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