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Kirk Jones
Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Kelly Macdonald, Thomas Sangster, Eliza Bennett, Jennifer Rae Daykin, Raphaël Coleman, Sam Honywood
Writing Credits:
Christianna Brand (books), Emma Thompson

You'll Learn To Love Her. Warts And All.

In this wickedly charming tale, Emma Thompson portrays a mysterious woman with special powers who enters the household of the recently widowed Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) and attempts to tame his seven children. The children have managed to drive away 17 previous nannies, but as Nanny McPhee takes control, they begin to notice that their misbehaving has magical and startling consequences. "A magical, fantastic and wonderful fable that will capture the heart of the whole family!" (Maria Salas, NBC-TV)

Box Office:
$34 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.503 million on 1995 screens.
Domestic Gross
$47.025 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 5/9/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Kirk Jones and “The Kids”
• Audio Commentary with Producer Lindsay Doran and Actor Emma Thompson
• Seven Deleted Scenes
• “Casting the Children” Featurette
• “Village Life” Featurette
• “Nanny McPhee Makeover” Featurette
• “How Nanny McPhee Came to Be” Featurette
• Gag Reel
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


Nanny McPhee (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 9, 2006)

When you create a movie about a nanny, you automatically invite comparisons with 1964’s much beloved Mary Poppins. When you slap a quote that reads “the new Mary Poppins!” on your DVD’s cover, you push those comparisons to an extreme.

That’s the issue confronted by 2005’s Nanny McPhee. Since I must admit I never cared a lot for Poppins, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not McPhee lived up to its predecessor. McPhee introduces us to the family of Mr. Cedric Brown (Colin Firth). His wife died recently and left him alone with his seven poorly behaved kids. They grind through nannies rapidly, as none can stand to be around the rowdy brats. Brown also suffers from the tyranny of his dead wife’s Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury). She keeps him afloat financially but she declares that if he doesn’t find a new wife within the month, she’ll cut off his support.

Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson). The homely housekeeper displays a preternatural sense of calm among the hellions, and why not? She possesses actual magic that can control the kids in various ways. Led by the stubborn Simon (Thomas Sangster), the rebels don’t give in without a fight, though they’re no match for her witchy ways. The movie follows McPhee’s transformation of the family as well as Cedric’s complications related to Aunt Adelaide’s interventions.

If you go into McPhee with an expectation that it’ll be as sweet and light as Poppins, you’ll leave disappointed. While it presented “brats” who seemed pretty well behaved to me, McPhee offers truly unpleasant kids. These children are more than willing to perform nasty acts, and the film depicts quite a few of these.

This makes McPhee a surprisingly dark film. Our introduction to the kids posits them as cannibals who eat their infant sister. Of course, we know this isn’t true, but it creates a rather perverse turn for a “PG”-rated kiddie flick.

And McPhee includes a number of other scary moments. That poor infant almost gets killed during the nanny’s first lesson to the kids, and they end up in a variety of threatening situations. This doesn’t bother me, but since McPhee seems aimed at young viewers, the movie’s darkness seems odd and might scare the intended audience more than necessary.

I must admit, though, that it’s nice to see a kiddie movie that remains so uncompromising. After all, the original Brother Grimm tales were awfully violent and dark, which was the point. Things have gotten awfully sugarcoated over the years, so a film with some bite comes as a welcome surprise to me. Just be warned that it may leave some tots in tears.

This doesn’t mean that one should expect too many story and character surprises from McPhee, however. Lessons will be learned – by kids and adults – and all follows a perfectly predictable path. From minute one, it seems clear that Cedric will marry by the end of the film and it’ll be to his maid, Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald). The movie tries to throw us off track, but it never becomes less than abundantly clear this will eventually occur.

While I don’t expect lots of curveballs from this sort of flick, something a little less easy to anticipate would have been nice. That said, McPhee manages to remain reasonably interesting. The adult actors offer nice turns. Many of the participants go for broad comedy – heck, the movie climaxes with a food fight – but Thompson goes in the opposite direction. She underplays the nanny to a satisfying degree. She remains cool and restrained with nary a hint of sentimentality. McPhee easily could turn very sugary, so her decision to go the other way works.

Speaking for adult viewers, Nanny McPhee mixes some satisfying moments with less palatable scenes. It stays dark enough to avoid sugar overloads, at least. Despite its predictable nature, it entertains for the most part.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Nanny McPhee appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Parts of the transfer looked terrific, but a few issues cropped up along the way.

Most of the time, sharpness was solid. Much of the film showed good delineation and accuracy. However, wide shots occasionally looked a bit iffy, as they could lack great crispness. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement was visible. In addition to a little more grain than I’d expect, I saw a few specks and marks during the film. These appeared sporadically but could present mild distractions.

Colors provided the transfer’s strongest elements. The movie used a strong palette with many lively – and borderline garish – tones. These were quite vivid and well-defined. Blacks seemed deep and firm, and shadows were usually concise. A couple shots appeared a little thick, but the dark scenes mostly came across well. The transfer fell short of excellence, but it was satisfying most of the time.

Even better, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Nanny McPhee presented a lively soundstage. The title character’s magic allowed for many involving moments. Those scenes brought all five speakers into the mix well and created a playful setting.

The rest of the movie was more subdued but still effective. Music displayed solid stereo imaging, and various environmental elements showed nice spread. The track always presented a good sense of atmosphere and helped accentuate the material.

Audio quality also seemed solid. Though speech suffered from a little edginess, the lines were consistently intelligible and usually concise. The score offered nice dimensionality and vividness, while effects followed suit. Those elements sounded vibrant and accurate, with clear highs and tight lows. This was a very good mix that just barely fell short of “A”-level consideration.

When we move to the DVD’s extras, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Kirk Jones and child actors Eliza Bennett, Jennifer Rae Daykin, Raphael Coleman, Sam Honywood and Holly Gibbs. Oddly, the DVD fails to identify the participants, so it becomes tough to recognize each one. Eventually I figured out that all of the kids except for Thomas Sangster and the twins who played Agatha appear here, but I don’t understand why the producers of the track didn’t have them all introduce themselves.

In any case, the combination of all these kids doesn’t add up to a good commentary. The piece covers some production basics like working on the set, the shooting schedule, visuals and design, story elements and editing, and effects. The kids also discuss how they feel about acting, whether they’d like to do more of it, their reactions to the film, and other aspects of their lives. This fails to give us an interesting view of matters.

It doesn’t help that the kids behave like… well, like kids. I can’t blame them for being themselves, but it means that we get a rambling commentary with too many annoying asides. Holly constantly needs to go to the bathroom, Sam eats chips too loudly, and the like. Early in the commentary, one of them even whines about how long this process will take. When told it’ll run the whole movie, he says that he doesn’t like people who listen to commentaries!

Back at ya, son! He gripes about this later on as well. Did no one explain to these kids what they needed to do? Jones makes sure we get enough information about the movie to ensure the track doesn’t totally waste our time, and it improves as it progresses, but the behavior of kids can make it a tough listen.

For the second commentary, we hear from producer Lindsay Doran and actor Emma Thompson. Both sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. In contrast to the prior piece, this one turns out to be a winner.

Bright and lively, the women cover a wide mix of subjects. We hear how Thompson chose to adapt the original novels, what changes she made, and how the project moved to the screen. The pair also discuss cast, characters and performances, costumes, sets, visual design, makeup and hair, the score, editing and cut sequences, and general notes.

While Doran holds her own, Thompson contributes the most fun to this chat. She consistently comes across as smart, funny and vivacious. Thompson gives us lots of insights and information along with her quick wit and smart banter. She lets us know how she approached her role and dealt with the makeup challenges. The women occasionally indulge in a bit too much happy talk, but the useful parts of the commentary easily outweigh those fluffy moments. This track moves quickly and consistently entertains.

Seven deleted scenes appear. These run 12 minutes, 59 seconds when viewed via the “Play All” option. We find “Alternate Opening (Nannies of the World)”, “Jowls and Wheen Walk At Night”, “Mr. Brown and Evangeline”, “Mr. Sapless and the Pink Chair”, “Jowls and Wheen Surprise Mr. Brown”, “The Tea Party”, and “Nanny In Disguise”. “Tea Party” is really an alternate presentation of the scene in which the children try to scare away Mrs. Quickly; it’s the same material but altered to look and sound like a silent movie. “Disguise” is actually a gag in which Colin Firth pops up as Nanny McPhee. Frighteningly, while under all that makeup, he looks about the same as Thompson in the role.

All of the other clips prove interesting to see as well. I don’t think any of them deserved to make the final cut, as they seem either redundant or superfluous. Nonetheless, we see some intriguing bits. Director Jones pops up before each one to tell us what provoked their excision.

Four featurettes also pop up here. Casting the Children fills 11 minutes, 39 seconds, and mixes movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We get notes from Jones, Doran, Thompson, Coleman, Bennett, Gibbs, Honywood, children’s casting director Pippa Hall, children’s dialogue coach Celia Bannerman, and actors Thomas Sangster, Angela Lansbury, Imelda Staunton, Kelly Macdonald, and Colin Firth.

The program looks at how they found the child actors, working with them to produce the desired results, the characters and the kids’ different personalities, and some details of particular scenes. A little puffiness shows up here, and I’d have liked more specifics about why exactly the various children were selected. Nonetheless, a reasonable amount of good information shows up in this interesting piece.

During the three-minute and 51-second Village Life, we hear from Jones, Doran, Thompson and production designer Michael Howells. They look at the exterior and interior sets created for the film. We watch their building and learn about their design. Despite its brevity, “Life” tells us enough to prove useful.

Nanny McPhee Makeover runs five minutes, 38 seconds and includes information from Doran, Jones, Thompson, hair and makeup designer Peter King, and costume designer Nic Ede. As expected, “Makeover” examines at the lead character’s look. We learn about prosthetics, padding, costumes and other physical elements used to turn Thompson into McPhee. Although I wouldn’t call this a detailed examination, it includes enough data to satisfy and give us some decent notes.

Finally, How Nanny McPhee Came to Be lasts seven minutes, 41 seconds. It features Thompson and author Christianna Brand’s second cousin Christianna Clemence. We find out why Thompson changed the lead character’s name from “Nurse Matilda” and get details of many other alterations from the original books. We also hear about the origins of Christianna Brand’s novels and some aspects of her life and that of illustrator Edward Ardizzone. A few of the comments about the adaptation repeat from Thompson’s commentary, but plenty of new bits show up here. “Came to Be” is a nice view of the novels’ roots.

A two-minute and 45-second Gag Reel appears next. It consists of the usual wackiness and goof-ups. Yawn!

The DVD opens with a few ads. We get promos for Over the Hedge, Curious George, PollyWorld, and Leave It to Beaver. No trailer for McPhee appears here.

Nanny McPhee tosses out enough wry humor to be watchable for adults, though it doesn’t rise above that level. As for the kids, that’ll depend on their tolerance for cruelty. The movie exhibits some dark scenes that involve little ones, and those may put off some youngsters. The DVD offers good picture and audio along with a very nice set of extras. McPhee offers an odd kiddie flick but manages to be a decent one.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.125 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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