But whereas Sense and Sensibility was a well-crafted, compelling delight that showcased the talents of Thompson and Doran, Nanny McPhee is a charmless comedy that more often resorts to cheap laughs and juvenile storytelling than it does smart writing. The most compelling aspect of Nanny McPhee is wondering how it could have been written by the same person who won an Academy Award for her Sense and Sensibility screenplay.
Mr. Brown (Colin Firth), a recent widower, is having problems with his children. First of all, with seven of them, his wages as an embalmer at the local funeral parlor aren't enough to support them. Secondly, they're most certainly the naughtiest children in the world. They've just run off their seventeenth nanny and are gearing up for number eighteen. But with the financial assistance of his Aunt Adelaide (Angel Lansbury) and help around the house provided by a cook (Imelda Staunton) and a scullery maid named Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald), he just manages to get by. But time is running out. It seems Aunt Adelaide's monthly allowance is tied to the condition that Mr. Brown get married before the end of the month. But his undisciplined children rule out the possibility of a successful courtship. What Mr. Brown needs is a miracle.
Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), the unsightliest governess this side of Never Never Land. With a wart covered face, a snaggletooth the size of a Chiclet and a nose like two potatoes, Nanny McPhee appears at the Brown doorstep with the uncanny ability to discipline the children with a thump of her crooked cane. It becomes a bit unclear what Thompson's script wants from this magical disciplinarian however. A bit more insight into where she comes from or why she's come to the Brown's assistance might have helped round out her character a bit more and fill in a few holes. For instance, her only demands are that she have Sunday afternoons off, yet she spends her first Sunday afternoon on the job, sorting out another mess created by the children.
As expected, Nanny McPhee whips the kids into shape and even teaches them a few lessons for good measure. But the story eventually slips into a slapstick melee complete with pie fights and, I kid you not, dogs that trash the banquet table.
Nanny McPhee isn't a bad movie, it's just a little disappointing. A mysterious nanny with a magical walking cane and a special way with children should have lead to so much more whimsy and imagination. It's plagued with loose ends and, with such a veteran cast, it's more a story of what could have been.
Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1
Subtitles: English; French; Spanish
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; making-of featurette; deleted scenes; bloopers.
* Audio Commentary
o With director Kirk Jones and Children
o With actress Emma Thompson and Producer Lindsay Doran
o Casting the Children
o Village Life
o Nanny McPhee Makeover
o How Nanny McPhee Came to Be
* Deleted Scenes
o Plus Gag Reel
Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging
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