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One of the more pleasing family film series of the past few years, even while not managing to be great, are the Nanny McPhee films.
They are not quite as polished as one would like, and they do not always achieve everything they set out to do, but in their favor they are intent on being fun, they relish in going to extremes (in both their art direction and willingness to make a mess), and they have a quality of fairy-tale or perhaps magic realism.
In the first film, the blatant message was that kids need parenting—namely that they need to be taught to behave. Even parents with the best intentions and greatest love fail in their job when they do not discipline. This does not translate into a call for spanking, merely an appeal for adults to be adults and for children to do as they are told. Children, the story seems to imply, thrive best when they know there are boundaries. As it happens, this is true.
The second film, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, does not repeat the lessons of the first film but instead tells a story of Nanny McPhee teaching another family a new set of lessons some 60 years after the first one. The new lessons are more about getting along with others, working together and having faith. Once again, these are lessons that more parents should be teaching their children these days.
A particularly refreshing aspect of these films is the way they add in elements that would usually be shocking for a children’s story. In the first film there is the vulgar and dirty-minded widow whom the father almost marries. In the second film, we have the two female hit women who are prepared to gruesomely kill a man over his gambling debts. All the best “children’s” stories have this edginess—from Grimm to Dahl to Lewis.
There is hope that a third McPhee film may be coming soon. That would be good.
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