Nanny Mcphee

on January 27, 2006 by Christine James
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A fugly Mary Poppins meets "Nanny 911" in this family comedy whose overly familiar elements still go down easily as if with a spoonful of sugar. Adapted from Christianna Brand's 1960s "Nurse Matilda" children's books, "Nanny McPhee" is about a brood of children who just want their recently widowed father (Colin Firth) to pay attention to them. Since he's too focused on trying to support his family, the kids act out abominably, driving no less than 17 caretakers away with their antics. The latest governess runs screaming from the house when the children pretend to eat one of their siblings, making quite a show of gnawing on chicken bones with baby booties on the ends.

Even with the help of a caring and comely scullery maid (Kate Winslet-alike Kelly Macdonald), Dad is at his wits' end. Enter silently, suddenly and uninvitedly Nanny McPhee -- "I did knock," she always claims -- to take control of the situation. One would think that a mere glance at her intimidating visage -- Jimmy Durante schnoz, unibrow, hair-sprouting moles, jack-o-lantern tooth and all -- would be enough to scare the sass out of any youngster. But it winds up taking magic, psychology, love, understanding, and CGI dancing donkeys to win these charges round.

The kids are ridiculously adorable, even at their most hellish, and Emma Thompson's unflappable McPhee, whose strongest condemnation is a pointed half-syllable "Mm," is a winsome counterbalance. But when anthropomorphized, dress-wearing barnyard critters come on the scene, it underlines a manufactured, pandering element that one would otherwise be inclined to ignore. Starring Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald and Thomas Sangster. Directed by Kirk Jones. Written by Emma Thompson. Produced by Tim Bevan, Lindsay Doran, Eric Fellner and Debra Hayward. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some rude humor and brief language. Running time: 98 min

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