date: Friday, January 27, 2006
Rating: PG (mild thematic elements, some rude humor and brief language)
Run Time: 97 min.
Director: Kirk Jones
Actors: Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Celia Imrie, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Barlow, Imelda Staunton, Thomas Sangster, and Angela Lansbury.
Upon first glance, “Nanny McPhee” is an intriguing mix of “Mary Poppins,” with its magical caregiver (Emma Thompson) and “Beauty and the Beast,” with its formidable, looming deadline. Widowed father, Cedric Brown (Colin Firth) must find a wife within one month, or his cruel aunt (Angela Lansbury) will withhold money he desperately needs. A mysterious voice tells Cedric to hire Nanny McPhee, and it is her dubious responsibility to care for his seven naughty children who have run off all past nannies.
But the wart-covered, scary-looking Nanny McPhee is undaunted. After all, she is a magical woman with the power to stomp her gnarly cane and cause all sorts of things to happen – including giving the seven children measles when they were only feigning sickness. Each time the children learn a new life lesson, the nanny’s face becomes a bit less hideous. But will Nanny McPhee prove powerful enough to hold the family together before the aunt’s evil mandate causes their ruin? Or will Cedric have to marry the town floozy, the only available woman he knows?
The movie’s setting of an old British home is adorable and includes THE coolest kid’s tree fort ever, while the music score is whimsical and inviting. The seven children will instantly draw in young audience members, and the scary new nanny will cause even the bravest souls to gasp. Regrettably, however, the magic stops there.
In every good screenplay, there must be a clear protagonist who undergoes an inner transformation – brought about when "heaven" sends problems. In the end, the protagonist must make a decision that he was unable to make at the beginning because now he has new character and has allowed "heaven" to restructure his goal. Seems no one told the screenwriters the rules in “Nanny McPhee.” First of all, who is the protagonist? Is it Nanny McPhee or the father? It’s probably the father, but if so, he doesn’t get near the screen time he needs. And where is his inner transformation? He starts out as a wuss and ends up the same!
And what about the nanny? Why does her hideous face improve each time the family learns a new lesson? And to what end? Other than the mysterious outward changes, the nanny undergoes no inner transformation. The children learn some good lessons – and others which are puzzling – but some of their mischief is not rebuked.
"Nanny McPhee" also carries too much willing suspension of disbelief. Why the ridiculous one-month deadline to remarry? Why is the over-the-top bleached blonde floozy (Celia Imrie) the only possible choice for a mate? And where is the chemistry or relationship development with the woman whom Cedric ends up choosing?
Because of the numerous story and character development issues, "Nanny McPhee" just isn’t that satisfying. Not to mention the fact that there is always a certain “cringe factor” when a movie extols witchcraft as the answer. Also, families may take issue with one scene in which the father falls all over the floozy. He’s trying to prevent her from being the recipient of his children’s pranks, but it looks like he’s attacking her in a sexual way.
Perhaps the worst part of "Nanny McPhee" is the poor father. Cedric is likely every man’s worst nightmare. He's become a spineless widower, overwrought by children and surrounded by women who control him – including his dead wife (to whom he often speaks and for whom he has a special chair), the town floozy and Nanny McPhee. What kind of man would want that existence? And he never really changes! As viewers, we are dying for him to rise up and be a man worthy of following, but it never happens.
Yes, Cedric does become more communicative with his kids, but that includes telling them things that they should never have been told. At one point he says something along the lines of, “Your mother and I had too many children, and we couldn’t afford you, so for years your Aunt Adelaide has been supporting us. … If we don’t get her support, you might be sent to the work house.” What kind of a message is that for a child?
Despite its early potential, overall, "Nanny McPhee" is a miss and should likely be avoided by families who have been recently spoiled by such compelling competition as “Narnia.”
AUDIENCE: Children and adults
- Language/Profanity: Brief, with a couple of mild obscenities.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Consumed by adults, with woman getting tipsy.
- Sex/Nudity: None, but there is one sexual-looking, slapstick struggle between the father and the floozy.
- Violence: None - just slapstick pranks.
- Other: Witchcraft extolled; children’s schemes not rebuked.