Working Title Films
1 hour, 38 minutes
AP Photo/Universal Pictures/Liam
“Nanny McPhee” is but one of a rash of children’s films to hit the market lately, including “Hoodwinked,” an animated spoof on fairy tales, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the incredibly successful story of five children in a magical world, and “Big Momma’s House 2,” which appears to have been made by a bunch of 6-year-olds.
To be fair, I didn’t subject myself to Martin Lawrence’s latest, so I can’t truly speak to how bad it is (luckily, the trailer does that for me). I went to see another film that I wouldn’t normally see, but one that, in the end, was, if not great, at least better than I expected.
“Nanny McPhee,” adapted from the “Nurse Matilda” series of British children’s books, tells the story of one widowed father, seven incredibly naughty children and the magical nanny who brings them all together. Set sometime post-Victorian, pre-20th century, “McPhee” succeeds in one way where many kid’s films fail that is in creating a somewhat timeless atmosphere. There are no pop culture references, no witty slang, no irony, per se. This is an old-school fairy tale, with no modern frills.
This is, in some ways, a detriment, as well. Not to the story, mind you, but to the film’s eventual success or failure. I may be jaded and cynical, but I find it hard to believe that today’s kids, those over the age of 6, anyway, are going to be interested in a movie with few special effects, no rude humor and an easy and honest moral. It’s too bad, because kids are the target audience and those who stand to gain the most from the movie. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. The film, which was released in England in October, has apparently been somewhat popular among the British.
I, on the other hand, didn’t actually enjoy the film all that much. It’s very broad, with little or no subtlety at all. The kids are so ill-behaved I thought they ought to have been locked up long before, and all the adults are buffoonish in their reactions lots of bugging eyes and clownish pratfalls. There’s even a giant food fight at the end how charming and original. I am trying not to let that color my review, however, because I realize this movie wasn’t made for me. It would be like asking a first-grader to critique “Eyes Wide Shut.” His horrified reaction wouldn’t say as much about the movie as it would illustrate that we are watching with two very different sets of eyes.
Made for kids, though “Nanny McPhee” is, that doesn’t totally excuse its failings. Subtlety can be employed without losing the sweetness. The film could have benefited from having a bit of a dark side. It’s kind of a funny complaint, considering that all the advertising lists “McPhee” as a “dark and witty fable.” I found it not at all dark, and only slightly witty. Much better children’s films that achieve the sense of magic without sacrificing a brain are the superb “Babe” and “Babe: Pig in the City.”
But, to be fair, I would recommend this as a perfectly adequate, and wholeheartedly friendly outing with the family, especially the younger members. There is nothing offensive that I could find, other than two instances of the word “fart,” which seems so tame by modern standards as to be quaint. The only hint of darkness (and it’s barely a hint, mind you) comes in the fact that the father inexplicably works as an undertaker and, though we do see a dead body or two, the scene is played so mildly that you barely even realize it.
“Nanny McPhee,” somewhat old-fashioned in plot and appearance, has plenty of safe entertainment for kids. If there’s not much left for the adults, I guess there are a lot worse complaints I could be making. Grade: B-
“Nanny McPhee” is rated PG for little or no offensive content that I can see. Must be the “fart” usage that pushed the MPAA over the edge.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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