A vast improvement over the 2005 franchise introduction of co-writer/actress Emma Thompson's Mary-Poppinsish household savior, Nanny McPhee Returns finds modern-day meaning in its World War II-era English trappings. Gone is the garish fluorescent neon color palate and mean-spirited themes that attended the poorly contrived initial installment.
Where Nanny McPhee was based on the first of Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books, the sequel departs from the series to find the diabolically unsightly nanny coming to the aid of farm-owner Isabel Green (excellently played by Maggie Gyllenhaal).
With her husband (Ewan McGregor) away at war, Isabel already has her hands full with three children (Norman, Megsie and Vincent) before playing host to their hoity-toity London cousins, a brother and sister with low regard for such a manure-entrenched environment.
With her handy magical cane and unsightly unibrow, Nanny McPhee arrives to make good on her promise to inculcate the unruly children with her "five lessons" that will leave the family members "wanting" but not "needing" her continued service. The ever-vivacious Maggie Smith adds her own distinctive flair as Mrs. Docherty, Isabel's shop owner-boss whose lacking sense of neatness is a major obstacle. Grade: B
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