Review in a Hurry: The surprise hit from across the pond is back with more plot but less Nanny. Writer/star Emma Thompson hopes you won't notice, by enlisting Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ralph Fiennes and some terrific child actors. But yeah, you'll notice.
The Bigger Picture: Set in 1930s wartime English countryside, Isabel (Gyllenhaal) is a mother of three whose too hectic life includes maintaining the family farm and running a village shop with the elderly but slightly mad Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith). She also has a debt-ridden brother (a hammy Rhys Ifans) who is pressuring her to sell the property. Fans of the series recite: The person she needs...is Nanny McPhee!
At first, amping up the grown up's drama seems like a smart move, since a tale about more ill mannered tykes might be too been there, Nanny'd that. But McPhee's relationship with each family is still the most charming aspect of the films.
So...while Megsie (Lil Woods) and her brother Norman (Asa Butterfield) struggle to make nice and help mom keep the farm, the arrival of a pair of bratty London cousins brings out the worst in them.
And the best for the movie.
Any child actor can do bratty but one with potential can leave a sliver of charm to their performance making their transformation from hellspawn to cherub relatable. The spoiled cousins Cyril and Celia are awful, but played by newcomers Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson they are also awfully charismatic.
These scenes give McPhee a chance to get her Nanny on, taking out her famous magic wooden cane. Good stuff.
But too many subplots take away from the main story resulting in less screen time for McPhee. At one point, she's merely a chauffer for the kids as they trek to London to meet the Cyril's father played by Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes. Thompson makes McPhee so alluring that her absence is always noticeable. You'll miss that face when it's gone, warts and all.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The overall look and feel of Returns impresses. There might not be a standout set-piece like the original's Snow in August Wedding scene, but a Busby Berkeley-esque number with a gaggle of piglets and the harrowing trip to London are great eye candy.