This watchable period family comedy sequel can be a tad treacly and uneven as well as corny and lightly crude.
Nevertheless, the early WWII London-based Nanny McPhee Returns has warmth and creditable continuity in the form of star, producer and Oscar-winning scribe Emma Thompson as the rigid, somewhat repulsive-looking titular figure with a special cane (again think of a more alarming household Mary Poppins).
Again, Thompson works with noticeable organic sense and sensibility from the template of the "Nurse Matilda" books by Christianna Brand, With an squash-like nose, as well as a snaggle tooth, warts and hairy unibrow, her second encounter with clamorous youngsters (in need of "five lessons") ultimately has more thematic clout and less overly sentimentality in it. Which means it's very family-friendly with notions of learning and owning up to one's responsibilities.
Maggie Gyllenhaal's Mrs. Green has to abruptly welcome bratty/hoity-toity niece Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) and nephew Cyril (Eros Vlahos) to her farm with the city under aerial siege by the Nazis. Her three kids (Asa Butterfield, Oscar Steer, and Lil Woods) are a chore to handle, what with financial duress as well as a fulsome, desperate brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans of Pirate Radio). He's in cahoots with dotty, not-so-neat shopkeeper Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith) as they put mother under pressure to sell the farm. So, it's up to the mighty McPhee to watch over the farmhouse clan with her specific style of supernatural austerity.
The humor is a little like the gooey and slapsticky kinds of stuff on view that will provide a few chuckles, including elephants and flying pigs, maybe not always managed with a very deft magical hand. But, Thompson the writer understands the imminent, ominous blitzkreig backdrop as director Susanna White with her able craft contributors offer up some wild and amusing counterpoint in the city and countryside for period verisimilitude. Even if one of the plot strands is whittled down or less important than perhaps intended to be.
The capable cast (which include a quartet of whom will be a part of one or both final Harry Potter installments) includes Ralph Fiennes as the senior Lord Gray. And, Ewan McGregor (very good in The Ghost Writer) delivers an affecting cameo with a family wondering about a father and husband now on harrowing, active duty.
Nanny McPhee Returns maintains a family-friendly atmosphere given the darker underpinnings as White's creative recreation of the times include an appropriate candy-colored look, though not nearly as garishly neon. But, it's not too slick and sugar-coated with noteworthy work by Gyllenhaal boasting an unwavering English accent, as well nice work by the younger cast including the brown-eyed Woods as the motorbiking star is more a part of an ensemble. Even though the filmmakers have made something a bit overstuffed and whizzy for its own good, Thompson's commitment to Brand's world and how families act renders something more charmingly vivid than manipulative and prodding.