Widowed undertaker Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) is living in a perpetual state of exasperation due to the disorderly antics of his seven children, who spend their days trying to get rid of any nanny that attempts to discipline them. Worried about his financial health when his domineering Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) threatens to cut him off, Mr. Brown desperately hunts for a wife to help rebuild his life. Out of thin air comes Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), an intimidating, severely unattractive woman who offers her services to the frustrated Mr. Brown. Looking to teach five simple lessons of conduct, Nanny McPhee soon makes a deeper impression in the lives of the children, encouraging them to help their father find a better way.
Adapted from the book series, "Nurse Matilda," "Nanny McPhee" has to compete with an exhaustive media landscape that features insufferable English nannies on every television network, openly criticizing parents for the awful ways they raise their awful children. It's about time somebody put some enchantment back into the profession, and "McPhee" is the appealing and visually vibrant family film diversion that provides the spark.
Nanny McPhee isn't quite Mary Poppins though, looking more like a mash-up between Julie Andrews and somebody John Waters would cast back in his prime Dreamland days. Pleasantly played by Emma Thompson (who also wrote the screenplay), McPhee is the ultimate unyielding caretaker, using her mighty presence to startle the children into behaving, and if that doesn't work, one forceful slam of her magic cane will do the trick. Thompson plays the role very quietly, using the impressive makeup appliances to announce her arrival, and relying on the character's authoritative presence to snap her flock into compliance. There are some unexplained surreal qualities to McPhee, and the film makes the assumption that the mysteries will deepen the adoration of the character. That never comes to fruition, yet Thompson is in full command every time she's onscreen, creating a magnificent mix of spooky authority and slight tenderness with her performance.
Director Kirk Jones ("Waking Ned Devine") keeps a fluffy tone to "McPhee," embracing both the slapstick and the Seussian qualities of the production, which uses sharp, exploding color contrasts for costumes and the exaggerated sets. This is a vividly painted motion picture, assisting the already magical nature of the story, along with creating a distinctive fantasy world that kids will envy. Jones does get carried away at times during the movie, pitching some of McPhee's madness with the children too close to piercing levels. Jones also gives in to a solitary flatulence joke, which is something this picture didn't need to get a response from viewers.
The VC-1 encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is a blast of BD color that could melt eyeballs if stared at for an extended amount of time. The presentation feels pushed too far into brightness, with some set design detail lost to the blast of light. Hues are ridiculous, but feel appropriate to the cartoon nature of the film -- still, the color acceleration is positively nuclear at times, bringing the family film atmosphere to amazing life. Facial textures are marvelously maintained, with all the grotesque details of McPhee intact, along with a nice overview of apple-cheeked concern from the rest of the cast. Shadow detail is never trouble, supporting fabrics and low-light scenarios well.
With a kiddie film of major tomfoolery, the 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is superbly active, with heaps of directional activity to keep the listener invested in the magical happenings. Dialogue is contained and suitably chirpy, with the cacophony of young voices making for a contained clatter, never devolving into a shrill mess. The musical score is smoothly pronounced, taking careful position in the mix without drowning out the assorted sound effects. Low-end is realized through some of the more heightened slapstick sequences, while household atmosphere remains effectively natural, allowing the picture's fanciful ways to cut through believably. English DVS, Spanish, and French tracks are offered.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
The feature-length commentary from director Kirk Jones and "The Kids" of the film provides the right amount of squeal and sanity one might expect from such a listening opportunity. Blessed with a velvety voice and an admirable patience, Jones obviously leads the conversation, covering production basics with a personal touch (the location was only 10 minutes away from his house). Jones attempts to pull as much discussion as he can out of the wee ones (who enjoy announcing their bathroom breaks), but the kids don't have much to offer. Still, there are laughs and good chunks of information to be had.
"Casting the Children" (11:39) covers the casting process for the young actors of the film, who were pulled from all over to come together as a family. The patience of director Jones is key here, with the featurette illustrating how the production worked with such frantic actors. Amusing stuff, and it's fun to see footage of the gang at work and play on the set.
"Village Life" (3:51) surveys the house of the film, which was built as a set for easier access. Production designer Michael Howells is interviewed here, talking up his rural accomplishment.
"Nanny McPhee Makeover" (5:38) covers the make-up challenges of the film. Taking descriptive cues from the book, the design team took over, turning Emma Thompson into a horrible beast of a woman. Footage of the transformation process is wonderfully entertaining to see.
"Deleted Scenes" (13:00) reveal an alternate opening for the film (covering the nannies of the world), some extra dialogue with a few supporting characters, a cameo from actor David Kelly, footage of Colin Firth as McPhee, and a different "silent movie" pass at the tea party sequence. They are viewed with introductions from the director.
"Gag Reel" (2:45) is a standard collection of mix-ems-ups, and with this film, that means plenty of sloppy, goopy business.
"How 'Nanny McPhee' Came to Be" (7:41) investigates how the film was adapted from the "Nurse Matilda" book series, written by Christianna Brand. Comparisons are presented, along with some reading from Emma Thompson, who delves into the challenges of adaptation.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Cast with the immensely likeable (Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Thomas Sangster), living legends (Angela Lansbury, Derek Jacobi), and the downright lovable (Kelly Macdonald, playing Mr. Brown's scullery maid), "Nanny McPhee" is effortlessly light on its toes. Jones redeems his earlier sins with a magical finale, sending the film off with some tender wish granting and, well, a flat-out cake fight. Trust me, you haven't lived until you see Angela Lansbury get walloped in the kisser with a gob of gooey green icing.