Now three movies into the New Year, I can now declare Nanny McPhee as the best movie of 2006, beating out both Underworld: Evolution and Glory Road. And while that might not seem like much of an accomplishment, Nanny McPhee, the new whimsical family film written by and starring Emma Thompson is definitely worthy of an audience. Although getting stuck with an unfortunate January release date, this movie exceeded my expectations. It is simple, creative, and most importantly it makes you feel good.
The film begins with the Brown children chasing away the latest nanny, one of many, through their mischievous behavior. The Brown father, played by Colin Firth, is left with few options after being completely rejected by the nanny service. Fortunately, he then hears a voice that tells him that Nanny McPhee is what he needs. It is not too long after this that Nanny McPhee appears at his house, warts, tooth, uni-brow and all, to get the children in order, a feat accomplished by no other nanny. Emma Thompson is perfect in the role, which is not surprising since she wrote it. Her character reminds the children that they may be free to do what they want, but that they must be aware of the consequences that come with their actions. Thankfully, as the children become more responsible, Nanny McPhee improves in appearance, with a facial defect disappearing after each lesson the children learn.
Thompson keeps the story simple, reinforcing certain elements or repeating certain phrases that an older audience might not need, but that are useful in conveying her message to the film's younger target audience. The colors are vibrant and the characters eccentric, with extremes in personality found in the rather weak Cedric Brown (Firth) and the uber-strict Great Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) and extremes in appearance with the almost repulsive Selma Quickly and the graceful and beautiful Evangeline. The film runs at a good pace, never dwelling for too long on any one sequence, or being overly preachy. And although the film does not avoid some film and genre clichés, it is still very creative and infused with a lot of heart. You become emotionally invested in the ending even though you know what will happen.
Director Kirk Jones, who also directed the hugely entertaining Waking Ned Devine, knows what people want from each character and to what extent each character can be pushed without becoming too unlikable or annoying. Jones is able to get quirky and entertaining performances out of the talented group of children. Thomas Sangster from Love Actually is especially impressive as the eldest Brown child. Sangster along with Finding Neverland/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory star Freddie Highmore are two of the best young actors today. Although, I still have to say that everything sounds better with a British accent.
Anyways, while Nanny McPhee might be passed over by many in the dry and lacking month of January, it is one of the better family films to come around in the last few years. The story is rewarding and the acting is solid. This film is ideal for parents searching for a movie to take their children to and for anyone else who enjoys a little bit of magic and an escape from the rest of the early 2006 films.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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